Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Birthday: Of his work, Sendak said, “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that had never happened before. Words are left out – but the picture says it.”

Florida Antiquarian Book Fair's Allan Smith is interviewing a leading US children's book dealer at 2:00 pm EDT today. Join him at the Book Fair's Facebook page. It's the perfect interview for this birthday!


Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886)

A lad from Chester who came late in the string of his father’s thirteen children- by three wives, Randolph Caldecott took to sketching at an early age. At fifteen, he left school and took a job as a bank clerk, pursuing his art as a hobby. He got a break in 1861 when The Illustrated London News ran his drawing of a spectacular hotel fire in Chester- the equivalent of a news photographer’s shot today. The opening led to placement of other work in local and London periodicals. He placed a painting in the Royal Manchester show of 1869.

In 1872 Caldecott took a post with a bigger London bank, hoping being at the center of art and publishing would better his prospects as an artist; within two years he was on his own, making a living off commissions. He settled in rooms in Bloomsbury and ran with the Pre-Raphaelite swells of the day. He illustrated novels and sketched parliamentary debates for the London papers, but there was something in children’s literature that brought out his best.

In 1876 Caldecott exhibited a painting in the Royal Academy show; a year later, a chance meeting led to his commission to illustrate two books of children’s verse for a publisher’s Christmas line. They were both hits, and he produced two a year for the rest of his life The Caldecotts, priced at a shilling each, were an event for children in the holidays. By 1884, his twelve books had sold 867,000 copies and enabled Caldecott to retire to the country, a famous artist and fellow of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colors.


Caldecott married in 1880, and with his wife made frequent trips abroad seeking palliatives for his poor health. Afflicted by chronic gastritis and heart trouble, he fell ill in Florida and died there in 1886, short of his fortieth birthday. He was buried in St. Augustine and later honored by a plaque in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Such was Caldecott’s achievement- in just sixteen children’s books’ illustrations- that The American Library Association inaugurated an annual medal to honor the best young readers’ book illustrator of each year. One of the winners, Maurice Sendak, said,  "Caldecott's work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. 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." Sendak also appreciated the subtle darkness of Caldecott's illustrations: "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."


#LiteraryBirthdays #RandolphCaldecott #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

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