|Arthur Rackham Fairy Book|
Arthur Rackham was the leading illustrator in what was known as the 'Golden Age' of British book illustration which ran from roughly 1890-1914. He is particularly known for his fairy drawings with his most famous works including Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1908) and the posthumous Wind in the Willows (1940). He began his illustrating career in 1893 and was widely exhibited and bought in his lifetime. After 1918 the market for lavishly-illustrated books collapsed in Britain but Rackham's work is once again in vogue and editions of his work are highly collectible (and frighteningly expensive).
So why is this edition special? It is hard to get complete original editions of Rackham's work anymore - most of them seem to have been dissected to feed the antique stalls in Portobello Market - so owning a copy of one at all is pretty good. But this is no ordinary edition, it has been signed by the great man himself. There is something about a signed copy of a book that makes it intensely personal. As a writer, being asked to sign your novel is incredibly flattering - a real rock star moment. To be honest, I'm at the stage where I'll sign them whether people ask me to or not. So to own a book signed by someone whose work I've loved for years is thrilling and, with a book that has clearly been so well-loved, it is hard not to weave stories round it. There is a pink smudge across the signature which I rather hope belongs to the Pamela Taylor who this edition was presented to in 1935. It looks suspiciously like lipstick and I want to imagine she was so excited, she kissed it. Which, I'm not ashamed to say, was what I did - I was probably meant to kiss the husband who was responsible for the gift, but he didn't seem to mind.
The stories are wonderful, a mixture of traditional English and French fairy tales and the Arabian Nights, but it is the illustrations that make me go back to this book over and over again. They are witty and beautiful with just the right amount of edginess, the perfect Rackham mix and extend even to his 'self-portrait'. I love the work but I am also increasingly intrigued by the man. A little like our own Glasgow artistic hero, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald, it seems marriage had quite an influence on Rackham's work. In 1903 he married the portrait painter Edyth Starkie who he apparently regarded as his most stimulating, if severest, critic. I fell in love with her most famous painting (The Spotted Dress) in the Musee D'Orsay without having any clue about their relationship until very recently. When you know the link, it's hard not to see a connection between their work and it's certainly something I hope to explore at some point in far more detail. My cabinet choice continues to feed my curiosity - now I've just got to find a way to pay for what could prove a costly addiction...