Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1997


Guide for exhibition held by Watkinson Library, 1997.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Britain saw a proliferation of sumptuously illustrated books, incorporating fantasy in its many facets. The times were right, with the social and political climate favorable to fantastic and visionary literature and art. An expanding British empire was sparking fascination with the non-Western world, giving rise to illustrations of exotic, far-away lands. At the same time, increasing interest in revivalism (Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance), exotism, and spiritualism found a natural outlet in fantastic themes. Fantasy was a form of escapism from an increasingly industrialized lifestyle and the often rigid confines of Victorian society.

While fantastic illustration is difficult to define and covers a broad spectrum, it usually involves the supernatural world or some other unreal element.
Recurring themes in fantasy illustration include: folk and fairy tales, historic myths and legends, the horrific and grotesque, and the anthropomorphization of animals and flowers. Exhibited items represent these prevalent themes from the "Golden Age" of illustration in Britain which flourished from the mid-nineteenth century until the First World War. The illustrators included are British citizens, both native-born and emigrants, as well as non-citizens who had successful works published in England."

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