Folklore, myth, fantasy and adventure were the very stuff of my childhood and were encapsulated in a range of second hand books that somehow appeared in our house during the early years of the Second World War after I had learned to read. I know that some, if not all of these, were ‘salvaged’ by my father, then in the Police War Reserve, from bombed-out houses. Although often damaged and discoloured, it wasn’t only the stories but the visual impact of their illustrations that keeps the narratives alive in my memory.

Often primitive in origin and violent in form, pictures from children’s books published in the first half of the 20th century still evoke deep sympathetic responses in all of us, both children and adults. The illustrators caught the magic of story telling and presented it in a highly polished form. Mostly born at the turn of the 19th century, the illustrators of these children's books form a surprisingly homogeneous group as they conjure up a very tangible world of make-believe. While the pictures obviously illuminate the tales that inspired them, each art work stands alone as an intriguing and magical vision. To make this gallery, I have selected visual fantasies, ranging from whimsical to satirical, from children's book illustrations that seem to me to still have universal appeal in their own right.

Many of the artists represented have lapsed into obscurity and their original art work has been lost. When published, their work suffered because of poor reproduction, and we can only guess at what could have been achieved had they had the advantages of today’s sophisticated printing technology. This historical limitation applied to black and white reproductions as much as colour, which despite the limitations of the then newly developed photographic half-tone printing processes, was often restricted to only three colours,

Although Art Nouveau is one of the more readily discernible influences in their work, it is in no way dominant or pervasive. Each artist I have chosen captures the elusive truth in fantasy, and therefore continues to captivate long after childhood ends.


Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935)

Howard Pyle (1853-1911)

.Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Charles Robinson (1870-1937)

Frederick Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944)

Jean de Bosschere (1881-1953)

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)

Edward Julius Detmold

Paul Bransom

Kay Nielsen (1886-1957)

Harry Clarke (1890-1931).

Dorothy Pulis Lathrop

T. Mackenzie

Anne Anderson (1874-1930)

Joyce Mercer

Harry Rowntree