Tag Archives: Golden Age of Illustration

Color My World


Following is the introduction to my book Annagrammatica’s Children’s Dictionary of Invisible Things. You can get a PDF of the entire book for free or you can purchase the book on my website.

The Golden Age of Illustration 1880s-1940s

About 140 years ago, an amazing transformation took place on the pages of magazines and children’s books. Where there had been few if any pictures, and these in black and white, suddenly glorious color illustrations appeared. Some of the finest artists in the world began illustrating familiar tales—such as the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales—and new books as well. For over 50 years, the outpouring of color art flooded so many pages that the time is called the Golden Age of Illustration. One of the first children’s picture books to appear was Kate Greenaway’s Birthday Book for Children (1880).

kate greenaways birthday book

Kate Greenaway’s style influenced dozens of artists, including Millicent Sowerby, an English illustrator whose pictures for the book Childhood (1907) fill every page with rich, warm color—very different from Arthur Rackham’s dark, broody illustrations. If I had owned an Arthur Rackham picture book when I was a child, I would never have read it at bedtime for fear of nightmares!

Arthur Rackham Alices Adventures in Wonderland

by Arthur Rackham, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Turn back a page to see my very favorite illustration. The artist—Jessie Willcox Smith—depicts a boy with his arm around his sister, or perhaps his cousin or his best friend. The way his hand covers hers, you know that he would do anything to make her happy. Another artist whose pictures are full of love is Bessie Pease Gutmann. Clearly she adored children… and dogs as well. I’ve used many of her illustrations in the pages of this book.

Jessie Willcox Smith brother and sister

My favorite illustration, by Jessie Willcox Smith

Before the Golden Age, few women could earn money as artists. Suddenly, women’s art decorated millions of book and magazine covers and inside pages. Almost all the pictures in this book were created by women.

Millicent Sowerby from Childhood 1907

by Millicent Sowerby, from Childhood, 1907

Can you imagine a universe without color picture books? Yet through many thousands of years of human history, we’ve had color picture books for only a little over a century. The Golden Age changed the way we see the world. Isn’t this a wonderful time to be alive?

Bessie Pease Gutmann Rocking the Baby

by Bessie Pease Gutmann