The Golden Age of Illustrated Books 1880’s-1920’s

Our  Oct ’21 speaker was John Robert Smith, manager of Chichester’s Oxfam Bookshop who spoke on the Golden Age of British Book Illustration 1880s-1920s. He is an avid collector of antiquarian books with the emphasis on this period and he had a collection of books on display which we were able to examine at the end of the talk.

His lively and enthusiastic talk concentrated on five of the top illustrators of the period.

John said that the 1880s were an exciting time for the arts when new techniques allowed greater clarity and colour as shown in Thomas Bewick’s engravings. Then came the Arts and Crafts movement named by T J Cobden-Sanderson who claimed art for the many, not just for the few, and William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

Walter Crane illustrated many children’s books including Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Flora’s Feast. He was a socialist and reformer.

The unique style of William Heath Robinson contained much humour but his illustrations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales also conveyed atmosphere.

Perhaps the most well known artist to most of us was Arthur Rackham with his fairies, elves and goblins. He also illustrated A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its beautiful dreamlike pictures.

Then came the ‘forgotten’ Pre-Raphaelite Florence Harrison with her magical illustrations of beautiful women with flowing robes and auburn hair. Her work can be seen in the poems of Christian Rossetti and William Morris. Kate Greenaway’s contribution was also mentioned. An award for children’s book illustration is named after her.

I think we all enjoyed this fond look back to when book illustration and production was an art.

Our thanks to John for bringing along some lovely examples for us to browse!

Robbie Grieve

Illus. Florence Harrison
Poems of Christina Rossetti


Illus.Walter Crane
In Flora’s Feast


Illus. Florence Harrison
Early Poems of William Morris