Rip Van Winkle, by Arthur Rackham

November 04, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

“I think Rip [is] one of the most remarkable of created characters. Created as the sheerest piece of pleasant moralizing, acknowledging, even, that it was cribbed from old-world sources, here is Rip as firmly fixed in the hearts of all good Americans as any genuine myth. I can think of hardly another modern instance.” – Arthur Rackham.


“There have been three creators of Rip Van Winkle. The first, who was Washington Irving, created him with his pen; the second, who was Joseph Jefferson, created him with his personality; and the third, who is Arthur Rackham, erected him with his brush.” – Eleanor Farjeon, grand-daughter of Joseph Jefferson.


(11) Surrounded by a Troop of Children(11) Surrounded by a Troop of Children

Surrounded by a Troop of Children.


Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) was one of the leading book illustrators of his time. Rackham, the son of Alfred Thomas Rackham, was educated at the City of London School and at Lambeth School of Art. After working as a clerk at the insurance firm of the Westminster Fire Office from 1885 to 1892, he officially began his art career in the early 1890s working as a journalistic illustrator for several London newspapers and contributing occasional illustrations to magazines. His first work as a book illustrator can be seen in the travel book titled To the Other Side, by Thomas Rhodes, published in 1893, and The Dolly Dialogues, by Anthony Hope, published in 1894.


Throughout his nearly 50-year career he would illustrate a range of classic stories including Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907), Gulliver’s Travels (1900, 1909), Hansel and Gretel (1920) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1928), among many others. His last book illustrations, which he worked on while in failing health, were for The Wind in the Willows, published posthumously in 1940.


Rackham was commissioned in the middle of 1904 by Ernest Brown and Phillips, joint owners of Leicester Galleries, to complete 51 color illustrations for the to-be-published book titled Rip Van Winkle. Rackham was paid 300 guineas total, or about six guineas per drawing, for both the original drawings and all the rights associated with them. The publishing rights were then resold to William Heinemann (1863-1920). With his reputation firmly established with the publishing of Rip Van Winkle, Rackham would negotiate much improved terms for further book illustrations, his contracted price beginning at five guineas for the copyright for each illustration, but now with Rackham retaining ownership of the originals. (Hamilton, James. Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration. Great Britain: Pavilion Books Limited, 1995. pp. 67-72.)


In 1905 the book Rip Van Winkle, as illustrated by Rackham, was published by William Heinemann of London and in the United States by Doubleday, Page and Co. The book contained 51 illustrations that were reproductions in full color of the original drawings by Rackham. The illustrations depicted various scenes from throughout Irving’s beloved Catskills tale. In conjunction with the release of the book, the drawings were exhibited at Leicester Galleries in London in the spring of 1905. Most of the original drawings were sold at the exhibition.


(7) Taught Them to Fly Kites(7) Taught Them to Fly Kites

Taught Them to Fly Kites.


(28) He Even Ventured to Taste the Beverage(28) He Even Ventured to Taste the Beverage

“He even ventured to taste the beverage, which he found had much of the flavour of excellent hollands.”


(1) Rip Wakes Up(1) Rip Wakes Up

Rip wakes up. “Surely,” though he, “I have not slept here all night . . . Oh! that flagon! that wicked flagon! what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle?”


Leicester Galleries, where Rackham first exhibited his Rip Van Winkle drawings in 1905, was established only three years prior in 1902 by brothers Cecil and Wilfred Philips, who were then joined a year later by Ernest Brown. Originally operating at Leicester Square in central London, the gallery’s first exhibition took place and 1903. Over its 74-year history, Leicester Galleries held over 1,400 exhibitions, with its last being held in 1975. Rackham’s work was regularly exhibited at Leicester Galleries, including every year from 1905 to 1913. Upon Rackham’s passing in 1939 a memorial exhibition was held in his honor.


The first edition of Rip Van Winkle was published as a limited edition of 250 copies, all numbered and signed by the artist. The book was “bound in vellum with gold pictorial stamping and lettering on the cover and gold lettering on the spine, gilt top. 57 number pages of printed matter and fifty-one full-page illustrations in color mounted on brown paper. Size of page 8 3/4 x 11.” (Latimore, Sarah Briggs; Grace Clark Haskell. Arthur Rackham: A Bibliography. New York: Burt Franklin, 1936.)


“The illustrations, all gathered together at the back of the book, are ‘tipped in’, that is, printed on coated paper and stuck on to thicker card because it was then technically impossible to print in color on text pages. The 51 illustrations, for a story of not more than five thousand words, enable the story to be told twice, one through Irving’s words, and once again, image by image, through Rackham’s pictures with their text extracts printed as titles on India paper flyleaves.” (Hamilton, James. Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration. Great Britain: Pavilion Books Limited, 1995.)


After the limited-edition books quickly sold out, a trade edition was issued, “bound in green cloth with the same [as the original pictorial stamping in gold and gold lettering, with fifty-one full-page illustrations mounted on green paper, 57 number pages, 7 1/4 x 9 3/4.” (Latimore, Sarah Briggs; Grace Clark Haskell. Arthur Rackham: A Bibliography. New York: Burt Franklin, 1936.)


(35) He Found the House Gone to Decay(35) He Found the House Gone to Decay

“He found the house gone to decay . . . ‘My very dog,’ sighed poor rip, ‘has forgotten me.’”


(40) Sure Enough, It is Rip Van Winkle(40) Sure Enough, It is Rip Van Winkle

“Sure enough! it is Rip Van Winkle – it is himself!”


(45) He Preferred Making Friends Among the Rising Generation(45) He Preferred Making Friends Among the Rising Generation

“He preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favour.”


In 1916 Rip Van Winkle was reissued “bound in light gray-blue cloth with pictorial stamping in gold on the cover and gold lettering on the cover and spine. 36 numbered pages, 6 7/8 x 9 3/4. Twenty-four full-page illustrations in color, five full-page drawings in black and white, nine black and white drawings in the text, and pictorial end-papers, all by Arthur Rackham. This book is a reprint of the 1905 edition, with many new black and white illustrations added and some of the original colored plates left out.” (Latimore, Sarah Briggs; Grace Clark Haskell. Arthur Rackham: A Bibliography. New York: Burt Franklin, 1936.)


The exhibition at Leicester Galleries of the Rip Van Winkle drawings would lead to further success for Rackham. The exhibition was attended by J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. After admiring Rackham’s work, Barrie asked Rackham to produce a set of drawings for his story featuring the character Peter Pan. Rackham agreed, and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens would become one of the most popular gift books of 1906.


Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle received much positive praise in various newspaper reviews, both in England and in the United States. The reviews commented on many aspects of the book and its illustrations, including their originality, the use of color, the book’s unique layout, the quality of materials used to manufacture the book and that Rackham’s drawings were in the original spirit of Irving’s tale. 


March 11, 1905. “‘Rip Van Winkle’ is the subject of fifty water colors by Mr. Arthur Rackham, A.R.W.S., shortly to be on view at the Leicester Galleries. No story could offer better subjects to an artist of Mr. Rackham’s peculiar gifts, and those who have been privileged to see his pictures regard them as the best work he has yet done.” (“Art and Artists.” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. March 11, 1905.)


March 13, 1905. “. . . Mr. Rackham is exhibiting a collection of delightfully quaint and delicate drawings illustrative of “Rip Van Winkle.” His designs are full of intricate detail; and, while droll, they appeal to the intelligence as strongly illuminating the most appealing features of the famous legend of the Catskills. Technically, too, the drawings are important. Mr. Rackham, though he works on absolutely independent lines, realizes his ideas in a manner that all groups of artists will applaud.” (“Our London Correspondence.” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. March 13, 1905.)


March 13, 1905. “As to Mr. Rackham, his illustrations to “Rip Van Winkle” are delightful, and will be highly appreciated in New York, where they are to be exhibited next autumn. There is genuine comedy here, while now and then, as in the drawing of “Rip’s Daughter and Grandchild,” the artist shows us that he can paint a pretty woman with much daintiness. In other drawings, his dragons, wolves, and other fierce creatures are properly terrifying.” (“Art Exhibitions.” The Times (London). March 13, 1905.)


March 13, 1905. “An exhibition of extraordinary interest has just been opened at the Leicester Galleries. It consists of a series of drawings by Mr. Arthur Rackham, an artist who holds an absolutely unique position among our present-day painters of imaginative motives. The majority of these drawings are intended as illustrations for an edition of “Rip Van Winkle,” which is to be published shortly, but with these are included a number of his other fantasies and a few of the illustrations which he has executed during recent years for “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and for various books of the same order. The special characteristics of Mr. Rackham’s work are its amazing freedom of imagination and its remarkable beauty and originality of treatment. He works a vein of fantastic humour, in which he seems to find an inexhaustible supply of suggestions that he turns to account in an absolutely fascinating manner, and with delightful quaintness of expression. He affects particularly those subjects which give him scope for the display of his charming power of grotesque exaggeration, for the assertion of a capacity for invention which is partly humorous and partly poetic, but always spontaneous and brilliantly personal. Even in his most surprising flights of fancy he never misses those essentials which stamp his work as that of a sincere artist and a man of serious conviction, and in nothing that he does, however grotesque, is there the smallest hint of vulgarity. As an executant he takes the highest possible rank; his pen-drawings, tinted with delicious washes of color, are wonderfully accomplished and full of decorative beauty, and his pure water-colors, though, perhaps, a little less confident and masterly in handling, have admirable qualities and show a very correct perception of appropriate technicalities.” (Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England). March 13, 1905.)


September 30, 1905. “Art books and gift books, chiefly in demand for the holiday trade, are already coming in unusual supply from both English and American publishers. There have been great improvements lately in the art of color printing, and richly illustrated books, dealing with the lives of artists, and critical studies of their works, can be produced now at a comparatively small cost. A book which is sold at retail nowadays at as high a price as $5 ought to be positively a thing of beauty and of permanent worth. Such a book is the new edition of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” (published here by Doubleday, Page & Co.) The pictures are by Arthur Rackham, an English artist, who has poetic fancy and technical skill in plenty, and a good enough comprehension of his subject, derived largely, probably, from studies in old Holland rather than the neighborhood of the New Netherlands and the Kaatskill Mountains. But the spirit of the mountains he has caught from Irving. The forty-odd colored plates, mounted loosely on dark green boards, are charming in tone and excellent as illustrations. Perhaps some of the housewives are a bit too young and comely, but that is a small fault. The humor and the poetry of Irving are all in the pictures, without a hint of the theatrical quality. The type and paper are all that they should be.” (“Saturday Review of Books.” The New York Times. September 30, 1905.)


September 30, 1905. “One of the most beautifully and artistically gotten up books that we have seen in the “Rip Van Winkle,” with Mr. Arthur Rackham’s illustrations, published by William Heinemann in London and Doubleday, Page & Co. in New York. First comes the test of Irving’s tale splendidly printed in large type; then follow Mr. Rackham’s fifty pictures, exquisitely reproduced, looking like paintings on ivory and each mounted on tinted cardboard. The drawing of the pictures is very good. The effect is decorative, perhaps, rather than illustrative, and the artist we fancy, has tried at times to make an attractive picture rather to show the author’s meaning, but the pictures, whether grotesque, fanciful, comical or purely descriptive, are charming. The price of the book is remarkably low.” (“Some Interesting Picture Books.” The Sun (New York, New York). September 30, 1905.)


October 2, 1905. “Illustrated books abound nowadays, but it is rarely that we see so charming a book as the Rip Van Winkle of Washington Irving with fifty colored pictures by Mr. Arthur Rackham. Here we have a young artist of talent who has at last found a congenial subject. Mr. Rackham is favorably known as an illustrator of Georgian and Victorian novels, but his true sphere is obviously in the Teutonic fairyland, peopled with gnomes and pixies, which Washington Irving rediscovered among the Catskills. He enjoys the grotesque humor of the old Dutch legend as heartily as Irving did, and he renders it in line and color with the same quiet skill. By a happy innovation the text is printed at the beginning of the book and the plates are kept together at the end; it is easy, therefore, to follow Mr. Rackham as he retells the story in his own delightful way. The drawings are not all original. The village scenes remind us now of Caldecott and now of George Boughton in their airy grace and freshness. But when Mr. Rackham has brought Rip into the mountains and confronted him with the “odd-looking persons playing at ninepins” who hand him the flagon of excellent Hollands we find ourselves in the company of an artist whose imagination is unfettered by precedent. Hendrik Hudson and his men in these pictures are the creations of a lively and delicate fancy, and the rocks and fir trees among which these strange beings move are as fantastic as they. The treatment of landscape recalls Japanese pictures; the precise outlines that reinforce the color often produce an effect similar to that of a Japanese wood-block. But Mr. Rackham is never a mere imitator, and his most whimsical compositions have a beauty that is all their own. In the last but one of the series, for instance, the idea of the “old squaw spirit who hung up the new moons in the skies and cut up the old ones into stars” is rendered with amazing ingenuity and at the same time makes an exquisite moonlight landscape I purplish grey tones. Among the pictures of mortals, those of Rip awaking and of Rip telling stories to children by firelight may be named also for their dramatic force and their vivid play of light and shade. But almost every one of these clever and thoughtful drawings is good to look upon. They have been reproduced with considerable success; though the more delicate drawings lose some of their piquancy, other certainly gain in coherence by the reduction in size that they have had to bear, and the color-printing is far more accurate than usual, probably because Mr. Rackham’s style suits the process. We could not, in fact, wish for a better illustrated version of Rip Van Winkle.” (“New Books.” The Guardian (London). October 2, 1905.)


October 5, 1905. “There have been not a few illustrated editions of “Rip Van Winkle,” but never has Washington Irving’s story been illustrated so delightfully as in the book just published by Mr. Heinemann (price 15s. net). It contains fifty fine reproductions in color of a series of drawings by Mr. Arthur Rackham which were greatly admired at an exhibition last spring. In the strange scenes and quaint characters of the story this accomplished artist has found congenial themes, and the pictures, but turns weird and fantastic, graceful and humorous, are throughout wonderfully effective.” (Truth. Vol. 58. 1905. October 5, 1905.)


October 13, 1905. “Rip Van Winkle. In the form in which Washington Irving’s immortal story is presented by Mr. Heinemann it is a genuine pleasure to renew acquaintance with the hero of the Kaatskill Mountains. For it is not merely the familiar tale that we meet with afresh, but the legend adorned with illustrations that must needs delight by reason of their fancy, aptness, and charm. Mr. Arthur Rackham may be congratulated sincerely upon the task and the art he has brought to bear upon these quaint and imaginative drawings. The stage has frequently familiarized us with the picturesque figure of the Rip of tradition, with his shrewish wife, the village children he delighted to romp with, and his companions-in-idleness. But Mr. Rackham “pictures” them all anew, and in accordance, not with accepted convention, but with his own delicate fancy, which is revealed quite at its best in these welcome pages. There is both humor and pathos in the artist’s treatment of the well-worn classic, and he has been peculiarly happy in preserving its spirit. Never, indeed, has the famous story been presented in a more attractive guise.” (“New Novels.” The Daily Telegraph (London, England). October 13, 1905.)


October 26, 1905. “Mr. Heinemann’s edition of “Rip Van Winkle” has been beautifully illustrated by Mr. Arthur Rackham, A.R.W.S., and modern methods of reproduction in colors have assisted in the publication of an exceedingly artistic book. Some fifty examples of Mr. Rackham’s art follow the letterpress, and the whole is enclosed in a binding of tasteful simplicity.” (“William Heinemann.” The Daily Telegraph (London, England). October 26, 1905.)


November 25, 1905. “Rip Van Winkle. By Washington Irving. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. (Heinemann.) – In the minds of many the story of Rip Van Winkle is identified not so much with Irving the author as with “Joe” Jefferson the actor. Jefferson’s marvelous impersonation of the cheerful vagabond has become the authentic portrait of Rip, and hence it is inevitable that all other alleged portraits should wear an appearance of doubtful authenticity. Mr. Rackham’s drawings, which constitute the real reason for the existence of this beautiful edition of Irving’s story, are of remarkable merit, both in conception and execution. Especially is this true of the pictures representing the supernatural features of the story. That much overworked adjective “weird” faithfully describes many of them, and they cannot be other than a delight to all lovers of true art. Yet it must be said that Mr. Rackham’s conception of Rip Van Winkle will somewhat disappoint those who know him as presented by Jefferson. Mr. Rackham’s Rip is a silly, even a weak-minded person, whereas the true Jeffersonian Rip was conspicuous for his shrewdness. But to seem to find fault with admirable work merely because it does not entirely correspond with certain other admirable work is hardly fair. Mr. Rackham has demonstrated in these drawings that he is not only a master of the pencil, but also an artist of real power. This will not be news to those who have been familiar with his work, but not every one has had that privilege, and to those who have not, his drawings will come as a delightful surprise.” (The Athenaeum. No. 4074. November 25, 1905.)


November 29, 1905. “Two sumptuous holiday books have just made their appearance bearing the imprint of Doubleday, Page & Company. The first is Arthur Rackham’s illustrated “Rip Van Winkle.” This is perhaps the most remarkably illustrated version of the great American classic. Mr. Rackham is an eminent English artist, and at the exhibition of the originals of this book every one was sold. He shows a richly humorous imagination and a unique power of invention.” (The Buffalo Commercial. November 29, 1905.)


December 2, 1905. “Rip Van Winkle. – This new edition of Washington Irving’s well-known story is especially designed for the holidays. The text is printed on an excellent quality of heavy paper in clear black type, and following it are fifty illustrations in color by Arthur Rackham, an English illustrator. The spirit and humor of Irving’s story are all in the pictures, which are loosely mounted on dark green paper and charming in tone and color. These drawings were recently exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, in London, and attracted considerable attention. The volume is tastefully bound in dark green cloth and lettered in gold.” (The New York Times. December 2, 1905.)


December 2, 1905. “The holiday editions of American authors are led off by a sumptuous reprint of “Rip Van Winkle” (Doubleday, Page & Co.), in which text and plates are put together after a new fashion. The former occupies the first fifty-seven pages, and occupies them, we may add, with every circumstance of luxury. No holiday book of the season has been better printed. Then follow the illustrations, printed in quiet tints, and each mounted on its separate leaf of stout, dark green paper. This mounting idea is not a bad one, for it gives to each illustration the value of an independent picture set on a mat, as if for framing, but, unfortunately, the wrong color was chosen. Mr. Arthur Rackham’s designs merited a better background, though we are not unprepared to hear that he himself chose the somber tint. We would have preferred something a shade lighter. As it is, these drawings excite our lively admiration. They are original in conception and in style, they really illustrate the famous tale, and they are executed with authority, making us feel that the artist knew just what he wanted to say and knew just how to say it. His restrained, tawny tones are especially gratifying. The book is manufactures with marked thoroughness. Here we have one more of those Christmas publications which are not meant for Christmas alone.” (“Literary News and Criticism.” New York Tribune. December 2, 1905.)


December 10, 1905. “Rip Van Winkle in Color. Washington Irving’s immortal romance, “Rip Van Winkle,” has been published in numerous editions, and with all grades of decorative adornment, but it is doubtful if this classic American story ever received a quainter or more artistic setting that the edition which is issued by Doubleday, Page & Co. The charm of the edition lies in the illustrations, which are from water color drawings by Arthur Rackham, an associate of the Royal Water Color Society. In form, the book is a large, handsomely bound, and with appropriate cover design. The text is in a large-faced type, and instead of sandwiching the illustrations between the pages of the text, the legend comes first – prefaced by the author’s quaint introduction, relative to our old friend Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker. Following the text, the pictures are grouped together, as if in a portfolio, each with its appropriate legend on the fly leaf that covers it. The frontispiece is an ideal portrait of Rip Van Winkle, as he appeared after his twenty years slumber. All of the plates, about fifty in number, are in simulation of water color drawings, and are mounted on heavy paper, of a dull-toned olive tint, affording an effective background. Mr. Rackham has been singularly fortunate in his conception of the legend, and has put into his drawings all of the quaintness and originality of its antic quality. His grotesque never descends to the buffoonery of caricature; it is filled with weirdness; his gnomes of the mountain are the gnomes of fairy romances, reminding one the pleasantly uncanny sort of fellows that childhood conjures up, and delightfully shivers over. His ideals of the old time settlement, with its flavor of the Dutchman’s ideas in architecture, the pictures of the folk – are all in the happiest sort of keeping with the spirit of the legend. One must have studied Rip Van Winkle with loving care and appreciation to have caught Irving’s atmosphere so perfectly. In the matter of color as well, the artist has avoided the fault so often apparent in illustrative work of this sort, of overcoloring. He has painted with due restraint; there is no glare of primary tints in his pictures. In a word, they are a delight to the eye, appealing to the taste and giving one a sense of artistic completeness. Altogether, a most successful illustration of this much loved legend. From these delightful color pictures the mind runs back to Felix O. C. Darley’s drawings in outline of years ago, illustrative of the Van Winkle legend – drawings which in their outline sketch style seemed to have been suggested by Flaxman’s illustrations of Homer. The contrast between those cold and not very inspiring designs and the warmth of color and originality of Mr. Rackham’s pictures is wonderfully satisfactory. It means an advance that is shared by the artist’s public as well as the artist.” (“More Holiday Books for All Sorts of Folks.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 10, 1905.)


December 23, 1905. “So great has been the demand for the edition of “Rip Van Winkle” illustrated by Arthur Rackham that Doubleday, Page & Company have brought out a second large edition. Mr. Rackham has a richly humorous imagination, and the fifty full-page colored illustrations reveal a new and quaint world of elves, goblins and mountain characters. It has been said of these pictures that the artist has caught the spirit of Irving’s classic, and interpreted anew it ‘old-fashioned grace and elfin playfulness.’” (Nashville Banner. December 23, 1905.)


1905. “Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, with fifty-two drawings by Arthur Rackham, A.R.W.S. How such an exquisitely beautiful volume as this can be produced for so small a sum as fifteen shillings we cannot pretend to know; it is a veritable triumph in the art of colored illustration, worthy of a place on the shelves of the most eclectic of bibliophiles. Mr. Rackham’s drawings in color evince the most delicate art; indeed, we find it difficult to praise them adequately. Imagination, fancy, humor, grotesqueness, pathos, weirdness – all these qualities may be discovered freely expended on his work; the pictures introduce us to a new world, a world wherein we dwell with great delight and profit to ourselves. Each drawing is pasted on to a separate page and may easily be removed if required for framing purposes. It is a book which must bring honor to both artist and publisher.” (The Publishers’ Circular. Vol. 83. 1905.)


Despite the widespread praise of the Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle drawings, one critic from The Daily Telegraph in London found the artwork lacking in many different areas.


“At the Leicester Galleries we find two new exhibitions; one a group of water-colors illustrating Rip Van Winkle, and other Fantasies, by Mr. Arthur Rackham, of the Royal Society of Painter is Water Colors . . . Mr. Arthur Rackham shows here on a larger scale, and with more of elaboration and deliberation, the same grim, yet not, save exceptionally, cruel or unamiable vein of fantasy that has won for him much favorable notice at the more recent exhibitions of the “old” society. It is an Anglo-Teutonic mode of conception, in the realms of the fantastic, the goblinesque, the macabre, that distinguishes the young English artist. His method, his means are derived from many sources; his way of looking at his subjects is, nevertheless, quite personal and engaging; up to a certain point he interests and convinces, even though the sources of his art may not yet have so mingled and coalesced as to make up a perfectly homogeneous whole.


Obviously, the chief inspirer of these strange little creatures who swarm through the Rip Van Winkle designs is “Dicky” Doyle, most amiable and inventive of all limners of the fairy and hobgoblin tribe. In the rustic scenes that most expressive of draughtsmen and exquisitely tender of humorists, Randolph Caldecott, has not less obviously been the exemplar. And again Mr. Rackham as an executant owes much – yet as regards essentials perhaps not enough – to the great Hokusai and the comparatively late Japanese draughtsmen of his period.


While taking genuine pleasure in this delicately fantastic and in its way attractive art, we must in conscience level against Mr. Rackham a reproach which as addressed to a draughtsman is a very serious one. His drawings show a tangle of lines ingenious and elaborate rather than truly expressive; his line is wanting in flexibility and in power; with all its appearance of incisiveness it conveys too little. Vitality, momentariness, and the suggestion of movement – so necessary in caricature and humorous fantasy – are, if not entirely wanting, at any rate present in no high degree of intensity. This is disquieting, if we are to look upon this promising artist as a candidate for the highest honors.


It is a pity that his carefully-wrought and at its best really imaginative series of drawings should not have been arranged in the order of the story, familiar and dear to all, both on this and the other side of the Atlantic. It is very hard on the pictorial humorist that the spectator should be compelled to absorb his humor and digest his characterization in this jerky and uneven fashion.


Thus, perhaps, the most genuine creating of the series and certainly in its quiet way the most original piece of color, is “The old squaw spirit who hung up new moons in the skies.” But this is divorced by the whole length of the gallery from a companion piece of the same grimly jocular type, “If displeased, she (the old squaw spirit), would brew up clouds as black as ink.” Caldecott-like, with a difference – that is less spontaneous, more deliberate – is, among other drawings, “Those mountains are regarded by all good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers.”


The “Curtain-lecture – indirect cause of all Rip’s strange adventure – is, with all its elaboration, a failure. No such comely, undemonstrative, and expressionless female could have driven Rip to despair and self-banishment. The power to evoke new types of quaintness, engaging and disquieting at the same time – like the goblins in Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” – is well shown in “His father had seen them (the Hollander-gnomes) in their old Dutch dresses, playing at nine-pins.” The type of Rip himself – the ancient Rip of the elf locks and the weird garments – is pathetic, but not strongly personal. Japanese in intention, but unfortunately without the synthetic quality, the concision, or the intense expressiveness of fine Japanese art, is ‘He was only answered by a flock of idle crows.’” (“Leicester Galleries.” The Daily Telegraph (London, England). March 23, 1905.)


This seemingly over-the-top negative review had no impact on the sales of Rip Van Winkle, and could almost be dismissed in its entirety, as it was so far outside the norm of general opinion, and was so greatly outnumbered by the positive reviews. With history as a guide, author Jeff A. Menges, in The Arthur Rackham Treasury, writes of Rip Van Winkle’s impact on the publishing industry at large.


“In completing 51 color pieces for a classic Early American tale, Rackham created a work that was to become a turning point in the production of books. The recent perfection of color-separated printing had made the accurate reproduction of color artwork possible, and British publisher William Heinemann found the perfect marriage in this pairing of Rackham with Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, an atmospheric tale of rustic America. The book became an instant classic, and popularized the production of lavishly illustrated gift editions of well-known tales – a trend that delighted both publishers and consumers.”


Derek Hudson, in his biography titled Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work, wrote of the summary impact of the publishing of Rip Van Winkle on Rackham and his career.


“The first work that greatly advanced his fame in the years immediately following his marriage was his edition of Rip Van Winkle, with its fifty-one color plates, published in 1905.


This lovely book decisively established Rackham as the leading decorative illustrator of the Edwardian period. One does not know which to admire most – the superb artistry of his landscapes, the poetry of the scenes of Rip by the riverside, the charm of his children and fairies, or the grotesque groups of Hendrick Hudson and his crew which so long anticipated the art of Walt Disney. With Rip Van Winkle he began his fruitful association with the firm of William Heinemann, who issued the book in a limited edition and a trade edition, while American, French, German and other foreign editions were also called for, setting a pattern of publications to be followed for many years. Another profitable precedent was established by the exhibition of the originals at the Leicester Galleries in March 1905. All except eight of the pictures were sold, and the deluxe edition of the book was fully subscribed before the exhibition closed. Henceforth Rackham’s book illustrations were regularly exhibited at the Leicester Galleries at the time of their publication, and they found ready buyers.” 


Given the location of his birth and upbringing, Rackham is rightfully regarded as one of the great British illustrators in history, but through his delightful work in Rip Van Winkle he can also justly claim a place in American illustration history. Dozens of illustrators from the 1800s through to the current day have created their visual interpretation of Irving’s tale, many with great success, but Rackham’s originality, use of color and technical expertise, all of which were used in a combination that had not been seen before, continue to place his Rip Van Winkle interpretation amongst the most revered, even though it is been more than a century since its original publication.   



Rip Van Winkle illustrations by Arthur Rackham


Illustration 1. Rip wakes up. “Surely,” though he, “I have not slept here all night . . . Oh! that flagon! that wicked flagon! what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle?”


Illustration 2. “He found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that legendary lore so invaluable to true history.”


Illustration 3. “These fairy mountains.”


Illustration 4. “Some of the houses of the original settlers.”


Illustration 5. “A curtain-lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering.”


Illustration 6. “The good wives of the village never failed in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle.”


Illustration 7. “Taught Them to Fly Kites.”


Illustration 8. “Certain biscuit-bakers have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes.”


Illustration 9. “These mountains are regarded by all good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers.”


Illustration 10. “These fairy mountains.”


Illustration 11. “Surrounded by a troop of children.”


Illustration 12. “Not a dog would bark at him throughout the neighborhood.”


Illustration 13. “He would sit on a wet rock and fish all day.”


Illustration 14. “The women of the village used to employ him to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them.”


Illustration 15. “His cow would go astray or get among the cabbages.”


Illustration 16. “So that he was fain to draw off his forces and take to the outside of the house – the only side which, in truth, belongs to a hen-pecked husband.”


Illustration 17. “His children were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody.”


Illustration 18. “Equipped in a pair of his father’s cast-off galligaskins, which he had as much ado to hold up as a fine lady does her train in bad weather.”


Illustration 19. “He used to console himself by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers and other idle personages, which held its sessions before a small inn.”


Illustration 20. “When anything displeased him he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to send forth short, frequent and angry puffs.”


Illustration 21. “Mutually relieving one another they clambered up a narrow gully.”


Illustration 22. “A company of odd-looking persons playing at ninepins.”


Illustration 23. “Their visages too were peculiar.”


Illustration 24. “There was one who seemed to be the commander.”


Illustration 25. “They maintained the gravest faces.”


Illustration 26. “They stared at him with such fixed, statue-like gaze, that his heart turned within him and his knees smote together.”


Illustration 27. “They quaffed their liquor in profound silence.”


Illustration 28. “He even ventured to taste the beverage, which he found had much of the flavour of excellent hollands.”


Illustration 29. “The sleep of Rip Van Winkle.”


Illustration 30. “He was only answered by a flock of idle crows.”


Illustration 31. “They all stared at him with equal marks of surprise and invariably stroked their chins.”


Illustration 32. “A troop of strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him and pointing at his gray beard.”


Illustration 33. “The dogs too, not one of whom he recognized for an old acquaintance, barked at him as he passed.”


Illustration 34. “Strange names were over the doors – strange faces at the windows – everything was strange.”


Illustration 35. “He found the house gone to decay . . . ‘My very dog,’ sighed poor rip, ‘has forgotten me.’”


Illustration 36. “They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity.”


Illustration 37. Rip’s son, “a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up the mountain.”


Illustration 38. Rip’s daughter and grand-child.


Illustration 39. “All stood amazed.”


Illustration 40. “Sure enough! it is Rip Van Winkle – it is himself!”


Illustration 41. “Old Peter Vanderdonk was the most ancient inhabitant of the village.”


Illustration 42. “The Kaatskill Mountains had always been haunted by strange beings.”


Illustration 43. “His father had seen them in their old Dutch dresses playing at ninepins.”


Illustration 44. “He soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time.”


Illustration 45. “He preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favour.”


Illustration 46. “Even to this day they never hear a thunderstorm about the Kaatskill but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins.”


Illustration 47. “I have even talked with Rip Van Winkle myself, who, when I last saw him, was a very venerable old man.”


Illustration 48. “The Kaatsberg or Catskill mountains have always been a region full of fable.”


Illustration 49. “The Indians considered them the abode of spirits.”


Illustration 50. “They were ruled by an old squaw spirit who hung up the new moons in the skies and cut up the old ones into stars.”


Illustration 51. “If displeased, she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys!”



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