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The Golden Age of Enchantment 1860-1930

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Definition of Childhood

Two Monumental tides have changed & challenged Planet Earth since the mid 1600s: The Age of Enlightenment gave a voice to Philosophers and Scientists who became the fertilizer for the Industrial Revolution . Inventors armed with the new found scientific discoveries invented labour saving devices. Factories manufactured volume erego creating “economy of scale” savings.Western Society was no longer dominated by the Noble and Serf classes: a new class had moved into the neighbourhood. This was the energetic Merchant, or Middle class. "New Wealth”, instead of perceiving a child of Seven an adult, sending them down the mine as a matter of necessity, they had time to indulge their children. The idea of “Childhood” as we know it, was a by-product.These new factories made affordable toys. Education, once the domain only of the nobility, was filtering down through the publication of affordable books of knowledge. This was the mission statement of Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press circa 1452.

Adults = “obsolete children”?

Most children are adults eventually . Learning how to hunt and gather is essential knowledge to nurture the following generation. Even so, each adult love to hear a child’s laughter, delight in their imaginative view of reality. Maybe we adults need to accept, like Dr. Suess has predicted, ”...adults are obsolete children”. That memory of childhood, the lessons we learned that made us wiser, that make us ideal story tellers, that made us adults. It is those “obsolete children” that are the dedicated Children’s authors that require the imaginations of illustrators to embellish them. Adults become the investors in fine art, antique prints and first edition books, some in Self-Managed Superannuation Funds and shy not, it's their fund! All generations owe much to the privilege of having a post Age of Enlightenment fueled Industrial Revolution “childhood".

Benefits of Travel & Culture : Thomas Cook

More adults had the capacity to travel, to enjoy the exotic delights, once only the domain of the noble class “Grand Tours”. Thomas Cook organized county excursions to London Great Exhibiton in 1851 where “you could see the world for a penny” without leaving British shores. The British Empire was extending into exotic regions of the world, being exposed to new cultures of colour, culinary experiences and cultures. India had been dubbed the Jewel in the (British) Crown and with Commodore Perry's opening feudal Japan with his four steam warships in 1853 the impact Japanese Art would have on Western art and design was to be far-reaching. Indeed, many Illustrators bear witness to this influence.

Baxter Process, Chromoxylography , Chromolithography = Artistic Commercial Opportunity

"Windsor Castle. The Royal Family" George Baxter 1850

Enter a knew generation of artist/illustrator who identified a market of merchant-class adults who wished not only to educate their children but to entertain them with whimsical stories. Black and white illustrations, hitherto hand coloured, were now being influence by pastel tones and vibrant color.

George Baxter invented the first commercially viable “printing in colour” technique from metal plates, chromoxylography was color printing from wood blocks, and chromolithography was colour printing from Limestone blocks. Prior to these techniques colour had been hand applied to black and white images, with watercolour & gouache organic pigments.New colour printing techniques, enabling pastel and vibrant colour, made the most of “economy of scale” thanks to middle class affluence increasing affordability as well as attractive to the Victorian Era Consumer.

In the 1860s London had become the printing hub mecca for European Illustrators attracted to its printing houses for such variety, versatility, affordability. Chromoxlography was taken on by printer Edmund Evans who catered to the of Golden Age illustrators , Kate Greenaway, Water Crane and Randolph Caldecott.The technique was made famous for the crudely coloured “Penny Dreadfuls” Comics and illustrations etc.. Evans reacted against that trend deciding to use the same process to produce higher quality children's and toy books. Evans believed this technique was beautiful and inexpensive if the print run was large enough to maintain the costs. In doing so, Evans collaborated with Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott all mremembered for their beautiful gift books engraved and printed by Evans. A consequence was these illustrators are icons of there era.

Printing Evolution: Gravures & Fairy Tales

The next wave of influential Illustrators were propelled by another revolutionary printing process, Gravuring. Adapted from the fabric industry to more efficiently replicate pattern on fabric, it used light sensitive Gelatin, copper plates, chemicals and gauze. In essence it utilized the artists original artwork without the need for adaptation by an engraver or lithographer, a third person, interpreting the artist’s work. Where the fabric industry used dyes, the printing industry used coloured inks. when appplied to the gauze the cell walls prevented the colours to bleed, behaved like watercolour pigments mixing together on a page, erego the finish mimics a watercolour. Perfect medium for an illustrator to replicate his income from one image.

Arthur Rackham (1869-1939) 

"When he heard Peter's voice hehopped out from behind a Tulip"

Dubbed the “Beloved Enchanter” by critics his name evokes images of gnomes, fairies, dragons, knights and princesses, all a direct inspiration for Walt Disney decades later. Menacing forests and gnarled woods full of sinister personalities counter fairies who "believe nothing is more playful than a leaf" (Peter Pan). This balance of good and evil reminds us that lessons conveyed by stories and illustrations may not be so effective if they are all soft and fluffy. All the best stories have good countered by bad, with hopefully good triumphing.The life of an artist/illustrator is a point in fact! Rackham had left his Job as a clerk to pursue his dream of illustrating. He quickly established himself as the goto leading decorative illustrator and for many years no Christmas would have been complete without a Rackham illustrated gift book. Indeed, he contributed to many Red Cross Fund raisers during the war, as many illustrators did “to do their bit”. In 1906 a critic said of his Peter pan in Kensington Gardens, “Mr Rackham seems to have dropped out of some cloud in Mr Barrie’s fairyland...to make pictures in tune with his whimsical genius.”

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)

"The Arabian Nights" illustrator Edmund Dulac

Dulac was the heir apparent  to Rackham. Dulac’s expressive use of colour, as yet not expressed by British illustrators, betrayed his passion for Persian art and Indian Miniatures, evoking all the mystery and exoticism of the East. A Critic described his colour plates as “each of thee iridescent miniatures which seemed to be made of opal dust on mother of pearl...they are colour feasts for the eye’” Another influence may be, that from an early age he spent his holidays copying Japanese wood block prints, a huge influence on Western art in general. 

He was inspired by the illlustrations of Walter Crane and the Great William Morris and soon became and ardent Anglophile. Indeed London, as for many illustrators, was a dream destination. His point of difference was his mastery of the “fantastic and exotic”. His illustrations for “Stories of the Arabian Knights” remained his most popular work. Dulac followed with the1909 “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”that shows Dulac at his most imaginative as he embraced the essence of Eastern fantasy both in form and colour.

Kay Nielsen (1886-1955) 

"The Elder Tree Mother" illustrated by Kay Nielsen 1924

Nielsen a celebrated Danish Artist with a family heavily involved in Danish Theatre. He was inspired to illustratetraditional Norse sagas. He was a brilliant colourist and highly decorative betraying an affinity for the Oriental. Many of his works are strongly reminiscent in quality to middle eastern and Persian designs. All these influences made his depictions less sombre than Rackham. Nielen was inspired by the old Norse Folklore read to him by his mother as a child. Nielsen’s illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen display his unique style and talent for combining the eerie and fantastic with stunning decorative impact. After an exhibition in New York, Nielsen spent time in Copenhagen designing scenery for the Royal Danish Theatre before returning to illustration in 1924. Hodder & Stoughton printed his illustrations for Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales. He established his place in the arena of fantasy illustration with artwork for fairy tales . In 1939 he applied his talent to the new medium of storytelling and was employed by the Walt Disney Company from 1937-41. He contributed to many films, most notably sequences in Fantasia. If alive today he would sore to new heights with the Computer Generated Imaging and 3D technology. Others are are harnassing that medium to the same ends, to Enchant the viewer, not only in the Cinema, but on their 3D living room entertainment centres, even using their smart phones.

Don't be "Obsolete Children". Remain "Enchantable".

These are just a few of the illustrators that any generation may have grown up with, either as the child or the parent or grandparent who retold these stories with such glorious illustrations. The progress of technology does not weary these interpretations by the contemporary artist, but ensures they are as much relevant today as they were when created. Each era has Illustrators able to interpret the stories with a modern twist, but the lessons are enduring. These characters can be adapted to modern media with a guarantee to delight and enchant a whole new generation of future "obsolete children". 

 I would like to think that Dr. Suess is reminding us not to let the Child inside us Never Grow Up!  We can look at these images at any age or media and remain "Enchantable".

Brian Miller, an enthusiastic Quiz Night frequenter, once asked, "If Koalas hung out in groups, what would we call them?" After some consideration of these solitary yet endearing critters, he suggested "A Cuddle of Koalas" ? Brian has remained true to his inner child right there!

© Sandra Ker Antiquarian Print Gallery 1989-2017 South Australia


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