“Rackham gave his talk on Silhouettes to the Art Workers’ Guild in November 1919, the month in which Cinderella, the first of his two great silhouette books, was published. Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty differed from Rackham’s preceding books in relying almost wholly on silhouette for their effect. It is immediately clear from the collection of images that Rackham is a master of the medium, being able to evoke character and humour by profile and gesture alone and allowing the two-dimensional effect of his pen work to lead the reader through the book and keep the story going.” (James Hamilton. Arthur Rackham, A. Biography, p. 188).
As I hold this antique book of Cinderella (the rare signed first edition) open in my palms, the skill and beauty of Arthur Rackham’s silhouette masterpieces is truly enchanting.
The facing title page treats you to the only tipped in colour illustration of Cinderella. She looks longingly out of the window, dressed in soft rags and appearing vulnerable. Below her are stark black silhouettes of the ugly sisters, gaily dancing with equally unattractive beaux – the contrast in mood is masterful.
C.S. Evans, the author, proceeds to recount the tale of Cinderella and Rackham flawlessly instills life into this cherished tale. In “The Baroness and her Daughters, Evans introduces chapter IV with the words “Have you ever noticed that there are some people whom you are not going to like the first time you set eyes on them?”- Rackham depicts this clearly.
Rackham vividly presents the mood of these characters. Cinderella’s loneliness and sadness is tangible while the ugly sisters’ mistreat her and their horror is real when they see Cinderella’s foot fits in the shoe.
Rackham also expertly conveys humour through his illustrations. “We’ll have this fat fellow, because he has such a splendid set of whiskers.” The poor rat who is transformed into a coachman looks charmingly horrified!
The careful use of colour is another technique that Rackham employs with a brilliant rare touch. He adorns a double page spread with soft pink and green to illustrate the transformation of Cinderella and her coach, ensuring the magic flows from the page.
“The pumpkin immediately changed into a magnificent coach, all glass above and gilded panels below!”
The way in which energy and movement is portrayed within Rackham’s illustrations is captivating. It is evident in the dancing scenes through his successful use of carefully placed small silhouettes that lay on the page at jaunty angles. “Dance succeeded dance” is the mood he creates.
Similarly Rackham beautifully generates the images for her flight from the ball. “Cinderella ran as she had never ran before. She lost herself in the shrubberies, and found her way out again, blundered among the flower beds, and snapped roses from their stalks in the speed of her flight.”
The final picture summarises Rackham’s skills in silhouette illustration– fine graceful lines that convey so much emotion and movement – “Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after for the rest of their lives.”
What a true master of his craft!