A private collection of works illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen attracted bidders from around the world in our 28 January Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs auction. From the library of the late Lady Mary Stewart, author of historical novels and romantic thrillers including the well-known Merlin Trilogy, the collection of deluxe editions of myths, legends, fairy stories and children’s books fetched a combined total of over £53,000.
By far the largest selection of these works, 34 lots, were illustrated by Arthur Rackham, arguably the most important figure in the late Victorian and Edwardian ‘golden age of illustration’. Rackham’s initial defining work was Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle, published in a deluxe, vellum bound run of 250 copies in 1905. Lot 444 in the auction, this work fetched £2,375 and contains 50 delicately drawn tipped-in colour plates. The calibre of Rackham’s illustrations in Rip van Winkle propelled his career forwards, leading him to famously illustrate the first edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (lot 432, selling for £3,125) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (lot 418, selling for £1,625).
Between the 1880s and 1920s, advances in printing techniques enabled the reproduction of finely printed colour plates with far more ease than had previously been possible. The influences of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Art Nouveau style, alongside the romantic Victorian interest in folk and fairy tales, played strongly upon book illustration. Contemporaneous with the London-born Arthur Rackham, the French Edmund Dulac adopted subtle oriental influences and illustrated deluxe works such as Stories from the Arabian nights (lot 407, selling for £1,125) and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (lot 409, selling for £875). Lady Stewart’s copy of Dulac’s 1928 A Fairy Garland, with an original water-colour sketch of a fairy by Dulac to the title-page, sold for a total of £2,375.
Slightly lesser known but by no means less talented than Rackham and Dulac was Danish-born Kay Nielsen. Using bolder tones than his contemporaries, Nielsen established his place in the world of deluxe book illustration with his paintings for Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in 1924 (lot 414, selling for £1,875) and Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel in 1925 (lot 415, selling for £2,125).
Lady Mary Stewart’s library of deluxe illustrated works is one of the finest to come to auction in recent years and this was reflected in the prices achieved. However, it was also a carefully compiled selection of books which form a very personal collection, reflecting Lady Stewart’s own interests and work.
All prices inclusive of buyer's premium