Tag Archives: Randolph Caldecott

Randolph Caldecott, Legend of Children’s Literature

Randolph_CaldecottYesterday the winners of this year’s Newbery and Caldecott Awards were announced. The latter was named for Randolph Caldecott, an accomplished painter and sculptor whose various attainments are often eclipsed by his brilliant carer as an illustrator. Along with figures like Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott was truly one of the most gifted illustrators of the Victorian era.

Caldecott was born in Chester on March 22, 1846. He was third child by his father’s second wife and would eventually be one of thirteen children. From the time he was young, Caldecott frequently spent his free time sketching and modeling his surroundings. But when Caldecott left school at fifteen years old, it wasn’t to pursue a career in art. He took a position at the Whitchurch branch of the Whitchurch & Ellesmere Bank. Caldecott settled in a nearby village, and he often took time to capture the country scenes that stretched out before him as he traveled to visit clients.

A lover of riding, Caldecott naturally took up hunting. His collected works include, therefore, a huge number of hunting scenes, along with myriad sketches of animals. Caldecott’s first published drawing was of neither; it was of a disastrous fire at the Queen Railway Hotel. Caldecott wrote an account of the blaze for the Illustrated London News. When Caldecott moved to Manchester six years later to work at the Manchester & Salford Bank, he took the opportunity to take night classes at the Manchester School of Art. Soon after, his drawings began appearing in local and London periodicals.

Randolph_Caldecott_MilkmaidThen in 1870, Caldecott’s friend Thomas Armstrong, a painter in London, introduced Caldecott to Henry Blackburn of London Society. Blackburn and Caldecott got along famously, eventually traveling together. For a time, Caldecott even lived in a cottage at Blackburn’s estate. Blackburn published a number of Caldecott’s illustrations in the magazine, and in 1872 Caldecott decided to move to London and pursue illustration full time. He was 26 years old.

Within two years, Caldecott found himself a prominent magazine illustrator working on commission. His opus is varied, ranging from children’s books to travel illustrations and caricatures. His illustrations for Washington Irving’s Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall (1875) had made his name in the illustration world. Caldecott also illustrated works by Oliver Goldsmith, notably Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog. Caldecott’s illustration of the poem would be used in a World War I parody, in which the head in his original illustration was replaced by the head of the Kaiser of Germany.

Caldecott_Farmer_BoyCaldecott settled in the heart of Bloomsbury. He was surrounded by artists and literati, regularly encountering figures like Dante Rosetti, George du Maurier, and Frederic Leighton. Lord Leighton would go on to hire Caldecott to design four peacock capitals for the Asia room of Leighton House in Kensington; Walter Crane would design a peacock frieze for the same room.

In 1877, accomplished engraver Edmund Evans ended his relationship with illustrator Walter Crane. Evans found Caldecott’s illustrations “racy and spontaneous,” so he invited Caldecott to replace Crane. The first project: two Christmas books. Caldecott took on the work, illustrating The House that Jack Built and the William Cowper poem The Diverting History of John Gilpin. These books were so successful that Caldecott produced two more each Christmas for the rest of his life. Caldecott chose all the stories and rhymes, sometimes even composing them himself.

Caldecott_Song_SixpenceCombined sales of the Christmas books hit 867,000 during Caldecott’s lifetime. The artist was internationally famous. Caldecott’s publisher, George Routledge & Sons, took Caldecott’s works quite seriously. They took great pains to reproduce the colors exactly as Caldecott had intended. When the books were reissued by Frederick Warner & Co after Caldcott died, they brightened the colors but lost much of the subtlety imbued by Caldecott.

Not all Caldecott’s works, however, were commercially successful. In 1883, he undertook an edition of Aesop’s fables. He invited his brother Alfred to translate the tales from the original Greek, but later overruled Alfred’s accuracy. Caldecott’s goal was to make Aesop’s fables, which were often used for instruction, more accessible to children. He illustrated each of the tales he selected with Victorian human behavior. Usually comical, the illustrations illuminated the veracity of Aesop’s teachings. But the book was still too complicated for children, and it did not sell well.

Caldecott’s 1885 edition of The Great Panjandrum Himself fared much better. The nonsense poem by Samuel Foote had become quite the rage among university students, who would try to memorize the lines and recite them to one another. (Generations later, students would take up Winnie-the-Pooh, by AA Milne, with the same fervor; the story was even translated into Latin by one undergraduate.)

Meanwhile, Caldecott’s health was ever precarious. He frequently traveled to warmer climates. It was on one of these trips, in 1886, that he passed away. Caldecott and his wife had arrived in St. Augustine, Florida during a particularly cold February. Caldecott succumbed to the cold, and his memorial still stands in St. Augustine.

Related Posts:
AA Milne: Legendary Children’s Author and Ambivalent Pacifist
Kate Greenaway: Legendary Illustrator of Children’s Books
Maurice Moutet de Monvel and His Ingenious ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

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Maurice Boutet de Monvel and His Ingenius ‘Jeanne d’Arc’


Boutet at work in his studio

Born into a “family of gilt-edged artists,” it’s no wonder that Maurice Boutet de Monvel eventually established himself as a premier portrait painter and watercolorist. When the artist turned his attention to illustrating children’s books to support his family, his illustrations were magnificent enough that he’s considered one of the great figures of the Golden Age of children’s literature, alongside Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott.

Boutet spent the majority of his childhood in Paris. In early 1870, he began studies at the École de Beaux Arts, but his studies were interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War. He joined the French Army, and though he returned from the war relatively unscathed, he would forever after be particularly vulnerable to respiratory illness.

Next Boutet continued his art studies at the Julian Academy under the tutelage of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefèbvre. In 1873, he displayed his first canvas at Le Salon and earned two medals over the next few years. Boutet greatly admired the works of José de Ribea and emulated Ribea’s dark style, using only chiarscuro. But he also recognized the need to lighten that heavy palette, which led him to work under Carolus Duran, whose light watercolors were considered revolutionary at the time.


From ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

Then in 1876, Boutet went to visit his brother in Algiers. The light of the foreign landscape was a complete surprise to Boutet, and the artist drastically altered his style thereafter. He adopted a primary palette of oranges and blues, using the latter mostly to create shadows. Boutet made two subsequent trips to Algiers, in 1878 and 1880.

Boutet’s life would change again in 1879 with the birth of his first child. He’d been married in 1876, but a child resulted in extra pressure to generate income and support his family. That was the impetus to venture into illustration. He began in 1881 with Les pourquois de Mademoiselle Suzanne (Miss Suzanne’s questions) by Emile Desbeaux and the reading book La France en Zig-Zag (Zigzagging across France) by Eudoxie Dupuis. Both were published by Charles Delagrave.

Delagrave was so pleased with Boutet’s work, he invited the artist to illustrate Saint Nicolas: Journal illustré pour garçons et filles (Saint Nicolas: A comic book for boys and girls). That endeavor was incredibly successful, so Boutet undertook Vieilles chansons et danses pour les petits enfants (Old songs and dances for young children) in 1883 and Chansons de France pour les petits Français (Songs of France for French Children) the following year.


From ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

Yet Boutet was reluctant to give up his career as a “serious” artist. In 1885, he submitted an obviously royalist canvas for exhibition. “L’apothéose de la canaille, ou le triomphe de Robert Macaire” (“The apotheosis, or the triumph of Robert Macaire”) was so controversial, the Deputy Secretary of State for Fine Art pulled it just before the exhibition opened. Now publicly disgraced, Boutet resigned himself to a life outside the art world.

Luckily his friend Edouard Detaille had just founded the Society of French Watercolorists and invited Boutet to exhibit there. He submitted a portrait of a girl dressed in Renaissance clothing, and the work was so well received that Boutet found himself quite occupied as a portrait artist. Yet he to illustrate children’s books and serials, contributing to Saint Nicolas until 1890.

Boutet also created illustrations for Quand j’étais petit (When I was young) by Lucian Briart in 1886, and La farce de Maître Pathelin (The farce of Master Pathelin; 1887), a comedy from the Middle Ages adapted for modern verse by Georges Gassies de Brulies. He would go on to design and illustrate La civilité puerile et honnête raconté pour l’Oncle Eugene (Puerile, honest civility recounted by Uncle Eugene), a manners book for children. In 1890, Boutet illustrated Ferdinand Fabre’s novel Xavière. The illustrations were reproduced using a new photoengraving technique that produced incredibly high-quality images.


It’s quite rare to find Boutet’s ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ in its dust jacket.

Six years later, Boutet would complete the work that brought him lasting fame as a legendary children’s book illustrator. Published by Plon, Nourrir, et Cie, Jeanne d’Arc was masterfully illustrated in watercolors. Zincotype, a technique that blends etching with colored inks, was used to reproduce Boutet’s breathtaking images.

Following the 1896 publication of Jeanne d’Arc, Boutet enjoyed international acclaim. He heavily influenced the young school in Vienna and was invited to tour the United States. He was commissioned for numerous portraits and projects while he was in America. but was unable to complete the most ambitious: a series of large panels based on the illustrations of Jeanne d’Arc.

Boutet later said of the book’s muted palette, “It’s not color, really, it is the impression, the suggestion of color.” He was clearly influenced by the light and shadow modeling of Fra Angelico and the battle scenes of Paolo Uccello. Children’s literature critic Selma G. Lanes


The Japanese style of illustration was popular in Boutet’s day.

noted that the “illustrations have a nobility and grandeur akin to the great church frescoes of the Renaissance. Their pleasingly flat renderings, combined with a sophisticated use of design elements….owe a great deal to the Japanese prints so popular in the artist’s day.”

It’s obvious from the beauty and subtlety of Jeanne d’Arc that Boutet was truly inspired by his chosen subject matter. Boutet had been born in Orléans, a town that Joan of Arc had liberated from the British in 1429. But more importantly, France was still reeling from its loss in the Franco-Prussian War. Boutet wished to remind children of France’s past glory. Thus he opens the book with an admonishment to children to “open this book with reverence…in honor of the humble peasant girl who is [the books' subject].”

The works of Boutet represent an ideal intersection of art and literature for discerning collectors. The multitude of serial and individual publications to which he contributed are fruitful ground for building a fascinating collection.