This post starts with someone we’ve encountered before: the art collector and patron Edmund Davis.
As we learned in the post about a room decorated for Davis by Charles Conder this picture shows Davis and his wife in 18th century dress, dancing at a musical soiree in their house in Lansdowne Road. But there are others in the picture: the Davis’s niece, Clare Atwood is sitting on the sofa dressed as a clergyman or scholar. Behind her stand the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. We assume the dog has come as himself although the Davises had attended other costume parties in animal guise. (A pair of poodles if you recall). In the chairs on the left are Elsa Dulac and Davis’s sister-in-law Mrs Halford. We don’t know who the comedy soldiers are, or the lady at the harpsichord but the gentleman in the right corner at the front who is looking out of the picture is the artist who painted it. The year is 1912.
As we saw in the other post about Conder, costume balls were very popular at this time. We’ve seen other examples of dressing up en masse in the pre-War period – see the many posts on the Chelsea Pageant – and I’ve suggested in the past it amounted to a kind of obsession. Edmund Dulac seems to have had a bit of a gift for it. Here he is on horseback in a tableau vivant.
Dulac and his wife were living nearby in Ladbroke Road at number 72, a house owned by Davis who had created studios there and in several other houses in the area where other artists lived. Dulac was born and educated in France but had come to London in 1905 and lived and worked in Britain for the rest of his life.
You can see the tall windows suitable for studio use in this 1968 picture. An estate agent’s picture of the rear in 1988 shows the large garden.
I’ve spent a lot of blog time this year hovering around a series of artists and illustrators, some of whom like Charles Conder were closely associated with Kensington or Chelsea,and some like Hugh Thomson whose connection was much looser, in the subject matter or collaborator. Many of them were artists I had never heard of before. But Dulac, like Arthur Rackham, who appeared in a post about this time last year is someone whose reputation has lingered into modern times. He was another of those artists/ illustrators whose work was published in large format paperbacks in the 1970s – Rackham himself, Sidney Sime, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Heath Robinson – most of whom had some element of the fantastic about them which fitted in with the boom in fantasy literature of the time (and with fantastical prog rock album covers, but let’s draw a veil over those.)
By 1912 Dulac was known for his illustrations to the Arabian Nights as well as books of his like My Days with the Fairies (1910) . This is an illustration from Sleeping Beauty and other fairy tales (1910).
Dulac’s pictures are exotic and glamorous, exactly right for his subject matter, fairy tales and folklore.
His faeries are colourful and benign (unlike those of say Rackham).
His treatment of stories like the Little Mermaid contain just the the right amount of grotesque elements.
He even tackles one of Hugh Thomson’s favourite subjects, young women lounging around. (See the post on the Admirable Crichton )
After his early success with the Arabian Nights he often depicted European stories such Bluebeard’s Castle and Beauty and the Beast in an “Arabian” setting.
In October 1916 Dulac watched a Zeppelin being shot down above west London. This is possibly the same incident that Herbert Hoover and his family saw from the nearby roof of the Red House (link) although Dulac was alarmed rather than excited by the event and Elsa was badly shaken. There were more heavy raids the following year with aircraft visible over Holland Park which unnerved them both. Edmund Davis arranged for them to live on an estate in Surrey where there were others escaping from the bombing.
They were back in London in 1918. The era of the big illustrated book seemed to have gone so Dulac diversified into costume and theatre design and commissioned work. In 1919 they moved across the road (almost literally ) to the slightly larger 117 Ladbroke Road
The Dulacs lived on the upper floors.(The artist Glyn Philpott lived on the lower floors).Oddly, in 1988 the building was still organised into two separate residences.
Elsa never really recovered from her nervous condition exacerbated by the war years and in 1923 she and Dulac separated. Apparently not one to let the grass grow under his feet it was not long before Dulac was joined by a young woman who was already a frequent visitor, Helen de Beauclerk . She shared his interest in astrology, Jungian psychoanalysis , meditation and fringe philosophies like those of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
The Dulacs had the upper two floors which included a large studio and a verandah.
You can see that Helen looked quite like a typical Dulac character. The picture below shows her in 18th century dress in one of his illustrations to her novel, The Green Lacquer Pavilion.
This was appropriate of course, but here she is in a folk tale illustration.
Possibly he liked to paint a certain kind of woman. This earlier image shows a woman just like Helen, before he even met her.
In later life he worked on designs for stamps and medals and adopted other styles for certain projects like Treasure Island (1927) and A Fairy Garland (1929)
Here he is in 1937 with his great friend W B Yeats who shared many of his interests. He died in 1953.
Dulac is another example of an artist who is perhaps not as well thought of as he might be because he is associated with book illustration. One of my continuing interests on this blog is to look at artists like him whose work is preserved in library books rather than in galleries.
This post was conceived as a companion piece to the posts about Conder, but who knows where it will lead. I’ve drawn heavily on Colin White’s excellent book on Dulac for biographical detail and pictures, but also used one of those 1970s picture books published by Coronet in 1975. An expert on printing could probably write an interesting post about the difference in printed colours between then and now, but I’m not such an expert so I’ll simply note that it is interesting how these things change. I’m looking forward to handling an original illustrated book by Dulac.
Edmund Dulac by Colin White. Studio Vista 1976.
Dulac edited by David Larkin. Coronet/Hodder and Stoughton 1975
Both out of print but still available through online retailers.
December 10th, 2015 at 12:23 am
I immediately recognised with a shiver the picture of Bluebeard’s wife, from a very old and frightening fairytale book my mother has had since she was a child. It used to scare me to death!
December 10th, 2015 at 7:23 am
Bren, I think the Dulac illustrations included in this are just wonderful, and I think you might enjoy them. Love, Philip xx
Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2015 00:15:05 +0000 To: email@example.com
December 23rd, 2016 at 10:58 am
Hi Dave, and thanks for a lovely article
One tiny point: Helen’s full (adopted) name was Helen de Vere Beauclerk, with ‘de Vere’ being the middle name, and she would therefore be known as Helen Beauclerk.
I met her only the once, being taken as a small child to meet Great Aunt Helen in a nursing home, not that long before she died. It’s nice to see that she’s not completely forgotten by the wider world.