Book Review: "The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and their Contemporaries" by Rodney Engen

Updated on August 22, 2019
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Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

What's it About?

Featuring many works previously unseen outside of private collections, The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and the Contemporaries 1890 -1930 is a truly delightful book curated by an expert on British illustration of this period, Rodney Engen.

Aubrey Beardsley's bold black and white illustrative style gave birth to a new era of book illustration, aided by evolving printing technologies. During the comfortable Edwardian years, the public were hungry for something more liberal than had hitherto been readily available at affordable prices. They also sought escapism from the ugly realities of war and the impending sense of social change which hung over them.

Whereas Beardsley sought to shock and outrage aging Victorians, the emerging young Edwardian artists and illustrators were eager to enchant - and also make a living. The competition for commissions was fierce, as always, but out of this struggle arose a new breed of respected names, some of whom made a very comfortable living indeed.

While work from Edmund Dulac, Jessie Marion King or Arthur Rackham may already be familiar to many readers, there are also some lesser known names included here, such as Harry Clarke, Annie French, Daisy Makeig-Jones or the Detmold twins, for example.

The text begins with an explanation of the increasing popularity of fantasy illustration and its role in book production, and then introduces each of the featured artists. Biographical accounts of each are liberally accompanied by examples of their work, some of which had not been published before their inclusion this book.

About the Author

Rodney Engen has published 23 books of artist biography and fine art reference, and has curated 35 exhibitions in London, New York and Japan. He specialises in nineteenth and early twentieth century British art. He has also written articles for many British magazines and newspapers.

He divides his time between homes in London and the Caribbean.

What's to Like?

165 quality illustrations fill this fascinating and beautifully produced book, many of which were entirely new to me. I found it intriguing to learn how many of these Edwardian fantasy artists were inspired by the work of Edward Burne-Jones, whose work I have admired for decades and who is a strong influence on my own painting

I was also pleased to see that Jessie Marion King, Annie French and Daisy Makeig-Jones are featured at length and with the same attention to detail as with the men, though there certainly were more than merely three women creating illustrations during the four decades covered by this book.

Aubrey Beardsley; Laurence Housman; Charles Ricketts; Sidney Sime; Harry Clarke; Arthur Rackham; Charles Robinson; (brother of the more well-known Heath Robinson); the Detmold twins, (Charles Maurice Detmold and Edward Julius Detmold); Wily Pogany; Edmund Dulac; Kay Nielsen; Alastair, (Hans Henning von Voight); Sir Frank Brangwen; and Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes are all here.

Together with those of the women, their featured works create an appealing and deeply interesting book which I am very happy to add to my library.

Even if a reader knew absolutely nothing about book illustration, the lively yet intelligent text serves well as a solid introduction. And the pictures, of course, largely speak for themselves, and depict a broad range of artistic technical approaches.

I'm not a huge fan of Beardsley. While I like his stark black and white contrasts and his obvious enthusiasm for Japanese and Chinese art, I find some of his attempts at soft porn to be juvenile - but then he died aged only 25, so I think we can forgive the young for being youthful.

And this book is not so much about Beardsley but his works' influence on those artists who took on his style and moderated it, remolded it and brought to it something of their own individuality. In doing so, they created bodies of work which are quintessentially charming in character, while also being proudly commercial.

The Illustrations of Jessie Marion King

What's to Not Like?

This is a truly lovely book.

However, I would have liked to have seen more than just three women illustrators included. Elenore Abbott, Mabel Lucie Attwell, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Ruth Mary Hallock, Dorothy Lathrop, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Margaret Winifred Tarrant could have been given consideration, for example.

Maybe some of the Dulac illustrations are a little dark, but as I'm unfamiliar with the originals I'm on thin ice commenting on this. Maybe this is how the artist wanted them to look?

I would have liked more biographical information, but then this book would have had to be much bigger, and it already runs to 160 pages which measure 24.5 cms wide and 27.5 cms high.

Seriously, I have few complaints about this book.

Illustrations by Edmund Dulac

Sources

The biographical and bibliographical information in this article came from:

  1. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rodney-engen-ba510a85/

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© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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