Thursday, March 13, 2008

Edmund Dulac and Illustrated Fairy Tales

The last few evenings, I've been perusing The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, edited by Maria Tatar and part of Norton's Annotated series. Like the rest of the series, it's a lavish book with entertaining and informative sidenotes. But what makes the book, as well as the series, so special are the beautiful illustrations. There are a number of illustrators worth mentioning, but this post is solely on Edmund Dulac, the French illustrator from the turn of the century to the end of his life in 1953. As with his contemporaries during the Golden Era of Illustration, Dulac has a distinct color palette and style that makes an illustration stand out as his work. I am particularly fond of his use of different nuances of blue, a longtime favorite color for me since I was a child.

In looking over these illustrations, I am reminded of the illustrated fairy tale book with which I grew up, a loose assortment of all sorts of European fairy tales peopled with characters in eighteenth century clothing that were richly colored. Most of all, I remember the rosy cheeks of the children, their tresses falling around their faces. I was particularly fond of The White Cat and Old Loke. For many years, I had no idea to what author or fairy tale collector I should attribute these, in reading the Hans Christian Andersen collection, I find Old Loke there. And now spurred to match the pieces, I did a quick google search, and see that The White Cat was originally written by a French woman, Comtesse d'Aulnoy and collected by Andrew Lang.

The illustrations by Edmund Dulac for Andersen's tales are detailed and sophisticated in a way that is rarely seen in children's books these days (even though many illustrations for children's books are wonderful in different ways). I think what I loved about my collection of illustrated fairy tales as a child was that the adults were beautiful and sophisticated; they lived lives of grandeur and opulence that only exists in history and the imagination now.

Personally, Disney's cartoons, nor the illustrated Disney fairy tales which I also had as a child, did not do much for me. The illustrations never seemed rich enough and my imagination did not reside there.
As an adult and seeing Dulac's illustrations, as well as the other illustrators of that time, reminds me how much there is to value in an ornate book.

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