The Return of the Great Auk
This month scientists announced that it may be possible to use DNA to reintroduce the Great Auk, a bird extinct since the middle of the 19th Century.
The Great Auk was great indeed, standing at over 30 inches. Get a tape measure. That is a big bird!
When not making baby Auks, these birds would hunt the North Atlantic, weaving gracefully through the water. Unfortunately, on the ground they shared the same failings as the Dodo; they couldn’t fly, they couldn’t run very fast and they were damned tasty.
The Great Auk is no more.
The last pair were killed in 1844 on an island near Iceland but a reliable sighting was reported in 1952 of a single bird off Newfoundland. Great Auks mated for life, and the thought of a solitary bird is especially sad.
I recently finished a set of Warwick Goble illustrations from Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water-Babies – A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby’. Mr Goble’s illustration below must undoubtedly be based on the last Great Auk, his ‘last Gairfowl’ sitting on the ‘Allalonestone’, all alone.
The announcement then is amazing news; the word ‘extinct’ may no longer mean ‘gone for ever’. That these impressive birds might be living and breeding again in the Farne Islands, (off the coast of Northumberland, England) towering over the Puffins and Razorbills that nest there, is incredibly exciting.
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OK, I’m over it.
For the past few months I have been sulking. Zazzle decided to change product creation without informing their sellers and we wasted a considerable amount of time contacting customer support and filling in requests for ‘further information’ and in the end, they could have just told us that things had changed. Thanks for that, Zazzle.
Anyhoo, as a result I have resized and remade the posters with a white border. Annoyingly, I really like them, and the fact that they are all the same height which means you can display them side-by-side as I always wanted. So, Zazzle, I forgive you.
In my excitement, I’ve made a lot of new stuff and have just scanned my newest book acquisitions which means there’s even more coming!
Please click on the Jolly Roger below for new Millicent Sowerby (Cinderella), Jessie Willcox Smith (improved Little Women), Alice B. Woodward (Peter Pan), E. J. Detmold (Baby Animals), wonderful Anne Anderson baby illustrations and (yey!) Hummingbirds.
The Four Gardens Illustrated by Charles Robinson
I love Charles Robinson’s art; his chubby pen and ink children and wonderful watercolours. His style and amazing use of colour are instantly recognisable. For me, he could do no wrong.
I particularly love Robinson’s illustrations of flowers and gardens and when a very resonably priced copy of The Four Gardens by Emily ‘Handasyde’ Buchanan came up on Ebay, I grabbed it.
The November 1912 edition of The Spectator contains a very kind review of the book itself;
“There is a wholesome fragrance about these garden sketches that is very pleasant. Each of the four has a character of its own, but each leads us naturally to the next, as do the colours in a well-planned garden.”
They could almost be talking about the illustrations, I think. I read on, expecting a glowing and flowery 1912 description of Robinsons art…
“We have nothing but good to say of the little black-and-white illustrations, but the coloured ones are sad examples of their process. What could be less like the clear red of a strawberry for instance, than those in the picture opposite page 124?”
“But they’re Charles Robinson strawberries!” I complain to the cat, who doesn’t seem to care. I realise, with surprise, that even an illustrator from such an artistically talented family (father Thomas, brothers William and Thomas Jr.) had to satisfy the critics of the time.
This critic though, was clearly an idiot.
Here are those strawberries along with my favourite illustrations from the book.
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The Polar Bear in Art
Considering the great respect and spiritual attachment the polar bear has, I would expect it to be featured more often in Golden Age illustration.
The great white bear has been the subject of folk tales and legends told for centuries by the Inuits and other indigenous people of the Arctic. Their stories are of polar bears teaching men to hunt, a cub adopted by a childless woman and the terrifying Nanurluk, a bear the size of an iceberg.
The Norwegian folk tales tell of men transformed into bears by evil trolls, hags or witches, wandering the tundra in search of a true love who will break the spell.
Happily, two of my favourite artists provided polar bear illustrations for such tales, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac.
The first is Nielsen’s White Bear from the Norwegian folk tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. The bear carries his future bride to a magic castle;
“Well, mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing to fear,” said the Bear, so she rode a long, long way.
Eventually, through determination and a knowledge of how to remove candle wax from a shirt, the girl gets a prince and the bear gets the girl.
Below is Dulac’s Snow Maiden from The Dreamer of Dreams. The hero comes across a large number of polar bears.
They came slowly towards him, quiet and majestic, slightly swinging their heavy bodies as they glided onwards.
They accompany a snow maiden, gathering broken hearts;
Everything about her was white, glistening and shining ; so shining that the human eye could hardly bear the radiance. her long white hair hung about her ; a circle of glow-worms surrounded her forehead.
To see all illustrations by Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac, just click on the cards below – and thanks for visiting 🙂
This is the third and final piece of original artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith for the book Dickens’s Children. Here we have The Runaway Couple, Master Harry Walmers and Miss Norah, resting at the inn on their way to Gretna Green to be married. Poor little Norah is not used to being away from home and is exhausted from a long coach journey. Not even a Norfolk biffin is going to cheer her up.
‘So Boots goes up-stairs to the Angel, and there he finds Master Harry on a e-normous sofa — immense at any time, but looking like the Great Bed of Ware, compared with him — a drying the eyes of Miss Norah with his pocket-hankecher. Their little legs was entirely off the ground, of course, and it really is not possible for Boots to express to me how small them children looked.’ (Christmas Stories – The Holly Tree by Charles Dickens.)
Sadly, the union is not to be and the two go their separate ways.
‘…...I hold with him in two opinions: firstly, that there are not many couples on their way to be married who are half as innocent of guile as those two children; secondly, that it would be a jolly good thing for a great many couples on their way to be married, if they could only be stopped in time, and brought back separately.’
I can’t tell what Miss Norah is clutching along with her parasol, but for her wedding trip she also carried ‘a smelling-bottle, a round and a half of cold buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a (doll’s) hair-brush.’
Below is the reproduction from Dickens’s Children, 1912.
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Another piece of original artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith today. This is Little Em’ly, childhood friend and first love of David Copperfield; used and abused by Steerforth but eventually living happily ever after (we assume) in Australia.
‘She started from my side, and ran along a jagged timber which protruded from the place we stood upon, and overhung the deep water at some height, without the least defence. The incident is so impressed on my remembrance, that if I were a draughtsman I could draw its form here, I dare say, accurately as it was that day, and little Em’ly springing forward to her destruction (as it appeared to me), with a look that I have never forgotten, directed far out to sea.
The light, bold, fluttering little figure turned and came back safe to me, and I soon laughed at my fears, and at the cry I had uttered; fruitlessly in any case, for there was no one near.’ (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.)
Again, this illustration is in ‘mixed media’; watercolour with oil and pastel.
Below, the reproduction from Dickens’s Children, 1912
Please click on the notebook below to find all kinds of Willcox Smith lovelies and again, thanks for visiting 🙂
Dickens’s Children is a collection of 10 illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, featuring the younger characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. The work was commissioned by Scribner’s in 1911; eight of the drawings subsequently printed in their magazine, and the book published in 1912.
Below is the study for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit on Christmas Day (A Christmas Carol) and the reproduction printed in the book. The original is described as ‘mixed media’ and looks to be watercolour with oil (the snow) and pastel. Mr Cratchit certainly started out with a much gentler face, although the poor boy behind them still looks like his cap is on fire!
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A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming-Birds
John Gould (1804-1881) was a top bod in English ornithology, curator of the Zoological Society of London and identifier of Darwin’s finches. He also loved hummingbirds.
Although he’d never seen a live hummingbird – he would see his first in 1857 – Gould had a collection of 320 species. These he exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, garnering public interest and subscribers to his Monograph of the Trochilidæ, which was issued in 25 parts between 1849 and 1861 and subsequently published in 5 volumes.
The illustrations – lithographed by Henry Constantine Richter and William Hart from sketches by Gould – are as delicate and beautifully coloured as the little birds themselves.
There are over 400 plates and I must use them all. However, since I don’t think Zazzle is ready for that many hummingbird products all in one go, I’m going to use one illustration a week.
Cyanomyia franciae – Francia’s Azure-Crown – on Cuphea cordata
From Mr Gould’s description;
“Of the five or six known species of the genus Cyanomyia the C. Franciae may be regarded as the most beautiful….The glittering of the parts referred to is so resplendent, that it is out of the power of any person, I believe, to portray them; hence art and device are in this instance at a nonplus. In the accompanying plate a representation of these feathers is attempted with the ordinary media. If the reader can imagine the neck-plumes to be lit up with the most brilliant and glittering light possible, he may have some faint idea of their loveliness….”
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I Bought a Book – Part 1
“You BOUGHT a book? Aren’t you supposed to be selling the things?”
My son tuts and leaves me to excitedly open the package. He has a point. Despite our desperate need for space due to piles/boxes/cases of books, I have not been able to resist the urge to grab a bargain.
I’ve always loved Anne Anderson and the soft, flowing, art nouveau style of her watercolours – the Grimm and Andersen fairy tale art being the most famous – but have been unaware of this series of 8 books, published by Nelson in the early 1900’s, each edition containing twelve full page colour illustrations of gorgeousness.
The new addition to my Golden Age collection is The Gillyflower Garden Book. The pictures are wonderful, each showing happy, rosy-cheeked children enjoying various gardening jobs (ha, I must put this on the ‘fantasy’ shelf!) performed throughout the year.
Here they are! Please click on the pics for bigger versions and enjoy.
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