origins of what has now become known as the Golden Age
of children's book illustration can be traced all the
way back to the work of George
Cruikshank (1792 - 1878), who is recognised as the
first artist to set the standard in children's book illustration.
the early part of the nineteenth century, Cruikshank laid
the framework for the great flowering of the illustrator's
art that began in the mid-nineteenth century.
|A Fantasy, The Fairy Ring, George
Cruikshank's genius directly inspired
Doyle and John
Tenniel, while the pioneering work of the Victorian engravers
William James Linton and the Dalziel
Brothers and of the colour printer Edmund Evans contributed
greatly to the enduring success of Walter
Caldecott and Kate
Greenaway. With these illustrators, nursery rhymes, fairy
tales, animal stories and children's picture books entered upon
a new and 'modern' era of artistic refinement.
The last years of the nineteenth century saw a great awakening
of interest in folk tales, revived by Andrew
Lang and Joseph
Jacobs, and in the pages of the Strand magazine,
from all parts of the world. At the same time Howard
Pyle was revolutionizing American children's books, and
encouraging his many talented students to follow his example.
This revival in the appreciation of old fairy tales and children's
stories coincided with the threat to traditional cultures posed
by the advance of the industrial world.
The Golden Age of children's book illustration reached it's
undoubted peak in the decade from 1905 to 1914 when dozens of
opulent large quarto gift books with mounted colour plates,
and hundreds of cheaper but often equally beautiful illustrated
volumes were published every year. These years saw the rise
of this century's greatest and most popular illustrators, including
Heath Robinson and Jessie
Willcox Smith. This incredible wealth of talent of book
illustration, the innumerable fine drawings and paintings combining
fantasy, humour and shear beauty, and the array of masterly
pictorial cover designs richly adorned in gilt have never been
Although the overall quality of the
book production never recovered it's former grandeur after
the First World War, Arthur
Rackham and many of his younger contemporaries helped
to sustain the Golden Age dusring the 1920s and 1930s. Among
the most stunning volumes which retained all the glory of
the pre-war years were Harry Clarke's The Fairy Tales
of Perrault (1922), William M Timlin's The Ship That
Sailed to Mars (1923), and Edward
J Detmold's The Arabian Nights (1924).
The death of Rackham and the appearance of his last superb
book illustrations in The Wind in the Willows, coinciding
with the start of the Second World War, marked the final demise
of the Golden Age.
Source: The Golden Age of Children's
Book Illustration by Richard Dalby - published by Michael
O'Mara Books Limited, 1991 - ISBN: 1-85479-041-2