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Finding Old and Rare Children's Books Created by Women Illustrators from The Golden Age of Illustration

Updated on February 4, 2014

Children's Books from The Golden Age of Illustration; Women Who Contributed

Most of us who do know and love antique children's books are very familiar with some of the greatest men illustrators from 1850 to 1920: Randolph Caldecott, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham, to name just a few. But, how about the women who made careers as illustrators during the Golden Age of Illustrations?

Prior to the early 1800's, books for children were limited to cautionary tales and moral lessons. The art was limited and far from evoking imagination. In 1823-1826, the first two volumes of English translation from the Grimm Brother's "Popular Stories" opened the way for children's books as we know them today. The idea of childhood being a separate state from adulthood was a new and growing concept that childhood should be "fun". The "father" of children's book illustration, George Cruikshank, was the first artist to faithfully follow the text and capture the spirit of these tales. He set the standard and form in children's book literature. This created the paveway for the Golden Age of Illustration with its peak in the decade from 1905 to 1914.

The Victorian Era saw a growth in stories of exotic places, heroic legends, folk and fairy tales both for children and adults. This proliferation of material demanded a need for more illustrators to supply the art. Illustration for a woman fit right in line with needlework and music! For the upper and middle class victorian woman, illustration could be practiced in the home. This glorified concept turned out to be far from a reality.

Do You Know of These Women and Their Work?

Created by Malzeke
Created by Malzeke

Many women artists had short lived careers as illustrators and have since been lost amongst the archives. It was very hard for a woman to pursue a career and raise a family; as a result many left and never came back to pursue their career in art. The women featured here, are some of the most aggressive in the field of illustration during the golden age. Each has left us with some of the worlds most wonderful art that has been made into posters, postcards, and can still be found in those very old beloved children's books.

During this era young women were being educated in the arts; a knowledge of drawing, painting, needlework, music, were all considered female accomplishments. However, this was only minimal academic knowledge for a woman to support a career. With the increased interest amongst women to develop such skills, several art and design schools became established specifically for women while other schools began admitting women to their programs.

Elenore Plaisted Abbott (1875-1935) was from Maine and studied at three separate schools: Philadelphia School Design for Women, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Paris, Academie des Beaux-Arts and then took classes under Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute in 1899. She married a fellow artist C. Yarnall Abbott who gave her continued support in her career.

Fanny Cory (1877-1972) was born in Illinois and went to art school in Montana at age 14. When she was 18 she attended the Metropolitan School of Fine Art in New york City. She was very successful in NY but burned out in her early 30's and moved back to Montana to take rest where she met and married a wealthy ranchman. They raised three children. She reinvented herself after her children were grown and created her own comic strip "Sonny Sayings".

Susan Beatrice Pearse (1878-1980) was born in South London. She is one of the most beloved illustrators and not much is really known about her personal life, but she sure lived a very long life, to 102 years old. She married Walter E. Webster. Professionally she kept her maiden name.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960) was born near Melbourne, Australia. She was sixteen when she started her professional career as an illustrator working on a collaborative book with her older sister Annie, called "Mollies' Bunyip", in 1909. Most of her work was depicting fairies. Much of her success is due to her husband's efforts in managing her career as well as writing the texts for several of her books.

Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931) was born in Chicago and received a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. She only attended for fourteen months due to the loss of her father and the illness of her mother. Virginia became ill with tuberculosis at a young age and did not live very long. In 1923 her family moved her to a sanitorium in California. She was weak but continued to work. in 1928 she left the sanitorium and showed her work in several exhibitions. Her last commissioned book was with her publisher Penn Publishing Co., Myths and Legends. She died just before the book was completed at the young age of 31.

Composed By Malzeke
Composed By Malzeke

Elenore Plaisted Abbott (1875-1935)

An Art Nouveau Illustrator

I first fell in love with the art of Elenore Plaisted Abbott when I was a young girl and my aunt read from a book of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" that was published in 1920. Much later in life I learned that this body of work was considered Elenore's best work. The illustration from"The Four Accomplished Brothers", is a wonderfully magical piece. All of Abbott's figures are long and delineated with flowing form. In this piece look closely at the dragon; his fiery breath and curling tail brings attention to his powerful face. The beautiful king's daughter's body curves and flows down to the dragon as he is about to carry her away.

Another of my favorite stories from "Grimm's" is the "Twelve Dancing Princesses". In this piece Elenore Abbott delicately renders her figures to be long and elegant with detailed robes and fineries. This art is a blend from the Art Nouveau movement into the Art Deco. The checkered floor and delineated lights reflecting on the water are very characteristic of Art deco design as well as all the geometric patterns in their clothing.

Her work is primarily in watercolor. Aside from illustrating for magazines, and numerous books she also created scenic designs for the Hedgerow Theatre in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

Finding Old and Rare Books by Elenore Plaister Abbott - And More of Her Art

Ebay is always a great source for finding the antique and collectable books. I have my eye on one of the books Elenore illustrated, "Kidnapped",1915.

Composed By Malzeke
Composed By Malzeke

Fanny Cory (1877-1972)

Funny Fanny!

F anny Cory once said she was not the most accomplished artist of her day but she had one thing the others didn't have and that was humor! On fycory.com, there are several copies of news articles from her day about her love life and family as well as news about her work. Fanny was fun, generous and bubbly. I felt like I got to know her from those stories. She made a successful career as an artist and illustrator. She was written up in Who's Who in American and illustrated for many magazines and books. To this day her illustrations can be purchased on greeting cards and posters. Three of her most popular books are "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1902), "Mother Goose" 1913 and "Sonny Sayings" 1929. Her illustrations are fun and lively with touches of humor in all her drawings.

Five years ago I found the book, "Sonny Sayings". As an illustrator myself this book became my bible on how to capture wonderful body language and expression. There are 112 pages of really cute antics for Sonny and his little sister. Then just recently I came across "Mother Goose" illustrated by Fanny Cory. There are approximately 12 color plates. The art is done in watercolor with many wonderful black and white illustrations. This book is a gem!

The World Of Ameliaranne - My Very First Favorite Book Find

composed by malzeke
composed by malzeke

This wonderful book, Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella, published in 1920, was found in an old barn at an estate sale. I paid .25 cents for it. It is in rough condition but still a real treasure. The story is about an endearing little girl named Ameliaranne. She lives with her very poor mother and five younger brothers and sisters. She has a big heart and when you see why she "really" brought the big green umbrella to the Squires tea party you can't help but fall more in love with Ameliaranne.

After doing a little research on the illustrator, Susan Beatrice Pearse, I learned that she was a prolific British illustrator who rendered beautiful children in their daily activities. She was born in 1878 and died in 1980 at 102 years old. She married Walter Webster in 1919. Her friends called her Trissy Webster but she kept her maiden name professionally. She was well know for the many stories about Ameliaranne, published between the years 1920 to 1950.

I fell in love with the delicate rendering of the children. Their tiny features and the sensitivity to their posture and attitudes. The caricatures of the adults in the book are wonderfully rendered to become believable characters. Pearse's use of watercolors are vibrant with areas of colorful patterns. The surprising detail about these books is that they are stunningly consistent since they were written by eight different authors and illustrated by one woman. Given the times that was not an easy task. The expressive illustrations help carry the limited narrative.

In this book there are approximately 26 color plates throughout the book. Finding this book led me on the search for more Ameliaranne books.

More Ameliaranne Books

I began a search for more treasures like the one I found of Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella. I visited hundreds of estate sales since I found this book. I searched old and rare book stores and never found another one. In those years between 1920 to 1950, the publisher George G. Harrap, London, published 20 titles. After 1950 many of the books went into reprint with slightly alternative titles.

I recently purchased, Ameliaranne Keeps Shop, published in 1928. This book is larger with three times the pages (a more developed story line) than Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella. But the art is a wonderful as the last.

Here are some of these old and rare Ameliaranne books found on Amazon.

Ida started her illustration career at just sixteen years old. She worked with her older sister Annie to publish their first book, "Mollie's Bunyip", in 1904. Her books were considered to be one of the first children's books set in Australia. She married Grenby Outhwaite who helped manage her career as well as wrote many of the texts for her books.

One of the first color books published in Australia, was "Elves and Fairies", illustrated by Ida and written by her sister Annie. This book rivaled the quality of the British deluxe editions published in this day.

Some of Ida's most treasured paintings were published by A. & C. Black publishers in London as gift books. There were five gift books published between 1921 and 1930: "The Enchanted Forest" (1921), "The Little Green Road to Fairyland" (1922), "Blossom" and "Bunny and Brownie". The most popular in Australia from 1920s to 1950s was "The Little Green Road to Fairyland".

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960) - The Australian Fairy Artist

Composed By Malzeke
Composed By Malzeke

A Great Source for Ida Outhwaite books

Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931)

Composition by Malzeke
Composition by Malzeke

Virginia lived a short life of only thirty one years but to me she created as much beautiful work as some of the women who lived to a hundred. She created her art in the style of Art Deco. I am personally taken by her mix of patterns and strong compositions. I especially love the long lean and delineated figures in her paintings. Her work takes the observer to magical and exotic places.

The books that she illustrated are: "Old French Fairy Tales", Tanglewood Tales", "Arabian Nights", and "Myths and Lengends".

More Art and More Beauty

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Virginia Frances SterrettVirginia Frances SterrettVirginia Frances SterrettIda Rentoul Outhwaite
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Virginia Frances Sterrett
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

Finding Art and Books by Virginia Frances Sterrett

I Really Like to Hear From My Readers - Leave me a comment.

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    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 

      4 years ago

      This is my first introduction to Elenore Plaisted Abbott - although of course the other illustrators are familiar and admired - and I'm greatly taken with her style. Of course, it's hard not to love the flowing lines of Art Nouveau!

    • profile image

      audymay92 

      4 years ago

      What a beautifully compiled lens! I am very taken by these artists and their work. To me, Susan Beatrice Pearse is the epitome of children's illustrators. She captures the innocence of childhood. With in her art work I see my self and am reminded of those magical times when my loving, creative mother would whisk me off to bed with images of fairies, dragons and gnomes found in my beloved childhood story books. Beautifully done Malzeke!

    • Diane Cass profile image

      Diane Cass 

      4 years ago from New York

      Stunning! These women were brilliant and their art is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. A wonderfully crafted lens. I can tell that you have a great passion for art and are inspired by what these women have accomplished. Please write more of these insightful, passionate lenses.

    • profile image

      Piper1990 

      4 years ago

      A very thorough and informative lens! This captures the talent and beauty of work from the "Golden Age of Illustration." I think it's safe to say you'd be included in the "Golden Age of Squidooing" lens. Another Malzeke Masterpiece =).

    • profile image

      JStarrB 

      4 years ago

      Fascinating! These women were talented in any age.

    • profile image

      lokken-liane 

      4 years ago

      what a great resource! It's great to have a light shining on these fabulous women!

    • profile image

      MammaNana 

      4 years ago

      This is wonderful

    • profile image

      terrygus 

      4 years ago

      Great article........I am a female in college majoring in art history and illustration. These Women are a great inspiration to me! I really appreciate you compiling all this information in one place. It is well written and very informative. Thanks!

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