RACKHAM, Arthur

1867 - 1939

Arthur Rackham - self portrait

Born at 2 St James's Terrace, Lambeth, Londonon on 19 September 1867, fourth of the twelve children of Alfred Thomas Rackham (1829–1912), a legal clerk, and his wife, Anne Stevenson (1833–1920), daughter of a Nottingham draper. His father became chief clerk at the Admiralty registry in 1875 and Admiralty marshal at the High Court in 1896. Rackham grew up at 210 South Lambeth Road, South London and was encouraged to paint as a child attending the City of London School 1879–1883 where he won prizes for drawing but indifferent health caused him to leave school on medical advice takig a sea voyage to Australia. The six month journey, January to July 1884, and the six weeks he spent painting landscapes and plants in and around Sydney, renewed his health and became his informal apprenticeship to art. Rackham then enrolled in evening classes at Lambeth School of Art studying under William Llewellyn (1858-1941), his fellow students included Charles Shannon (1863-1937), Charles Ricketts (1868-1931) and Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944) who encouraged his talents as a painter and black and white illustrator to submit illustrations to magazines, but to earn a secure living, Rackham became a clerk in the Westminster Fire Office 1885-1892. He then joined the 'Pall Mall Budget' as a news and features illustrator, and the following year moved to the 'Westminster Budget' and the 'Westminster Gazette'. By now he was living in Buckingham Chambers, Strand, widening his practice by illustrating books for publishers. Rackham's first notable successes were illustrations to The 'Ingoldsby Legends' (1898), 'Gulliver's Travels' (1900), and 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' (1900)which were followed by 'The Greek Heroes' (1903), 'Rip Van Winkle' (1905), 'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' (1906), and 'Alice in Wonderland' (1907). In 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (1908) he developed his gift for drawing witches, gnomes, fairies, and anthropomorphized trees and brought them to a pitch of vivid characterization' and trees with human limbs and faces became one of his trademarks. Despite the fantasy of his subjects, Rackham always maintained a strict sense of reality by giving his figures human traits and foibles and naturalistic, even recognizable, settings—illustrations in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' are variously set in Wimbledon Park, Ruislip churchyard, and Walberswick, Suffolk. Rackham travelled extensively in Europe, particularly to Germany, the Alps, and Italy, and painted in watercolour on these journeys, as a result European landscape and architectural subjects peppered his illustrations, and he developed a particular fondness for German literature and language. This came to the fore in his two illustrated volumes of Wagner's Ring cycle, 'The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie' (1910) and 'Siegfried' (1911). On 16 July 1903, Rackham married at St Saviour's, Hampstead, painter Edyth Harriet Gertrude Gabrielle Starkie (1867–1941), daughter of William Robert and Frances Starkie and they lived at 16 Chalcot Gardens, Hampstead where each had a studio and their only surviving child, Barbara, was born in 1908. The First World War effectively destroyed the illustrated gift-book market which brought Rackham a financial and professional reverse and the principal market for Rackham's work was now the United States. In 1920 the Rackhams moved from London to Houghton House, Amberley, Sussex, where they lived until 1930, while Rackham kept a London studio at Primrose Hill. In 1927 he travelled to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, returning with an important commission from the New York Public Library to illustrate a unique copy of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', to be written out by the calligrapher Graily Hewitt (1864-1952) which was completed in 1930. In landscape watercolours and oil paintings, and in the handful of portraits he painted, Rackham emerges as a considerable artist. In 1930 he moved to Stilegate, the house they had built near Limpsfield, Surrey but the last few years of Rackham's life was interrupted by spells in hospital for both him and Edyth. During his last illness he worked on illustrations to Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows' which was published posthumously in 1940. Rackham died at Stilegate on 6 September 1939 and was cremated in Croydon.




Works by This Painter