1 February 2022 Susannah

What is the use of a book without pictures?

"Drink me", illustration by Sir John Tenniel, 1865

“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.

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Featured image credit- “Drink me”, illustration by Sir John Tenniel, 1865, https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/alice/1.4.html
Body image credit- The Wind in the Willows by Arthur Rackham, https://www.art.com/gallery/id–a9331/arthur-rackham-posters.htm
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Comments (6)

  1. Melody

    The Wizard of Oz with the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow is absolutely gorgeous. I also grew up with the work of Pixie O’Harris — The House that Beckons (by Gladys Lister) is still one of my favourite books. I loved the illustrations of the Little Round House and Petra with her fairy wings sleeping in Merle’s bed and the kangaroos, peacocks and platypuses in Dear Val’s garden.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, The Wizard of Oz illos are wonderful. I don’t know the Pixie O’Harris book at all, so must look out for it. Images from books we loved in childhood stay with us so clearly, don’t they?

  2. Karen Camer

    I adore the Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline illustrations. Simple yet delightful.
    My daughter, Danielle recently published a book for 3-6 year olds called Sophie Wont Sleep and the illustrations by Tatsiana Burgaud are amazing.
    Then of course, there is Quentin Blake. Whats not to love about Quentin.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh yes to the illustrations by Quentin Blake and also the Madeline books – fabulous! And how wonderful that your daughter has published a book. I will look out for it for my granddaughters, who are 4 and 2.

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