Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Library Obtains Rackham Illustration

By Frank Boles

In late December the library acquired an original drawing created by Arthur Rackham. Rackham was one of the most prolific and successful illustrators in the early twentieth century. The illustration supplemented the now over ninety original works of art drawn to illustrate children’s books founded by Francis and Mary Lois Molson.

A resident of Britain, his illustration was extraordinarily popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Clarke Historical Library is fortunate to have a large collection of Rackham publications—depending on the title, the Clarke holds a signed “limited” edition, a first United States trade edition, or a first British trade edition. And in some happy cases, all three of the same book; happy particularly for the publishers because they quickly realized that adding a variant illustration or two into each of the three volumes would force serious Rackham fans, as well as libraries with Rackham collections, to purchase all three editions. 

Unlike his books, original Rackham illustrations are rather hard to come by. When Sotheby’s in London offered several for auction this December, the library, using funds from the Francis and Mary Lois Molson endowment, was able to obtain one of the offered drawings. It was from Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, Rackham’s reimagining of that classic New York story about a man who took a very, very long nap. Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle was published in 1905. Rip Van Winkle is often described as Rackham’s “break-through” book. Although already a professionally well-known illustrator, the color illustrations in Rip Van Winkle made Rackham a “household name” and launched him on what would become a legendary career. 

The staff was thrilled to add this wonderful addition to the collection, and grateful to the Molsons for their original gift of art drawn for children’s books as well for creating the endowment that helps make additional purchases to expand the collection.