Five for Friday: The Golden Age of Illustration

Today’s post is going to be a little different, a reflection of my newest obsession, the golden age of illustration, which ran roughly from 1880 to 1920. As Artcyclopedia puts it, advances in technology allowed for “accurate and inexpensive reproduction of art,” both in books and magazines.

Nowhere was this more evident or glorious than in illustrations for children’s books. Beatrix Potter, of course, comes to mind, but there were many others, too: Edmund Dulac, Jessie Willcox Smith, Walter Crane, and Sir John Tennial, to name a few.

As chance would have it, there is even a Facebook group called The Golden Age of illustration. I joined the group not long ago, and that’s when I became hooked on illustrations from this period, especially the ones for children’s books. Not surprising as I write books for young people.

Many of the images from this period are in the public domain, which means we are free to use them as we wish. Clif, who is a talented graphic artist, has caught the golden age of illustration bug and is working with some of the pictures. He has been enlarging the illustrations, smoothing the pixels, and retouching the illustrations. We plan to sell matted prints at fairs we go to, and he has done research about the artist and the books the illustrations come from. This information will be included with the prints.

Below are five of the illustrations he has worked on, and they are by Edmund Dulac and Jessie Willcox Smith.

This is one of my favorites. The illustrator is Edmund Dulac, and the picture is from the story “A Little Girl in a Book,” written by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell. Funny to think there was a time when women writers went by their husband’s name, but there you are. Progress has definitely been made on that front.

This is another of Edmund Dulac’s illustrations, and it’s from “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s not a scene I’m familiar with, that’s for sure.

Jessie Willcox Smith did this illustration for The Little Lame Prince by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

As well as this one—Little Red and the Wolf—otherwise known as Little Red Riding Hood.

And finally, here is a Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration from The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

Today, there are many fine artists who create illustrations for children’s books. But for me, there is something about pictures from the Golden Age of Illustration that captures the wonder, magic, and even the dread of fantasy and fairy tales.

I wonder what it was from that period that allowed illustrators to tap into art that goes so beautifully with the stories.

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36 thoughts on “Five for Friday: The Golden Age of Illustration”

  1. You know very well how much I like this period. Clif has done great work here. I think it was the last hurrah before the photograph took over, and everything had to be done quickly

  2. I love these illustrations too. Writers of around the 1890s fascinate me. It seems to have been a time when creative people got together to encourage each other and celebrate each other’s work.

    1. Thanks, Jodie. He never made a career out if it, but he definitely has a flair, and in his younger days he even did a bit of freelance work.

  3. This post made me very happy because I love illustrated children’s books from this era. I grew up reading my grandmother’s books and the illustations made the books feel very magical! I have her early editions of the Oz books, the Secret Garden, Little Princess and many others. I continue to collect books from this period because of their beautiful illustrations. Some favorites that I have found are Alice in Beeland, Betsy Butterfly,and Gladys Peto’s Children’s Annual.
    How wonderful that Clif is making these images assessable!

  4. Fascinating! Makes me remember way back laying on the floor to look through an illustrated Grim’s Fairy Tales. The book was too big to hold in my lap.

  5. The updated illustrations by Clif look great and what a wonderful idea to include them at the fairs. Thanks for sharing the information and you’re so right that they capture the magic and wonder of the fairy tales.

  6. I’ve often thought that the illustrations of children’s books can change the whole feel of what the words convey. It would be every interesting, as you say, to learn more about that period and just what it was that encouraged such fantastic, and timeless, illustrations.

  7. I never thought about a golden age of illustration, but your examples are instructive. As a child my favorite illustrations were by Margot Zemach, who did the drawings for When Schlemiel Went to Warsaw.

  8. Gorgeous! I love all these illustrations and illustrators. As I might have told you at some time, I have a collection of children’s books and my favourites are those with illustrations. I have a couple of very old picture books illustrated by Randolph Caldecott; Picture Book Number 1 with his illustrations for John Gilpin and Picture Book Number 2 with The House That Jack Built. They are my treasures!

    1. I did not know you had a collection of children’s books, but I am not surprised. Some of us remain young at heart no matter how old we are. Those old picture books illustrated by Caldecott sound like gems.

  9. I’ve just started to get interested in Golden Age illustration, and these are divine, dazzling examples. Thank you so much for introducing me to some artists who are ‘new to me’!

  10. P.S. Loving Kate Greenaway too. There are lovely biographies of both her and Beatrix Potter. Perhaps you can recommend biographies of some other of these artists?

    Not the right era, but I love Pauline Baynes too. There’s something reminiscent of the Golden Age in her style, to me.

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the biographies. Right now, I don’t have any recommendations—just dipping into the subject. I will let readers know if I come across any good ones.

    1. I have really enjoyed this Facebook group. I’ve become familiar with illustrators I’d never heard of. Wonderful!

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