Golden age of children’s book illustration on display

Posted by mjs76 at Jan 27, 2012 11:15 AM |
The current exhibition in the David Wilson Library celebrates the work of three great Victorian illustrators, best known for their work in children’s picture books.
Golden age of children’s book illustration on display

Randolph Caldecott's Great Panjandrum

Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Arthur Rackham all produced a wide range of illustrations for publications of many types - some of which are on display in the Library - but posterity remembers them best for the pictures they drew for children.

Walter Crane

Walter Crane (1845-1915) showed artistic promise as a child and was apprenticed to an engraver at the age of 13.

As an adult, he became involved in the Arts and Crafts movement, designing a range of wallpapers, tiles etc, and he was also politically active, joining organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation, the Socialist League and the Fabian Society.


His 1892 book The Claims of Decorative Art argued that art could only flourish in an egalitarian society. But despite all this, and his work illustrating political and polemical tomes, he remained somewhat frustrated that his greatest and most lasting success was in his illustrative work for children.

The Library exhibition includes such biting political works as The Baby’s Bouquet (1878), Pothooks and Perseverance, or the ABC Serpent (1886) and Mrs Molesworth’s Little Miss Peggy (1887). In 1893 Crane was appointed Director of Design at Manchester School of Art (now Manchester Metropolitan University) and five years after that he became Principal of the Royal College of Art. He never recovered from the shock of his wife’s death in a railway accident in 1941 and passed away only three months later.

Illustration from 'The Baby's Bouquet' by Walter Crane, 1878.

Randolph Caldecott


Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) also showed a precocious talent for art but his father sought a more respectable career for him and arranged a junior position in a bank. After eleven years of freelancing his illustrations in his spare time, Caldecott took the plunge in 1871 and left banking for a full-time art career.

His picture books were tremendously popular and he frequently exhibited his water-colours at the Royal Academy. The young Beatrix Potter was a huge fan and Caldecott’s influence on her own drawing style can be clearly seen.

Caldecott books on display in the Library include an edition of Aesop’s Fables (1883) and also The Great Panjandrum Himself (1885). This nonsense poem by Samuel Foote (1720-1777), full of non-sequiturs, was at one time very popular with university students who would take great pride in being able to recite it from memory.

Not one of our Professors, this is actually 'The Great Panjandrum Himself', as illustrated by Randolph Caldecott in 1885.

Arthur Rackham


Probably the best known of the three illustrators on display is Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) who began his professional career as a full-time artist in 1892 and was still working right up to his death, a few days after World War 2 broke out. Rackham’s distinctive pen-and-ink style graced editions of classic works including works by Shakespeare and Wagner. His final book was an edition of The Wind in the Willows, published posthumously in 1940.

On display in the Library are some examples of Rackham’s magazine work, including several 1905 illustrations for Punch, plus illustrated editions of Peter Pan and  Gulliver’s Travels.

Though he could conjure wonderfully posed and framed realistic pictures, Rackham’s style was particularly suited to fairy tale and fantasy and he became adept at depicting fairies, tree-monsters and other distinctive elements, the influence of which remains strong today. Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, has openly acknowledged Rackham’s influence on the design of his films.

This illustration by Arthur Rackham for 'St. Nicholas: an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks' includes a self-portrait in the lower left corner.

About the exhibition

You can find the special display case in the basement level of the David Wilson Library. Entry to the library is free but controlled so if you are not a student of member of University staff, please ask to be let through the barrier. Details of staffed opening hours are available on the Library website. The children’s illustrators exhibition runs until the end of March.

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