“What is the use of a book without pictures?” asks Alice in Wonderland. Pictures in books have been around for a very long time. The illustration of manuscripts was well established in ancient times. In the 15th century text and image were carved into the same block, and images in stories in the Bible helped get the message across to those who could not read.
However, it was in the 19th century that illustrating literary works, especially novels, really came into its own. Think of Dickens illustrated by ‘Phiz’ (Hablot K. Browne), Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland, Beardsley’s pictures for Wilde’s Salome and the gorgeous pictures done by Arthur Rackham for The Wind in the Willows done in the early 20th century.
By the middle of the 20th century book illustration was mainly in fiction for children. Few new novels came out accompanied by pictures. However, there was a Golden Age of illustration in the first two decades of the century – improvements in printing allowed publishers to produce lavish colour illustrations for the first time. Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter, Charles Robinson, N.C.Wyeth, Kay Nielsen, William Heath Robinson, were just some of the artists who satisfied a growing public demand for pictures in books.
I don’t want Winnie-the-Pooh illustrated by anyone but E.H. Shepard, I adore Wyeth’s illustrations to Stevenson’s Kidnapped, and Nielsen’s magical pictures from the Hans Christian Andersen tales.
Do you have a favourite illustrator? Do you buy a book because of its pictures and not just because of its text? Tell me by leaving a comment.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel
Salomé: A Tragedy in One Act by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth