Edmund Dulac was French for thirty years before becoming a naturalized British citizen a few years before World War I broke out. Prolific, and celebrated as an illustrator, Dulac contributed dozens of fairy illustrations to multiple fairy tale publications in the eight or so years prior to changing his citizenship. But Dulac was finished with both the fantasy genre and fairy illustration by the time he was finished being French, focusing instead on portraiture, newspaper caricatures, costume and set design, and even British postage stamps and bank notes. Nevertheless, it is the exquisite illustrations from a single post-Victorian book for which he is most renowned — Mrs. Rodolph Stawell’s Fairies I Have Met (Hodder & Stoughton, 1910).
Dulac’s illustrations capture the vibrancy of Stawell’s stories, taking much inspiration for his visuals from textiles and Japanese prints. We can see these influences in the fine, careful details and textures of the fairies and creatures (especially in their clothing and wings), muted color palettes, and the washy open areas of the asymmetrical, spacey compostions. There is a special quality that Dulac gave to the weight of things – notice the solid, heaviness of the cloud in the illustration from “Drop of Crystal”, compared to the lightness of the wave in the illustration from “Sea Fairy and Land Fairy” (at right).
The book itself is definitely worth a read, not only for the incredible illustrations, but also for the beautiful prose.
“There once was a cloud that had no lining. You have often, I dare say, heard grown-up people say that every cloud has a silver lining, and so you will understand that a cloud without lining is a very uncommon thing.
The fairies who lived in the cloud found it very uncomfortable, because, you see, it let rain come through.”
(From The Cloud That Had No Lining)
A few interesting tidbits to end with:
- Edmund Dulac started his career studying law, but got bored and switched to art after winning a few prizes in his youth.
- At the end of his life, Dulac was one of a few notable British artists admired enough to participate in the Wilding postage stamps series.