Another of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham is one of the major names—or perhaps the major name—associated with the American Golden Age of illustration. One of the things I most like about Rackham’s work is the fact that his children are not terribly exaggerated, even if the adults sometimes are. This demonstrates a respect for kids that, say, Norman Rockwell lacked. Rockwell’s work tends to sacrifice children’s dignity on the altar of humor, but I will get into that when I deal with Rockwell proper. Back to Rackham: whilst Rockwell’s art displays the quintessentially American disdain for children while strongly reinforcing American values, stylistically Rackham tended to follow the European tradition of romanticizing children, which in my book is the lesser of the two evils.
What balances this romanticism out is the grittiness and detail with which he invests his art. Rackham’s illustrations often have a density and gravitas that many of his contemporaries were unable to achieve whilst still maintaining the decorative aspects and sinuous lines that were indicative of the illustration work of the era. Thus, Rackham could shift from a darker mode to a lighter one with ease.
His Christmas illustrations fit into the lighter mode. He made two major contributions to Christmas: one was his illustrations for an edition Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol first published in 1915; the other was work accompanying a 1931 printing of Clement C. Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (shortened to just “The Night Before Christmas” for the printing.) I particularly like the latter—the illustrations are richly colored, and I enjoy Rackham’s take on Santa as an actual elf-sized being rather than the full-sized human he is normally depicted as. This makes perfect sense for a creature who is able to climb up and down the interiors of chimneys.
Art Passions: Arthur Rackham (There’s a ton of great Rackham art here)