Thursday, January 21, 2016

Collecting children's book illustrations



Whether you display them on the wall or treasure them in a portfolio, original artworks from children's books will never lose their charm.  
 
An ink and watercolour illustration by the Australian artist Ida Rentoul Outhwaite for Chimney Town (1934) by Tarella Quin Daskein. This is from a set of illustrations by Outhwaite that are estimated to fetch £5,000-£7,000 at Sotheby's
If your budget is limited or the original artwork of your favourite illustrator is scarce or unavailable, consider lesser-known illustrators, whose work can be picked up from the low hundreds of pounds. Names to look out for include John Hassall, Margaret Tarrant and Rene Cloke from the first half of the 20th century, and Barbara Brown, Anne Mortimer and Ronald Searle from the second half.

Margaret Tarrant illustrations
Collectors often collect around a theme (everything to do with Alice, for example), periods (say the restrained designs of the 1940s or the primary colours of the 1950s) or according to genre (such as nursery rhymes, animals or fairies). 

Beatrix Potter illustration
If you can't find or afford the type of illustration you'd like, consider collecting colour plate books and sets of loose colour plates instead. This style of book was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when printing techniques did not allow easy or affordable printing in full colour. Colour plates were printed separately from the text of a book then attached by hand to the page ('mounted and tipped in') or inserted loose (`laid in'). Sometimes, limited-edition sets of colour plates were printed to celebrate an important anniversary in a book's history. While they are not the original artwork, they have visual impact. 

John Hassall illustration
While EH Shepard illustrations regularly come up for sale, the same cannot be said of original artworks by that other titan of the children's book world, Beatrix Potter. Most of the original drawings and watercolours for her 'little books' are held in the Warne Archive and the Linder Archive, both part of the National Art Library at the V&A. A rare cache of original Potter watercolours, Christmas cards and letters from the 1890s, created for family and friends, did surface in 2008 at Sotheby's, selling for £748,200 in total. 

Ronald Searle illustration
'The watercolours were as fresh as the day she'd drawn them, with exquisite detail, and they were quite breathtaking for the feelings they conveyed,' says Sotheby's specialist Dr Philip Errington. Members of the public can apply to view original Potter artwork at the National Art Library's Blythe House Reading Room, near Olympia, London (020 7602 0281 ext 212; vam.ac.uk/page/b/beatrix-potter). 

One of Shepard's very first Winnie-the-Pooh colour drawings produced in 1928
 Where to see

Set up by leading illustrators Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark, House of Illustration at 2 Granary Square, King's Cross, London is dedicated to illustration past and present. 020 3696 2020; houseofillustration.org.uk 

The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London holds nearly 100,000 children's books dating from the 16th century onwards. Accessible by appointment. 020 7942 2000; vam.ac.uk 

The Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London holds other children's book collections. 020 8983 5200; vam.ac.uk/moc

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