The Lost Art of Silhouette:
Arthur Rackham’s Cinderella in Post-War England, 1919
These iconic 1919 Arthur Rackham silhouettes needs no introduction for bibliophiles of Children’s books. Uncertain about the post-war literary marketplace, Rackham—already a master of the beautiful-grotesque—engaged in the challenge to use silhouette as a vehicle to retell the classical tale in order to cut production cost (as black-and-white prints were cheaper than color-plate prints). Not only did he make the books successful financially but also artistically—expanding the possibility of silhouette cuts as an elevated art form in illustration work.
Rackham’s silhouette characters are ever more alive, as if they were designed to leap out from pages to dance and haunt our imagination: we see the magic of Rackham’s lines levitating and morphing Cinderella, her godmother, her stepmother, her ugly stepsisters, the lizards and the mouses on pages.
Growing Lizard Silhouette: Appearing and Vanishing in Lickety-Split
One of my favorites is Rackham’s illustration of a somewhat fidgety lizard, with his shoulders slumped forward in a rather gloomy stance, being transmogrified into a confident footman: his gaze first darting at the godmother, then turning back on his transforming self, before heading confidently into his new role, standing proud and tall, almost like a rite of exorcism.
Cinderella: A Tatterdemalion Figure
I also like Rackham’s depiction of Cinderella scampering home in her ragged clothes, with her bare feet in the lead, symbolic of her poor and forlorn condition as a maid, and her glass high-heeled shoe in postliminary, its significance not yet revealed. Rackham, in profile alone, creates a tatterdemalion figure, like a soul being “cut” so threadbare so many times, to mark the speed of her reversion and her broken soul.
Charles Seddon Evans: Retelling the Tale to a Sprouting Reading Population
Rackham’s illustrations, admittedly, to a certain degree overshadows Charles Seddon Evans’s retelling of this classic tale. But Evans’s Cinderella is not the same as that of his literary precursor, the Frenchman Charles Perrault’s Cinderella, published in 1698. Perrault wrote for an aristocratic audience, at a time when the reading public was largely confined to the elite, whereas Evan’s Cinderella was for children, for a much wider reading public, thanks to the popularization of education during the Victorian era.
The condition of this copy is good, particularly for a children’s book (so often susceptible to damage). There are inscriptions on the front page, with a small ripped corner on the opening page, as shown in the picture; otherwise, the structure is sound: no loose pages, nor marks on pages.
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