Edmund Dulac, Jack of all Trades

by Tolovaj

Edmund Dulac is best known as an illustrator from the Golden Age, yet he created so much more. He perceived himself more as a designer, but that' just the beginning.

Edmund Dulac was one of the greatest illustrators of the so-called Golden Age of illustration. For almost two decades he was perceived as the only competition to Arthur Rackham. His gift books and original illustrations were often sold out even before they were finished, yet he had to work hard right to the end of his life to survive.

Another less-known fact about this French-born illustrator who fell in love with England during his studies (he was born Edmond) and became a naturalized British citizen at 30 years of age, is his immense creative versatility. He was not 'just' painter, illustrator, caricaturist, and designer. He also composed music (and performed it) and designed everything from stamps to theatre costumes. He made some playing cards, tapestries, and furniture as well. Shall we mention chocolate boxes for Cadbury?

This article is not about Edmund Dulac's art and work (I'll give you a link to explore both thoroughly at the end) but more an attempt to present a variety of his skills in different artistic areas. Here are ten creative fields where Edmund Dulac excelled and pushed boundaries.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, illustration by Edmund Dulac

1. Illustrator

Edmund Dulac came to London with a portfolio and a lot of optimism. He was 22 years old and had no connections or promises from possible employers. Yet he managed to charm J. M Dent, an established publisher who saw potential in his work and trusted the young artist with a huge project - to illustrate ten books of the Bronte sisters. Critics accepted Dulac's illustrations with a lot of praise and Dent's decision proved great - for the publisher and the illustrator.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, caricature by Edmund Dulac

2. Caricaturist

Dulac showed his talent relatively late when he was already a teenager. Otherwise, an average student, he spent the most boring parts of school lessons by line drawing. Especially his caricatures, thrown all over his notebooks, stood out. When he got a job at Pall Mall Magazine, he preferred colors, but caricatures proved to be a nice side source of income for him.

Another important part of his life became evenings in the London Sketch Club. Several important illustrators met there regularly, exchanging views on art, technological development, business opportunities, and - they regularly draw sketches of each other with monthly competitions. Even later, when the market for luxury books collapsed, Dulac returned to caricatures for newspapers to earn an additional pound or two.

Garden of Paradise, painting by Edmund Dulac

3. Watercolorist

Edmund Dulac was a rising star in the world of illustration when the book market became ready for the so-called gift books. The main idea was to address the most wealthy buyers with luxurious editions in special bindings. Color illustrations made by top artists were a must. Arthur Rackham, as the creme de la creme, already proved how much can be earned by only twelve or sixteen color illustrations and good marketing.

Publishing house Hodder & Stoughton followed the same formula as Edmund Dulac. He illustrated a book that was offered to buyers in luxurious limited, numbered, and signed versions through pre-orders (and often sold out weeks before printed), then a less expensive circulation for the masses followed, and the exhibition of Dulac's originals in Leicester Gallery gave a chance to art lovers for buying something unique for their private collections. Several series of originals were also sold out before the exhibition was opened.

The cooperation between Hodder & Stoughton, Leicester Galleries, and Dulac lasted from 1907 to 1918 - each year one book, except for 1917 when there was no right paper on the market.

Macbet, poster design by Edmund Dulac

4. Poster designer

Years before the First World War were extremely prolific for Dulac. He won several awards and earned significant amounts of money (which he promptly spent on lifestyle). Invitations to high society and his love for theatre brought him another artistic opportunity. He created several posters for theatre plays and befriended William Butler Yeats who introduced him to the stage production. Soon, Dulac started designing costumes, masks, scenery, program sheets, etc. He even composed some music and performed it on stage!

Costume Designs by Edmund Dulac

5. Costume Designer

Edmund Dulac loved to play charades. He threw parties where people played dressed in costumes he designed and this extravagant hobby eventually brought him some orders. Here are four costumes from four different stage performances. While some of his original drawings are today offered for thousands and more dollars at auctions, this part of his creativity never brought him significant profit. Most orders came from friends and most of the productions lost money.

A series of stamps "Greek Heroes", designed by Edmund Dulac

6. Stamp Designer

During World War Dulac's orders vanished. Most of his work was done for charities and his finances were not in tune with his preferred lifestyle. An opportunity to design stamps had its pros and cons. He definitely loved to design them trying to make the best within the limited space and strict rules with his sense for details. On the other hand, not all of his designs were approved and the payment was extremely low considering invested time and energy. Anyway, he continued to design stamps right to the end of his life and philatelists are very well aware of his mastery in this specific area.

Helen Beauclerk, portrait by Edmund Dulac

7. Portraitist

Edmund Dulac was pretty popular in high society. When the market for gift books officially died in 1920, he found an additional income in making portraits. Of course, his tariff was above average, which was still lower than he was accustomed to earning by illustrating, but the nobility and other affluent people were still willing to pay good money for his signature. The majority of such portraits are in private collections, though. Each satisfied customer recommended another one and Dulac went through dry years after the First World War in large part thanks to portraits.

Of course, he portrayed friends, too.

Bookplate, designed by Edmund Dulac

8. Bookplate Designer

Bookplates have been used since the 15th century to mark one's ownership of a specific book. When the rising number of middle-class members started creating personal libraries in the 19th century, the idea of bookplates was cordially adopted and highly personalized. Numerous artists started creating bookplates (ex libris) for each other and wealthy customers. Edmund Dulac was no exception. Of course, this 'market' was financially insignificant.

American Weekly Magazine cover, designed by Edmund Dulac

9. Cover Designer

The year 1924 brought another opportunity to Edmund Dulac. This time, money was comparable with gift books, but he was not hired as an illustrator. The American Weekly offered him a series of thematic designs of covers which he designed right to 1937 when the printing technique changed and the board decided to stop working with Dulac.

Banknote, designed by Edmund Dulac

10. Bank Note Designer

Again, only the collectors know about this area of Dulac's work. During the Second World War, Charles De Gall, as a representative of France's government in exile, personally approached Edmund Dulac with a historically important project - a series of designs of banknotes for France and its colonies. This was another project with a lot of work, not much money, yet with great personal satisfaction for the artist who can be rightfully called Jack of all trades.

More: https://edmunddulac.wordpress.com/

Updated: 07/07/2024, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj 1 day ago

They had paper on those years. Only 1917 was the problem. But the market died soon after because people had no more money for luxury.

Tolovaj 1 day ago

These are: illustration from Tenant from Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte), caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and illustration from Garden of Paradise (H. C. Andersen).

DerdriuMarriner 1 day ago

The last paragraph to the third subheading, Watecolorist, alerts us that "The cooperation between Hodder & Stoughton, Leicester Galleries, and Dulac lasted from 1907 to 1918 - each year one book, except for 1917 when there was no right paper on the market."

It appears as "best-educated," first guess possibly arising from the first world war that "there was no right paper on the market," correct?

But then what about the other war years, 1914-1916, 1918?

DerdriuMarriner 2 days ago

The cursor does not divulge anything specific about the first three in-text images and the sole portrait.

Might you have that information?

Tolovaj 3 days ago

Sorry, I am not in position to plan my own time at the moment.

Tolovaj 3 days ago

I guess. Numerous artists admitted that limitations often work as an encouragement. I think there is logic behind: to master the craft you have to understand the rules, to become the artist, you have to know how to uste them to their full advantage and - how to break them.

Tolovaj 3 days ago

Sorry, I don't know which wood he used.

DerdriuMarriner 3 days ago

You identified above as forthcoming project a wizzley about Dulac stamps.

Elsewhere you indicated future writings about forests in fairy tales and about merpeople.

All three wizzleys intrigue me.

Might you know which one of the compelling trio you will release first?

DerdriuMarriner 3 days ago

The statement that "He definitely loved to design them trying to make the best within the limited space and strict rules with his sense for details. On the other hand, not all of his designs were approved and the payment was extremely low considering invested time and energy" under the sixth subheading, stamp designer, impresses me.

Imposed constraints may muster up complaining that perhaps matters badly, unproductively for output or rising to challenges. Edmund Dulac must have opted for the latter what with nestling his designs as optimally as possible within such rules- and space-related limits, right?

DerdriuMarriner 4 days ago

Thank you for your comments below in answer to my previous observations and questions.

Wow! A cabin for a cruiseliner and furniture indicate that Edmund Dulac has an acquaintance with and appreciation of wood, something that impresses me as an arborist.

Might there be any indication as to which wood he employed in the above endeavors?

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