Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Antipodean Fantasy

Random Australiana

Australian Fantasy 018

'The Spirit of Mischief' by Margaret Clark (mid-1920s)

Australian Fantasy 017

'The Florist Shop' by Margaret Clark (mid-1920s)

Australian Fantasy 010

'She saw a little witch dance past', by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
in 'The Lady of the Blue Beads' (1908)

Australian Fantasy 001

'The Little Witch' by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite in 'Elves & Fairies' (1916)

Australian Fantasy 008

'Autumn Fairy' by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite in 'Elves & Fairies' (1916)

Australian Fantasy 009

'Flower Frocks' by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite in 'The Enchanted Forest' (1921)

Australian Fantasy 007

'Periwinkle Painting the Petals' by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
in 'The Little Fairy Sister' (1923)

Australian Fantasy 003

'Gum Leaves' by Ethel Turner (1900)

Australian Fantasy 004

Magazine cover by May Gibbs (1914)

Australian Fantasy 016

This May Gibbs poster was for the first Infant Welfare campaign by the NSW Health Department (before 1920 I think). Perhaps of much greater significance is the symbolism of juxtaposing an imported traditional figure (stork) with the local kookaburra. It speaks volumes both in terms of a generation of illustrators gaining confidence with adopting a new local visual language and, even if unintentional, I think the picture offers a revealing insight into the national psyche that continues to resonate today.

Australia's physical isolation and relative young age as a nation, as well as its modest population size has always engendered a certain lack of confidence in our competing - one way or another - in the wider world. It's strange to even think about it, let alone admit it in public, but it's absolutely true. We feel slightly intimidated, a little unsure of where we fit in and desirous of being told we are ok. Don't get me wrong, this national inferiority complex has a lot of benefits too, particularly in the way our arts industry has evolved; it has inspired an amazingly unique film industry for one and possibly accounts for our industrial-strength obsession with sport. There are sociological Honors projects buried in that there image, I'm sure. Or maybe *I* am seeing too much.
¶ That description comes with the caveat that it is a deep background, almost unconscious resonance, and is receding, ever so slightly, as time goes by.

Australian Fantasy 015

Rare dustjacket for a 1920 comic book by May Gibbs.

Australian Fantasy 014

Bookcover of 'The Billibonga Bird' by Harold Gaze* (1919)

Australian Fantasy 005

'Scared of the Kewpies' by Olga Cohn (1920s)

Australian Fantasy 006

Cover image of 'The Lone Hand' (1909) by DH Souter
(the cat featured in a lot of his illustration work)
"The Lone Hand began as an ambitious project, an all-Australian magazine of broad scope and high quality, by the standards of the time. Later in the war years, it declined in value and prestige, and went through changes in policy in the attempt to regain its leading position. It published an amount of early science fiction."

Australian Fantasy 011

'My Little Son, Dandelion' by Ethel Jackson Morris*
in 'The White Butterfly and other Fairy Tales' (1921).

Australian Fantasy 012

'Children in a Tree' by Ethel Spowers (1927)

Australian Fantasy 013

'The Witch and the Giant' by Christian Yandell in 'The Gates of Dawn' (1930s)

Australian Fantasy 019

'The beauty of the garden took her breath away'
by Pixie O'Harris in 'Pearl Pinkie and the Sea Greenie' (1935)

Australian Fantasy 020

"I will not have Cow-fish in my garden!" by Pixie O'Harris
in 'Pearl Pinkie and the Sea Greenie' (1935)

Stylistically very similar to May Gibbs from whom O'Harris inherited the mantle of leading children's book illustrator. They are probably the two most famous artists arising out of those early decades of the 20th century but O'Harris' career spanned more than sixty years (she ceased illustrating in the 1980s).

Australian Fantasy 002

1890s children's book publication by W Cole

All images are assumed to be © the estates of the respective artist.

These pictures were scanned a while back from a couple of secondary compilation books on loan, but I'm afraid I've lost the book titles.

The first four decades of the 20th century were the 'golden age' of Australian book illustration, particularly in the fantasy - [a word applied loosely to some of the above examples]- genre. The above array is nowhere near comprehensive and I've intentionally left out Dorothy Wall, for instance, who will turn up in a dedicated post somewhere along the line in the future. Even if you didn't own works by the most famous of the Australian fantasy illustrators (I didn't...I don't think), many of their characters were - are - an inescapable part of the visual patchwork in the background, growing up here. Not too shabby really.


Lady Meerkat said...

As a child I read the complete adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as well as Blinky Bill (D. Wall). Do you remember the series of stamps featuring some of these artists? I'm loving the examples you've given of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's work. So graceful.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my school library didn't have any classic books, Australian or otherwise until I was in grade four, by which time I was reading Ion Idriess, and reading chidrens' books was beneath my dignity! I am still catching up, so thanks for a bit more information, and some wonderful illustrations.

lotusgreen said...

well you just charmed my socks off!

nancyx said...

Oh wow! My mum had an address book filled with Ida Rentoul Outhwaite illustrations. I used to pour over them as a kid...you've made me remember it all over again! I will have to see if mum still has it. Pretty sure her illustrations are what planted the seed for my Edwardian era illustration fetish (I have a Willy Pogany tattoo!).

ps. As a fellow antipode, I am proud to discover she was Australian, too!

Karla said...

Those are just delightful! I think I especially like the Spirit of Mischief. Or is it that I identify with it?

Federation Fairies said...

Hello I am from Federation Fairies. www.federationfairies.com.au I notice you have used some of my great aunt's illustrations. I was thrilled to see how much they are admired. I have a better copy colour wise if you want to take it from my Pinterest Vivien Kells

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