Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unrecorded Arthur Rackham Drawing Found in Unrecorded Louis Wain Edition

by Stephen J. Gertz

Anytime an unrecorded book illustration by Arthur Rackham comes to light, it's news. 

Buried within Cats At Play, a book illustrated by, amongst others, cat artist, Louis Wain, is an unheralded black and white text illustration, on page forty, of four chickens in various states of distress as they observe, in high dudgeon and with no little annoyance, a cat within their food bucket chowing down the chicken feed. This is commonly known as kitty chutzpah. And at the lower left of the bucket, as small as can be, are Rackham's initials as typically drawn. 

Latimore and Haskell, and Riall make no mention of this illustration in their Rackham bibliographies, and it was unknown to the Arthur Rackham Society when we inquired.

This edition (the copy I handled with a school prize label dated December 22, 1904), is, in the absence of contradictory evidence, the true first and unrecorded, with no copies in institutional holdings worldwide. It is not noted in Rodney Dale’s Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, nor in Ellery Wood’s bibliography within Dale. As noted above, it was certainly unknown to  Latimore & Haskell, and Riall. 

Note Rackham's "AR" at base of bucket, left.

At the time of this book's approximate publication, Rackham had already had work published, mostly under his name with credit on the title page, providing single or multiple illustrations for, amongst others, To the Other Side (1893); Isis Very Much Unveiled (1894); The Dolly Dialogues (1894); The Zankiwank (1896); The Money Spinner (1896); Two Old Ladies... (1897); Captain Castle (1897); Through a Glass Lightly (1897); Charles O'Malley (1897); The Castle Inn (1898); Evelina (1898); The Ingoldsby Legends (1898); Gulliver's Travels (1900); Faithful Friends (1901); More Tales From the Stumps (1902); The Grey House on the Hill (1903); The Greek Heroes (1903); Red Pottage (1904); and The Peradventures of Private Pagett (1904). 

That Rackham would accept a commission to provide a single text line drawing to this book with no more credit than his microscopic initials should not come as a surprise. Rackham was hustling for work wherever he could find it; good reviews and regular exposure were not enough to keep him fully employed with money in his pocket. And none of the other illustrators for the book received credit beyond their initials or full signatures to their contributions.

And so we have a previously unknown Rackham during his transitional period, when his fairies and goblins were emerging but had not yet fully vanquished the simple, pay-the-bills work of his early years.

This book was later issued by Blackie & Son, 1917, and Alexandria Publications, c. 1920, in what appear to be abridged editions; the Blackie & Son edition collates to only twelve pages. It is unknown to me whether these later editions contain the Rackham drawing.

WAIN, Louis. RACKHAM, Arthur. SMITH, H. Officer. GLADWIN, May, et al. Cats At Play. London: John F. Shaw, n.d. [c. 1900-1904].

First edition, unrecorded and scarce,. Small quarto (9 5/8 x 7 1/8 in;  245 x 180 mm). Illustrated throughout in black and white and color, with fifteen drawings by Louis Wain, and an unrecorded text drawing by Arthur Rackham (so initialed) on page 40.

Publisher's pictorial boards. Beveled edges. School prize label to front paste down endpaper dated Dec. 22, 1904. 160 pp with  advertising as endpapers.

Cf. Wood 34 and 35, as recorded in Dale, Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, p. 137.

Of related interest:

Two Very Rare Books For Cat Lover's Only (A Naughty Story).

The Riddle of Arthur Rackham's "Faithful Friends" Solved?

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks. The book sold instantly.


  1. Delightful! Thanks for the info. Love Rackham. Especially his Alice, who looks older than Tenniel's... and a little evil :)

  2. Interesting, you could be right, but there again...... . Have you read Fred Gettings 1976 biography of the artist? in an appendix he covers at length the 'AR' initials in another drawing, which appears to be very similar to this artist. The AR could equally be a squashed AJR, while the style doesn't quite sync with Rackham's known technique in these early days. But this signature in this image is somewhat closer to Rackham's, so you could be correct.

  3. This is one of the most important blogs that I have seen, keep it up!


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