The Serpentine is a lovely lake, and there is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the edge, you can see all glowing upside down, and they say at night there are also drowned stars in it.
From the Peter Pan Portfolio by Arthur Rackham. 1914, New York: Brentano. Oversize 17
Last fall, the Baldwin Library had an exhibit on the illustrations and influences of Arthur Rackham. Among the books selected was this staff favorite. In fact, it is the curator’s favorite illustration from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
Arthur Rackham was one of the most popular illustrators for children’s books during the Golden Age of Children Literature (1860s-1920s). He believed that illustrations should be separate from the text–only hinting at it so as to not illustrate a line of text, but an entire scene. Thus, he was able to create both a whimsical and haunting atmosphere, with muted colors, sinuous lines, and gnarling trees.
The Peter Pan Portfolio contains blown-up illustrations by Arthur Rackham for his illustrated trade edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, including some which were excluded. The above is one such excluded image. But the truly interesting fact about this work is that Rackham was not in favor of the Portfolio, as he did not like his illustrations to be resized. However, it allows viewers to truly appreciate the details of his work.
This illustration is a perfect example of that attention to detail–the wings and dress of the fairies, the grass, the reflection of the the trees on the water. Along with his long, linear figures, spindly trees and dark tones, Rackham manages to frame a beautiful fantasy.