Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The ABC Book of Edmund Dulac

by Stephen J. Gertz

It was the era of the lavishly produced and illustrated gift book for children yet the volumes were designed and executed with the buyer in mind: the child's parents. Until the era ended with World War I illustrators Arthur Rackham, Charles Robinson, Beatrix Potter, etc. were in demand and thrived.

No less so was and did French illustrator Edmund Dulac (1882-1953). Since settling in London in 1904, he had been an almost instant sensation. Publisher J.M. Dent commissioned illustrations to an edition of Jane Eyre. Not too long afterward, Dulac entered an agreement with the Leicester Gallery to show his work. Publisher Hodder & Stoughton bought the rights to the paintings and used them to illustrate their gift books. In 1907, they issued Dulac's illustrated Arabian Nights to broad critical and popular  acclaim. It is arguably his finest work.

Dulac is not generally known for humor in his work but in 1908, on the heels of Arabian Nights, publisher Frederick Warne issued Lyrics Pathetic and Humorous From A to Z, an abecedaire for children featuring verses by Dulac guaranteed to charm adults as much, if not more so, than the kids  they was aimed at.

"A very attractive quarto, containing delightful drawings, in which that rare gift of colour which distinguishes this artist is reaffirmed...there is no monotony in Mr. Dulac's quaint conceptions" (The International Studio, January, 1909).

"Mr. Dulac's pencil and brush have rarely been more successfully employed. Nothing more original in conception and effective colour printing has perhaps appeared for a long time" (The Daily Telegraph).

"The rollicking figures that illustrate Dulac's alphabet book are, with those of Arabian Nights, among the most delightful of his book pictures. His work here shows his most individual style, his own way of doing things when unhampered by the limitations of a story or of a publisher...seldom did Dulac fail to tuck some whimsy into his book pictures, but the comic style which he launched...achieved sure triumph in the Lyrics..." (Hughey).

I'm convinced that if Dulac, on a roll from A to Z, had decided to throw in a few Japanese kanji children would have said, "supashi-bo," to the amazement of their parents.

DULAC, Edmund. Lyrics Pathetic & Humorous from A to Z. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1908.

First edition. Slim quarto (10 1/2 x 8 1/4 in; 268 x 208 mm). Unpaginated Twenty-four full color plates on glossy paper, with limerick verses, to rectos only. Title page vignette. Illustrated endpapers.

Publisher's original quarter straw cloth over pictorial paper boards. Beveled edges.

Hughey 18.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! I am such a fan of abecedaires, my personal favorite is William Nicholson - although his images are most often found disbound. This is just beautiful.


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