Edmund Dulac was born in 1882, 15 years after Arthur Rackham and a decade or more after Charles and Heath Robinson. Only Kay Nielsen (1886) of the five major "Golden Age" gift book illustrators was younger.
He was born in Toulouse, France and his artistic talent showed at an early age. Drawings still exist from his early teens. Many of these first efforts are watercolors, a medium he would favour 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. As Colin White puts it in his great biography of Edmund Dulac, "Two years of boredom at the law school and the winning of a prize at the Ecole des Beaux Arts convinced Dulac where his future lay." On leaving law school, he 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 AcadÈmie Julien where he stayed for three weeks. That same year (1904), he divorced from his American wife who was 13 years his senior and left for London for what was the start of a meteoric career.
It's important to understand the timing of Dulac's arrival in London. Until the mid-1890s, there had been no economical method of reproducing colour 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 "colour separation" made it possible to mass-produce colour 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 i.e. the image imposed on to the page. One of the earliest manifestations of this process 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. These two men would dominate this new market which came to be known as the Golden Age. 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 It's a testament to Dulac's skills that he, a 22 year old, unpublished foreigner, was given a commission for 60 colour illustrations. It's also a reflection of the degree to which this Frenchman had been Anglicized that he was soon contributing to the Pall Mall Magazine along with Arthur Rackham and Charles Robinson.
An interesting aspect of these early illustrations is that they don't depend on an ink line to hold the colour. Rackham especially and to a slightly lesser extent the Robinsons, tended to approach the new colour medium almost as a coloured 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 colour separation process was perfected just at the exact moment he arrived and so he never had to deal with the old-fashioned necessity of using an ink line to bind the colours .
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 Edmund Dulac on the recommendation of the Leicester Gallery, that Hodder and Stoughton turned for commissions. . Actually, the paintings were commissioned by the Leicester Gallery which sold the reproduction rights to H&S and then sold on the paintings after publication of the book. Dulac would repeat this arrangement with the gallery for years to come. One book at a time.
And what books they were....
The Tempest (1908) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909) The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales (1910)
Stories From Hans Andersen (1911) The Bells and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1912) Princess Badoura (1913).
Dulac remarried in 1911 to Elsa Arnalice Bignardi. An interesting thing happens in 1913. The mellow, romantic blues give way to a brighter palette and a more oriental style. This was a permanent change in his approach. 1914 saw publication of Sinbad the Sailor and Other Stories from the Arabian Knights.It was the beginning of World War 1. 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 book 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 went into print. However at 35 years old, Dulac's profession was become obsolete. New techniques in printing had allowed photography to become the new medium.
Dulac responded to these changes well as he was as resourceful as he was talented. Even though he lived the remainder of his life living in the shadow of poverty, 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 in 1920 and began to design costumes and sets for the theatre. He became a designer of stamps and during WWII, worked on banknote designs for Free France. Dulac designed playing card (backs and the royalty faces), chocolate boxes, medals, graphics for The Mercury Theatre, bookplates and much more besides.
In 1924, he began an association with The American Weekly, a Sunday supplement for the Hearst newspaper chain. He would create a series of cover paintings around an agreed 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 quite happy with the reproduction methods used on the magazine and the quality in the finished product. Still it helped to pay the bills.
In 1933 W.B. Yeats dedicated his poem The Winding Stair to Dulac and 4 years later, Dulac reciprocated by writing the music that accompanied readings of Yeat's pieces on BBC radio. Both men apparently fell out with each other over the radio production but later resolved their differences, and after World War 2 when Yeats' body was moved home to Ireland, Dulac designed the poet's former grave memorial in Roquebrune.
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) far 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. Edmund Dulac died of a heart attack on May 25th 1953.
Please browse this short selection of the endearing images of Edmund Dulac. We also have a wide selection of illustrations by other wonderful artists, if you would like to visit us. Click here to view our main site ->>