“… he would have chosen some dream city of the Orient for his birthplace, a Persian princess for his mother, and an artist of the Ming Dynasty for his father.” (Introduction to a New York exhibition of Dulac’s work)
|Edmund Dulac: "The City of Deryabar" |
from "Stories from the Arabian Nights" (1907)
|Edmund Dulac: "The Little Mermaid" (1911)|
Orientalism and Japanese woodprints were all the rage in Europe when Edmond grew up in Toulouse. His uncle was an art dealer and brought the lad in contact with the imagery of far-away places and Edmonds fascination grew to a point were he began to learn Arabic and Chinese, his law studies forgotten, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and finally relocated to London, the Mecca of the Golden Age of Illustrations, the world of Beardsley, Crane and Rackham. His first commissioned works there were illustrations of fairy tales of a different kind, though, the works of the Brontë sisters, first and foremost Jane Eyre. Other classics of English and American literature followed, from Shakespeare to Poe and Hawthorne, but Dulac was most influential and best loved when he transposed the imagery of the “Arabian Nights” and Omar Khayyam into his singular illustrations. It became something of a paradigm change from the sweltry salon erotica depicting harems and slave markets of 19th academic art along with virile imagery of savage oriental warriors, hunting scenes, camel races and romantically bygone glories of ancient Egypt á la Ozymandias into the floating Art Noveau-influenced dreamlike scenes Dulac created with his illustrations. French literary fairy tales along with those of Andersen provided an equally fertile breeding ground for the French artist’s imagination who became a naturalised Britisher in 1912. In the ten years between his arrival in London and the outbreak of the Great War, Dulac became one of the top artists among a set of excellent illustrators, sought after by publishers and beloved by his audience, both children and adults. The line between picture books and illustrated texts for grown-up readers were blurred again and if only by keeping the actual buyers of the quite expensive books in mind that contained Dulac’s works, the children’s well-off and usually quite cultivated parents.
|Edmund Dulac "Little Girl in a Book" from "Fairies I Have Met" (1907)|
Together with Rackham, Dulac developed a sophisticated watercolour mixed method to allow for the glamorously rich tones of his works as well as Rackham’s wan greys and browns along with the nuanced lines of both artists. It was their good fortune that print technology had developed to a degree that allowed almost faithful reproduction of the intricate works Dulac created, true to his influencers, on expensive Japanese paper only to add to the enhancement of his tones and textures. The distinctive ukyio-e style that influenced the great painters of the age as well, Manet, Whistler, van Gogh, his compatriot Toulouse-Lautrec to name but a few, along with the whole Art Nouveau style made the major impact on Dulac’s creativity, together with Mogul miniatures and Chinese artworks. And even among imagery inspired by Grimm and Andersen, these elements appear, upturned slippers, turbans, floating garments, pointed domes and crescent moons, set pieces he saw in the life when he visited the Arab East before the Great War, something of a self-affirmation of the mindscape and imagination of the East he had created for Western audiences. Styles and tastes changed already during his life and times, famously, and between the wars Dulac continued to work as an illustrator, fairy tales as well as literary classics, as caricaturist and stage and costume designer, quite like the miracle workers who were responsible for the wondrous appearance of the immensely popular Ballets Russes. Commercial graphics helped to pay the rent and a last illustration helped to keep his imagery in the mindscape of the public, a stamp he was tasked to create on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Sans turban, though. Dulac died in the same year.
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