A Frog he would a-wooing go

Capital Collections (www.capitalcollections.org) provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience.  The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the acclaimed and widely celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886).

‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’, front cover

The book was first published in 1883 as part of a series of highly successful picture books illustrated by Caldecott for children. His success continued throughout the 19th century and by 1884, sales of Caldecott’s Nursery Rhymes, which by this point consisted of twelve books, reached 867,000 copies leading him to international acclaim. Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s book in the Victorian era. Caldecott is considered a leading figure in children’s literature with his work considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to consist of more images and less text.

‘”Pray, Mr. Frog, will you give us a song?”
Heigho, says Rowley!
“But let it be something that’s not very long.”
With a rowley-powley, gammon and spinach,
Heigho, says Anthony Rowley!’
from ‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’

This book tells the story of a Frog, with the help of his friend the Rat, as he attempts to gain the affection of a Mouse. His books such as the one presented in this exhibition, are praised for their sense of fluidity and repeated phrases, which creates a sense of movement from one page to the other, a style which appeals to children. Not only do Caldecott’s books have a bright, humorous and inviting nature, their brilliance lies in his ability to express subtle but profound meaning in stories dominated by image and only supplemented with text.

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. Although originally marketed at children, the images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Randolph Caldecott: An illustrator’s perspective

Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, Randolph Caldecott: An illustrator’s perspective, was created by Ashley Burch an Art History postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. She completed the research for the exhibition as part of the collaborative internship programme between the University and Central Library.

Ashley was drawn to the Library’s children’s illustrated books collection and in particular to the work of Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). Caldecott is perhaps best known for his children’s book illustrations that feature traditional nursery rhymes and songs, however this exhibition centres on images from the ‘Sketchbook of R. Caldecott’s’ (1883) and the posthumous ‘Graphic Pictures’ (1891). Both books are designed to give the impression of a diary or travel journal and are supplemented with Caldecott’s own written excerpts. This technique gives viewers the chance to experience Caldecott’s thought processes as he created his illustrations.

Mr. Chumley's holidays

Many of the sketches in this exhibition serve as a reflection of the life and style of the English middle- and upper-middle classes in the Victorian era. The image taken from ‘Mr. Chumley’s Holidays’, describes Caldecott’s observations of life and romance acquired while travelling to resorts in England and abroad.

Caldecott characteristically portrayed individuals, many of who were well-known acquaintances, as they went about their daily activities. This exhibition, An illustrator’s perspective, seeks to not only illuminate the carefree jovial tone of Caldecott’s work, but also provide a glimpse of the man behind the illustrations.