Arthur Rackham: the most influential illustrator of 20th century?

by Tolovaj

Arthur Rackham was one of most popular illustrators for decades. Rackham's work is highly prized among collectors and he made impact on whole generations of younger illustrators.

Arthur Rackham is illustrator who's unique technique evolved through decades, until he finally made a breakthrough with Rip Van Winkle. This is the book where everything 'clicked'.

Rackham was studying the process of printing very closely. When the printers started using photography to transfer the original drawings to printing blocks, illustrators suddenly got much more options and Arthur Rackham used that fact to its full advance.

Here we go with my top 10 of best illustrations by Arthur Rackham!

(All images are Public Domain)

Would you like to know more about Aesop and his fables?

Here is my Top 10 fascinating facts about him and his work
Aesop was most popular fabulist in the world. He still is. But we don't know much about him. Fortunately his fables are much more clear than his biography.

Rip Van Winkle

Scene from Rip Van Winkle

This is an illustration from the book which gave Arthur Rackham enough reputation (and commissions) for the rest of the life. We can easily recognize signature brownish and greenish tones by which he stayed famous to the very end of his career.

Rip Van Winkle was (actually still is) very popular tale by Washington Irving.

Rackham's illustrations certainly contributed to the popularity of the book with almost perfect combination of improved printing technique and illustrator's specific interest in the world of shadows, fairy creatures and all kinds of mysteries.

We can also recognize one of Rackham's signatures: twisted trees sometimes even with limbs and faces.

Aesop's Fables by Arthur Rackham

The Lion, Jupiter and the Elephant
The Lion, Jupiter and the Elephant

Rackham and brothers Grimm

Another important step in Rackham's career was illustrating the famous collection of Children's and Household Tales by brothers Grimm.

He actually illustrated the book in 1900 but due to success of Rip Van Winkle and its colored illustration, he reworked it again in 1909 with 40 color plates.

Arthur Rackham later claimed he preferred the older, black and white edition but I decided to include the beautiful illustration from Hansel and Gretel, not only because it is typical Rackham, but also because it is great example of his skimpy usage of red.

I guess he saw color red with all its symbolic power more as a spice than one of main elements in his fairyland.

Arthur Rackham's Alice

Many illustrators would kill for the opportunity to illustrate this classic work
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Ever heard about Arthur Rackham?

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Arthur Rackham's books make great gifts and are pretty popular among collectors

Arthur Rackham's Undine

Undine is a romance by today's standard, but it was probably most popular fairy tale in 19th century
Undine by Arthur Rackham
Undine by Arthur Rackham

Despite the fact it is not a fairy tale by today's standards I have to add Undine inspired one of most popular fairy tales with unhappy ending ever: Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Andersen.

When we talk about tales about missed opportunities and melancholy, we certainly must add at least one scene from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens:

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

This face looks familiar?

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Arthur Rackham loved to include his face in his illustrations of fairy creatures

Shall we check another self portrait in Rackham's works?


Looks like a photography, huh?
Rackham's selfportrait
Rackham's selfportrait

Scene from The Rainbow Book Adventures in Wizard Land

The Rainbow Book Adventures in Wizard Land
The Rainbow Book Adventures in Wizard...

Want to know more about Arthur Rackham?

I have written much more about the artist, his private life and his works. Here you can find more on Arthur Rackham's biography and illustrations.

And this is how Rackham portrayed seven dwarfs

Snowdrop and seven dwarfs
Snowdrop and seven dwarfs

We will add another comparison. This time Rackham in different technique - silhouettes. On the left we can easily recognize famous scene from The Sleeping Beauty, interesting fairy tale which is considered as one of most famous classics without folk background.

On the right we have almost the same scene from old myth retold in Wagner's Siegfried (third part of Ring of the Nibelung). The hero will save the Valkyrie and ...

Well, if you want to see the complete setting of this epic cycle, I can direct you to illustrated post about The Ring of Nibelung!

The Sleeping Beauty for kids

The Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty for adults

The Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty

Check this calendar with Rackham's illustrations

Calendar with scenes from Ring of Nibelungs

Rackham's illustrations inspired many artists and this calendar is only one of many cool products available to all the fans of this influential illustrator and his mythological world of gnomes, wizards, dragons, elves and warriors.


This is 2013 version and it is found on Zazzle. I bet there will be soon versions for next years available...


Once again: Arthur Rackham's Ring of Nibelung as calendar!

Updated: 03/23/2015, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 01/19/2016

When you get accustomed to it, you spot his style almost immediately. And his green color is undoubtedly one of his signature trade marks. Thanks for stopping by, jptanabe!

jptanabe on 01/19/2016

Yes, Arthur Rackham's illustrations are amazing! Love his technique.

Tolovaj on 11/02/2014

Arthur Rackham was one of the most successful illustrators of all times and collectors still love his works. He was a skilled professional, who had spend a lot of time for compositions and developed his own techniques. His colors, ability to show emotions and his sense of humor are only few of the elements by which he is standing out of the crowd. Thanks, EmmaSRose, for stopping by. The Ring of the Nibelung is indeed one of the best chances to enjoy his talent in full potential.

Tolovaj on 01/21/2014

The pleasure was all mine, DerdriuMarriner!

DerdriuMarriner on 01/21/2014

Tolovaj, Many of the children's books in my family's library were illustrated by Arthur Rackham, so I have appreciated his artistry since childhood.
I especially value his illustration of Alice and the house of cards: it's so effectively drawn, and it's a memorable image -- quite unforgettable.
Thank you for a nice tribute to an artist who set the standard for illustrations.

Tolovaj on 01/17/2014

Thank you, ologsinquito. I appreciate it. Although most people never heard about Rackham, we are all surrounded by works influenced by his illustrations.

ologsinquito on 01/17/2014

He was really very talented. His drawing of Alice in Wonderland is especially beautiful. I'm pinning this to My Wizzley Writing board.

Tolovaj on 11/16/2013

Thank you, KathleenDuffy!

KathleenDuffy on 11/15/2013

I love his illustrations. Beautiful article, thanks!

Tolovaj on 05/30/2013

I hope you found something useful:)

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