Fairy Tale Friday: Fairy Tale Illustrations

May 11, 2012 at 12:00 am 13 comments


This post is part of our weekly Fairy Tale Friday feature/meme co-hosted with Books4Learning. Click below to add your post to our Fairy Tale Friday Round-Up!

For my post this week, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate fairy tale illustrations. In my humble opinion, they are often the most beautiful and evocative illustrations provided in books, perhaps because of the inherent magic and creativity of the stories themselves.

There about a million wonderful illustrators I could call out, but I’m just going to touch on my favorites and hopefully you all will chime in with yours!

Arthur Rackham is probably the most famous fairy tale illustrator, giving us many instantly-recognizable images of fairies throughout his career:


I love the fluidity and denseness of his images, as well as how he associates fairies and magical creatures so firmly with nature. By tying them to the natural world, from the trees to the earth to other animals, Rackham wonderfully suggests the ancientness of magic and fairies, apparently remarking on how they were, like the earth and the stones beneath us, here before humans and may will outlast us.

More recently, Charles Vess has taken up the Rackham flag, notably in Stardust, but elsewhere, too:

Vess’ work seems to me slightly more graphic and comic, as if he’s simplified Rackham’s lines and colored in the remaining cells like an old-fashioned animator. The work is still rich, but lacks the detail of Rackham’s fine lines. (Have I mentioned I’m a secret Victorian?)

To that end, Aubrey Beardsley must be next on my list. He, in my opinion, brings out the darker side of fairy tales beautifully with his black-and-white (okay, mainly black and spidery) illustrations:

Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to two illustrators whose illustrations strike me as immediately classic. They look exactly like what, in my mind, classic fairy tale illustration should.

First, Ivan Bilibin, who I just discovered in researching this post:

Second, Warwick Goble, who has a great name and some wonderful illustrations. Here’s just one (there are more here):

I could look at pictures of fairies and fairy tales from the Victorian era pretty much all the live-long day (one more sidebar: if you’re into more stylized fairy tale illustrations, Google Elenore Abbott. She’s completely 1920stastic and does some really lovely, and wholly un-Victorian, illustrations!), so I’ll stop here and ask you for your favorites!

So who is your favorite fairy tale illustrator? And do you have to hand an example?

(And here at the end, I feel I should give a shout out to SurLaLune Fairy Tales which has a phenomenal gallery of illustrations in case you’re interested in seeing more!)

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Library Gripes Fairy Tale Friday: Jack and His Golden Snuff Box

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Charles Vess  |  May 11, 2012 at 8:51 am

    The second image that you picked of mine isn’t. That piece is by Eugene Grassett from the 1890’s. It’s part of a presentation that I do on ‘The Art of the Fantastic’.And I have to say that you seemed to have selected images that prove your thesis instead of looking at the entire body of work and writing about what you see in it. Also, I LOVE Bilibin’s work it is sublime.

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  May 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Wow, thanks for commenting! I’m terribly sorry about the mis-attribution of the second image; I’ve updated the post to correct the mistake.

      And it’s nice of you to suggest I have a “thesis,” but I was really just trying to share some images from fairy tale illustration that I enjoy, rather than make a broader argument about fairy tale illustrations. You’re absolutely right that, if this were a more in-depth study, I would no doubt have both more to say and a more detailed, thorough discussion of each artist’s body of work.

      Thanks again for stopping by! It’s always a treat to hear from the creators of the work we discuss here. :) (And I’m glad to find a fellow Bilibin fan!)

      Reply
  • 3. Books 4 Learning  |  May 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Great post! I love fairy tale illustrations too. Some of my favorites are Steven Kellogg (modern and humorous) and M. Charlotte Craft (traditional and stunning). Jane Dryer’s watercolor pictures are gorgeous in the book I highlighted this week. The linky is not working for me. Here is my link up though. http://amzn.to/IXeTfj

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  May 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks! In terms of modern ones, I really love Ul De Rico’s work with the goblin books. SO lush and beautiful.

      Reply
  • 5. Books 4 Learning  |  May 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Ops! I posted the wrong link. Here is the correct one. http://bit.ly/JpWqVt

    Reply
  • 6. Fairy Tale Friday – Once Upon a Time |  |  May 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    […] Fairy Tale Friday again! Go link up with your fairy tale related posts on Literary Transgressions, this week’s […]

    Reply
  • 7. jesicamelendez  |  May 11, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Hi, I couldn’t get the linky to work either, so here is my post: http://authorjessicagrey.com/2012/05/fairy-tale-friday-once-upon-a-time/

    Reply
  • 8. jesicamelendez  |  May 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Great post. I love fairy tale illustrations! I also couldn’t get the linky to work for me, so here is a link to my post. Thanks for hosting!
    http://authorjessicagrey.com/2012/05/fairy-tale-friday-once-upon-a-time/

    Reply
    • 9. Corey  |  May 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      Oh no, sorry about the linky issues! But thanks for participating anyway. :)

      Reply
  • 10. Amy @ Hope Is the Word  |  May 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing all these great illustrations and your thoughts. I am very interested in art but often feel so ignorant about it that I scarcely know what to say in my own posts. I’m participating in Fairy Tale Friday this week with a twisted/fractured version of “The Princess and the Pea.” —> http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2012/05/08/the-princess-and-the-pizza-by-mary-ann-and-herm-auch/

    Reply
  • 11. Rosie Hunte  |  November 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Thank you for your blog post, this is very interesting, I discovered Rackham quite recently, I’m a big fan of his work, and I was googling to find others so I could buy their books, this is very helpful and your opinions quite valuable, thanks x

    Reply
  • 12. linandandy  |  April 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Reblogged this on riverport living.

    Reply
  • 13. Fairy Tales: Magic All Around | Jeanne Belisle Lombardo  |  January 19, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    […] fare we got from the local library, that even my ignorant young mind intuited its quality. The Romantic illustrations alone sent me into ecstatic reveries that I did not yet know signaled an awakening to aesthetic […]

    Reply

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