Nature in Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Tale & Poetry Illustrations

Circe the Enchantress by Edmund Dulac for L'Illustration magazine, 1911
Circe the Enchantress by Edmund Dulac for L’Illustration magazine, 1911

There is nothing quite like an illustrated book of fairy tales.  Some of these volumes are suitable for children, while others tend towards darkness and nightmares.  Edmund Dulac’s illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and volumes from other imaginative authors fall somewhere in between.

His illustrations show a dark world of elves and fairies.  In Dulac’s imagination, the princess and goddess exist within a tempestuous natural world and the night sky often plays a starring role.  Nature is just as much a character as the characters themselves.

"She was always picking flowers and herbs," illustration by Edmund Dulac for Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Wind's Tale.'
“She was always picking flowers and herbs,” illustration by Edmund Dulac for Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Wind’s Tale.’
"Everything about her was white, glistening and shining," illustration by Edmund Dulac for Marie Alexandra Victoria's 'The Dreamer of Dreams.'
“Everything about her was white, glistening and shining,” illustration by Edmund Dulac for Marie Alexandra Victoria’s ‘The Dreamer of Dreams.’
"He must have died if the little mermaid had not come to his rescue," illustration by Edmund Dulac for 'The Little Mermaid.'
“He must have died if the little mermaid had not come to his rescue,” illustration by Edmund Dulac for ‘The Little Mermaid.’

Edmund Dulac was born in France but, in his adult life, became a British citizen.  After abandoning his study of law, Dulac pursued his career as a book and magazine illustrator and stamp designer.  His first assignment was to illustrate the books of the Brontë sisters.

(All roads lead to the Brontës!)

His illustrations are spooky enough to illustrate works by the prince of darkness himself, Edgar Allan Poe.

"How statue-like I see thee stand / The agate lamp within thy hand!" Illustration by Edmund Dulac for Edgar Allan Poe's 'To Helen.'
“How statue-like I see thee stand / The agate lamp within thy hand!” Illustration by Edmund Dulac for Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘To Helen.’

To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe

Helen, thy beauty is to me
   Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
   The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
   To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
   Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
   To the glory that was Greece,
   And the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
   How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
   Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
   Are Holy-Land!
"And there, leaning against a moss-grown crumbling tree, was a spirit-like being out of another world!" illustration by Edmund Dulac for Marie Alexandra Victoria's 'The Dreamer of Dreams.'
“And there, leaning against a moss-grown crumbling tree, was a spirit-like being out of another world!” illustration by Edmund Dulac for Marie Alexandra Victoria’s ‘The Dreamer of Dreams.’

With his mature, dark and lovely scenes, Edmund Dulac thwarts the notion that fairy tales are only for children.

Explore Different Drum’s passion for antique book illustrations!

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