Caldecott... a fine Cheshire artist
NOWADAYS we associate
the best illustrated childrens books with the likes of Beatrice
Potter. But long before Peter Rabbit and company appeared a Cheshire
man, Randolph Caldecott, left his own indelible mark.To see his
pictures today is to imagine a Cheshire, or Shropshire, of the 19th
Caldceott was born in Chester in 1846 and attended the towns
King Henry VIIIs School, becoming - like his brother - head
boy there. As a child he carved animals in wood and many of his
exercise books were covered with drawings and sketches.
In 1861 he moved to Whitchurch where he worked in a bank for six
years. He resided with a yeoman farmer, loved fishing, went to the
meet and cattle auction and threw himself wholeheartedly
into country life.
At this time his first drawing - the burning of the Queens
Hotel at Chester - had appeared in the Illustrated London News and
soon he found his way to London where he met with the engraver,
Cooper was searching for an illustrator for Washington Irvings
Old Christmas and later Bracebridge Hall. After the publication
of these books Caldecotts reputation soared.
In 1878 came the real landmark in his career when John Gilpin and
The House that Jack Built - the first of the picture books - appeared.
After that, the public demanded and got books every year until Caldecotts
early death, in 1886.
The Cheshire artist was a master. He depicted black and white houses,
the social life and hunours of the squirearchy. There was no industry,
no electricty, no car, no bus.
Farm boys and rosy cheeded maidens dance round the farmhouse, with
its welcoming fire and, like Beatrice Potter, he brought animals
to life. His farmers were prosperous, whether in the kitchen or
the gig to market...with smock, bulbous nose and irrepressible smile.
Caldecott immortalised the English farming countryside, its squire,
parson, milkmaid, huntsman, festivals and celebrations.
The vicar in his vestry hears Tally Ho outside and throws
off his surplice, regardless of the couple waiting to be wed.
That was Caldecott whose contribution was once described:
Geese scatter before Gilpin, the hunt clatters by with almost
audible clop-clop; cheeks are rosy, huntsmen jolly, yokels monn-faced,
gaffers venerable, maidens charming.
Caldecott might be out of fashion but his work lives on!
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