Tag Archives: Edmund Dulac

Dulac and Shakespeare: faeries and phantoms

The first two decades of the twentieth century are sometimes referred to as the golden age of book illustration. It was a combination of skilled artists, advances in printing techniques and a book loving public willing to buy prestige or gift editions of classic books. We’ve already featured examples of this in posts about the artist Hugh Thomson who tried to produce one “big” book a year in the pre-WW1 period. Hodder and Stoughton were one of the publishers who embraced this trend, and one of their lines was a series of new versions of Shakespeareare plays. Thomson himself did As you like it for Hodder and later the Merry Wives of Windsor for Heinemann. W. Heath Robinson did Twelfth Night. And our new friend Edmund Dulac did one of the best illustrated editions, the Tempest.

008 Act 1 scene 2 And to my state grew stranger being transported and rapt in secret studies

Prospero in his magical laboratory when he was still Duke of Milan. I have read that Dulac tended to depict not so much the action of the play as scenes implied or referred to such as the “rotten carcass of a butt” in which Prospero and the infant Miranda were set adrift which was nevertheless  equipped with “rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries” courtesy of the noble Gonzalo, not to mention volumes “from my own library that I prize above my dukedom” (grimoires etc, perhaps, or something on child rearing).

Act 1 scene 2 A rotten carcass of a butt not rigged nor tackle sail or mast - Copy

Another is these Dulac mermaids presiding over a line which was echoed in another famous work by T S Eliot. (A Kensington and Chelsea resident we haven’t got around to yet.)

015 Act 1 scene 2 Full fathom five thy father lies - of his bobes are corals made - tose are the pearls that were his eyes

“Full fathom five thy father lies /of his bones are corals made / those are the pearls that were his eyes”

On the apparently deserted island Miranda had to be home schooled, and when the play starts is a teenage girl.

020 Act 3 scene 1 No womans's face remember save my own

“No woman’s face remember but my own” The only other inhabitant of the island is the monstrous Caliban the half-human son of a witch who had also been exiled to the island. Caliban is Prospero’s unwilling servant.

Propero uses his magical powers and those of his faery servant Ariel to capture a ship and move some of its passengers and his former associates into his sphere of influence.

Caliban refers to other non-human residents: “the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

021 Act 3 scene 2 Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not

On the other hand the scene below does occur on stage with Ariel in the guise of a harpy.

022 Act 3 scene 3 You are three men of sin

He/she harangues them: “You are three men of sin, whom Destiny, / that hath to instrument this lower world /and what is in’t, the never surfeited sea / hath caused to belch up you, and on this island / where man doth not inhabit – you ‘mongst men / being most unfit to love. I have made you mad.”

On another part of the island Miranda has met Ferdinand and they have rapidly become a couple. After a stern warning about making sure his daughter remains a virgin Propero entertains the couple with a pageant of spirits. The Goddess Iris speaks of “turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep”

023 Act 4 scene 1 Thy turfy mountains where live nibbling sheep

She calls for: “you sunburned sickle-men, of August weary / come hither from the furrow and be merry;/ make holiday; you rye-straw hats put on, / and these flesh nymphs encounter every one / in country footing.”

027 Act 4 scene 1 Enter certain Reapers properly habited - they join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance

After the fun Prospero dismisses the spirits and prepares to face Caliban and some of the hostile visitors to the island. There are mant famous phrases in the play but at this point Prospero utters the most well known: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on...

028 Act 4 scene 1 We are such stuff as dreams are made on

These much quoted words were featured quite effectively in that Ikea advert for beds. Do you remember that one? “…and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Propsero and Ariel prepare for more magic

“Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves….

031 Act 5 scene 1 Ye elves of hills brooks standing lakes and groves

…..you demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make..”

033 Act 5 scene 1 You demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make

Prospero speaks of the darker side of his powers: “…Graves at my command / have waked their sleepers, oped and let ’em forth/ by my so potent art”

034 Act 5 scene 1 Graves at my command have waked their sleepers

But at the conclusion of the play he promises: “But this rough magic I here abjure….I’ll break my staff….. I’ll drown my book….”  and vows to set Ariel free.

“On the bat’s back I do fly

037 Act 5 scene 1 On the bat's back I do fly after summer merrily

While Prospero concludes his magical business Miranda and Ferdinand play chess.

038 Act 5 scene 1 Sweet lord you play me false

And finally, returning his visitors to their ship Prospero promises “calm seas, auspicious gales, and sail so expeditious that shall catch your royal fleet far off.”

Dulac picks up on that image for a final picture.

042 Act 5 scene 1 Calm seas auspicious gales and sail so expeditious

There have been many versions of The Tempest, on stage, as an opera and as a general influence. I happened upon this one:

Elsa 01 - Copy

Elsa Lanchester as Ariel, with Charles Laughton as Prospero in 1934. Elsa Lanchester went on of course to play her most famous role the following year in one of the most fantastical of Universal’s horror films, the Bride Of Frankenstein. As well as the Bride she also played Mary Shelley in the film’s prologue.

But naturally this film is the most memorable later version of the story for me.


But you already knew that I’m sure. Forbidden Planet (1956) featuring Robby the Robot as himself/ Ariel, Walter Pidgeon as Morbius/Prospero, the young Leslie Nielsen as Commander Adams, a kind of Ferdinand (not to mention an early model for James T Kirk) and Anne Francis as Altaira / Miranda. Caliban came in at the end as the monster from the Id.

Or there’s this one:


[Neal Gaiman’s Tempest, from the Sandman series, the Wake. What would Dulac have made of graphic novels?]


I’ve looked at some other illustrated Shakespeare volumes from the Hodder series – W G  Simmonds’s version of Hamlet, Sir James D Linton’s Merchant of Venice, but they looked rather conventional after Dulac’s Tempest.I’m going to keep looking.

As well as tying in with the previous post on Dulac this one also occurs in a Shakespeare anniversary year. In November one of our London History Festival author events will be Shakespeare related. But before then I’ll be featuring a couple of those special editions. Look out for them.

This post has a companion piece on our WW1 website where you can see some pictures from Dulac’s book in support of the French Red Cross.

Thanks to Peter Collins for loaning the Dulac volumes and Kim for transportation.


Dulac in Kensington


Edmund Dulac invitation p52 - Copy (2)

This post starts with someone we’ve encountered before: the art collector and patron Edmund Davis.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

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.

Tableau vivant 1913

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.

72 Ladbroke Road 1968 KS612

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.

72 Ladbroke Road 1988 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).

Edmund Dulac from Sleeping Beauty and others p62 - Copy

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).

My days with the fairies - she smiled at him very graciously

His treatment of stories like the Little Mermaid contain just the the right amount of grotesque elements.

The Little Mermaid from Hans Anderson

He even tackles one of Hugh Thomson’s favourite subjects, young women lounging around. (See the post on the Admirable Crichton )

Sleeping Beauty - they overran the house without loss of time

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.

there in a row hung the bodies of seven dead women

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

117 Ladbroke Road 1988

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.

Dulac and Helen Beauclerk at Ladbroke Road

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.

The Green Lacquer Pavilion frontispiece 1925

This was appropriate of course, but here she is in a folk tale illustration.

Fortunata and the Hen - A fairy grland

Possibly he liked to paint a certain kind of woman. This earlier image shows a woman just like Helen, before he even met her.

The Princess of Deryabar - Stories from the Arabian Nights

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)

The King and Puss in Boots - A fairy garland

Here he is in 1937 with his great friend W B Yeats who shared many of his interests. He died in 1953.

Dulac and Yeats 1937

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.

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