Monday, June 11, 2012

Dear viewers, if you are a fan of fairy tales and the illustrations thereof, then you are surely aware of Arthur Rackham, one of the most famous illustrators of fairy tales of all time. This Victorian/Edwardian era (and beyond) artist illustrated many fine fairy books and his drawings, paintings and silhouettes have influenced artists up to this day.  Recently, as I was going through some of my belongings in a box, I came across a Rackham fairy book that I had picked up at a thrift store and had forgotten about. This particular book was published in the 70s and is called "Fairy Tales from Many Lands".  It was originally published in 1913 as "The Allies' Fairy Book" which I assume meant allied countries from WWI. It contains many charming black and white drawings and color plates. But most interesting to me was the biographical synopsis on the back cover. In this synopsis I learned that Rackham had married an Irish woman from Galway by the name of Edyth Starkie in 1903, and that she, too, was an artist.

As often happens in artistic couples one artist can end up eclipsing the other, and the shadowed artist is subsequently lost in the pages of history. It seems to have happened more often to female artists whose work was sometimes buried under the weight of the fame of their better known male lovers/spouses who were more valued simply because they were men. At any rate,  I immediately went searching for some information on Edyth Starkie and there is little to be found. However, I came across an excellent article by James Hamilton in the Irish Arts Review which you can access here.  His article gives us a picture of a woman who, despite the fact that she was often in ill health, was charming, vivacious and talented and was an accomplished portrait painter who was trained in Paris and was often invited to exhibit her work.. She apparently had a great sense of humor and sometimes, an impish sensibility.  Very few of her paintings seemed to have survived and the whereabouts of some of them seems to be unknown. But those works that survive are quite beautiful and have a dreamy,  thoughtful quality about them.  
Detail from "Pippa Passes" by Edyth Starkie, exhibited 1899

"The Three Bears" Arthur Rackham. "The Grebe Hat" by Edyth Starkie Rackham appears in the picture to the right of Papa Bear.
In his Irish Arts Review article, Mr Hamilton tells us that Arthur Rackham was very supportive of his wife's artistic pursuits and through the Rackham's household accounts records we can see that models and art supplies for Edyth were regularly acquired. A charming show of Arthur's affection and respect was the inclusion of one of Edyth's paintings, "The Grebe Hat", in the background of his painting "The Three Bears". A sweet acknowledgement of his wife's work, but perhaps also a manifestation (unconscious or not) of the realization that Edyth's art would always be in the "background" of his.

Detail of "The Grebe Hat" by Edyth Starkie exhibited 1907
Like many of her paintings, Edyth Starkie has faded into a dreamy past, but she is well worth remembering. Not only was she an interesting artist in her own right, she surely had some influence on Arthur's work..  I encourage you, dear viewers, to read James Hamilton's article and see for yourselves.


  1. Hola!!! a mi también me encantan los cuentos de hadas... quería preguntarte ¿cual es tu cuento infantil o no... favorito, y tipico de tu pais? me gustaria hacer unas ilustraciones!!!
    muchas gracias y saludos

  2. Me refería a uno "que te gustara a ti" y que fuera tipico y tradicional a la vez...

  3. Lo siento karumina, mi Espanol no es muy bueno :) Mi cuento de hadas favorito es "La Reina de las Nieves" de Hans Christian Andersen y me encanta las historias originales Raggedy Ann.