Friday 22 March 2013

'... don't believe in anything That can't be told in coloured pictures'

The brilliant illustrator Randolph Caldecott was born on this day in 1846, in Chester (and died, less than 40 years later,in St Augustine, Florida, while on his travels in search of better health). His illustrations  - full of life and colour, fluently drawn and boldly designed - were like nothing else at the time, though his style was soon widely copied and adapted. Caldecott's illustrated children's books - which were his speciality (his nursery rhyme collections sold in huge numbers) - were much admired by Maurice Sendak: 'He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out — but the picture says it. Pictures are left out — but the word says it.' Shrewdly Sendak also appreciated the faint touch of darkness in some of Caldecott's work (perhaps owing something to his ill health and awareness that he would not live long): 'You can't say it's a tragedy, but something hurts. Like a shadow passing quickly over. It is this which gives a Caldecott book — however frothy the verses and pictures — its unexpected depth.' No sign of darkness, though, in the illustration above, which is taken from his edition of Cowper's John Gilpin (which I have in a King Penguin illustrated by another master, Ronald Searle).
Presenting one of Caldecott's picture books to a young friend, G.K. Chesterton wrote in it:
'You will not understand a word
Of all the words, including mine;
Never you trouble; you can see,
And all directness is divine—
Stand up and keep your childishness:
Read all the pedants’ screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
That can’t be told in coloured pictures.'
Wise words.

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