Illustrator Edmund Dulac
March 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
Edmund Dulac was born in Toulouse in France in 1882. His artistic bent manifested itself early and drawings exist from his early teens. Many of these early efforts are watercolors, a medium he would favor through most of his life. He studied law at the University of Toulouse for two years while attending classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Eventually he left law school and enrolled full-time in the Ecole. He won the 1901 and 1903 Grand Prix for his paintings submitted to the annual competitions. A scholarship took him to Paris and the Académie Julien where he stayed for three weeks. That same year (1904) he left for London and the start of a meteoric career.
Until the mid-1890s, there had been no economical method of reproducing color plates. Printing methods in those days varied from printer to printer and were most often patented – and were always being improved. The invention of the process we now call “color separation” made it possible to mass-produce color images and by 1905 they improved the process to create images that were very faithful to the originals. The only drawback was that they had to be printed on a special coated paper and therefore couldn’t be bound into the book with the rest of the pages. They had to be tipped-in. One of the earliest manifestations of this was Arthur Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle in 1905. The illustrated gift-book was born just as Edmund Dulac arrived. Rackham was a grizzled veteran of ten years in the illustration business and Dulac was looking for his first assignment.
Dulac’s first book assignment was for the publisher J.M. Dent’s collected works of the Bronte sisters. It’s a testament to Dulac’s skills that he, a 22-year-old, unpublished foreigner, was given a commission for 60 color illustrations. An interesting aspect of these early illustrations is that they don’t depend on an ink line to hold the color. Rackham especially tended to approach the new color medium almost as a colored ink drawing. Dulac, though capable of pen and ink work, was primarily a painter and used the new technology’s ability to reproduce exact tones to let the color hold the shape and define the object. This is one of the effects of Dulac’s timing. The color separation process was “perfected” just at the exact moment he arrived and he never had to deal with the old-fashioned necessity of an ink line bounding the color to hide misregistration.
With the wild success of Rackham’s Rip Van Winkle and his 1906 Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, other publishers were looking for artists to produce their own gift books. Hodder and Stoughton had published Rackham’s Peter Pan. When Rackham signed with Wm Heinemann, it was Edmond Dulac, on the recommendation of Leicester Gallery, that Hodder and Stoughton turned to to illustrate The Arabian Nights for 1907 Actually, the paintings were commissioned by the Leicester Gallery which sold the reproduction rights to H&S and then sold the paintings after publication of the book. Dulac would repeat this arrangement with the gallery for years, one book at a time.
1914 saw publication of Sinbad the Sailor and Other Stories from the Arabian Knights and the start of WWI. Dulac immediately started contributing to relief effort books. His work is in King Albert’s Book, Princess Mary’s Gift Book and in 1915 he created his own book, Edmund Dulac’s Picture Book for the French Red Cross – the only one done by a single artist. He managed to have Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Book released in 1916. When the war ended, the last of his deluxe editions, Tanglewood Tales saw print. By 1917 Dulac’s profession had become obsolete.
Dulac lived the remainder of his life always in the shadow of poverty, though he managed to earn money and become well-known in many other fields. He was an admirable caricaturist and for a year and a half (1919-20) he provided a drawing to each issue of the weekly newspaper, The Outlook. He painted portraits. He illustrated The Kingdom of the Pearl, a 1920 history. He designed costumes and sets for the theatre. He became a designer of stamps for Britain and, during WWII, Free France (plus their bank notes). He designed playing card (backs and the royalty faces), chocolate boxes, medals, and graphics for The Mercury Theatre, bookplates and more. In 1924, he began an association with The American Weekly, a Sunday supplement for the Hearst newspaper chain, whereby he would create a series of cover paintings around an agreed-upon theme. The first series, Bible Scenes and Heroes started in October of 1924 and ran for twelve installments. He would return again and again to this market as his primary source of income until 1949. Dulac was never happy with the reproduction methods and the quality in the finished product.
Of all the great gift book illustrators, Dulac remained the most active throughout his life. They weren’t as ornate or as frequent, but The Green Lacquer Pavilion (1925), Treasure Island (1927), A Fairy Garland (1928), The Daughters of the Stars (1939), The Golden Cockerel (1950), The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1951) and Comus (1954) surpassed the output of any of his contemporaries. The last three on that list were published as deluxe signed editions by The Limited Editions Club and the last was published posthumously. Dulac died in 1953.
The illustrations included on this page are from a copy of Tr. Fitzgerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam we have in store, which includes twenty colour tipped in plates by Dulac.