Caldecott, Randolph

views updated May 11 2018

Randolph Caldecott


Born March 22, 1846, in Chester, Cheshire, England; died of acute gastritis, February 12, 1886, in St. Augustine, FL; son of John Caldecott (a tailor); married Marion H. Brind, 1880. Education: Attended Manchester School of Art.


Employed in a bank in Whitchurch, Shropshire, England, 1861-67, and later in a bank in Manchester, England, 1867-72; freelance artist and illustrator, 1872-86. Contributor of drawings and illustrations to various periodicals, including Will o' the Wisp, Sphinx, London Graphic, London Society, Punch, Pictorial World, Harper's, and New York Daily Graphic.

Awards, Honors

The Caldecott Medal, named in his honor, has been awarded annually since 1938 to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book for children published in the United States during the preceding year.



Henry G. Blackburn, The Harz Mountains: A Tour in the Toy Country, S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (London, England), 1872.

Louisa Morgan, Baron Bruno; or, The Unbelieving Philosopher, and Other Fairy Stories, Macmillan (London, England), 1875.

Washington Irving, Old Christmas, Macmillan (London, England), 1875.

Washington Irving, Bracebridge Hall, Macmillan (London, England), 1876.

Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, Macmillan (London, England), 1876.

Alice Carr, North Italian Folk, Sketches of Town and Country Life, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1878.

The House That Jack Built, Routledge (London, England), 1878.

William Cowper, The Diverting History of John Gilpin, Routledge (London, England), 1878.

Oliver Goldsmith, Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, Routledge (London, England), 1879.

James Riordan, The Babes in the Wood, Routledge (London, England), 1879.

Henry G. Blackburn, Breton Folk: An Artistic Tour in Brittany, S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (London, England), 1880.

Three Jovial Huntsmen, Routledge (London, England), 1880.

Sing a Song for Sixpence, Routledge (London, England), 1880.

The Queen of Hearts, Routledge (London, England), 1881.

The Farmer's Boy, Routledge (London, England), 1881.

The Milkmaid, Routledge (London, England), 1882.

Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle [and] Baby Bunting, Routledge (London, England), 1882.

The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate, Routledge (London, England), 1883.

A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go, Routledge (London, England), 1883.

Juliana H. Gatty Ewing, Daddy Darwin's Dovecot, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, England), 1883.

Aesop, Some of Aesop's Fables, Macmillan (London, England), 1883, published as The Caldecott Aesop: Twenty Fables, introduction by Michael Patrick Hearn, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978, published as Aesop's Fables, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Juliana H. Gatty Ewing, Lob Lie-by-the-Fire; or, Luck of the Lingborough, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, England), 1883.

Juliana H. Gatty Ewing, Jackanapes, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, England), 1884.

Come, Lasses and Lads, Routledge (London, England), 1884.

Ride a Cock-Horse to Banbury Cross [and] A Farmer Went Trotting upon His Grey Mare, Routledge (London, England), 1884.

Oliver Goldsmith, Mrs. Mary Blaize, Routledge (London, England), 1885.

Samuel Foote, The Great Panjandrum Himself, Routledge (London, England), 1885.

A.Y.D., The Owls of Olynn Belfry, Field & Tuer/Leadenhall (London, England), 1885.

Hallam Tennyson, Jack and the Beanstalk: English Hexameters, Macmillan (London, England), 1886.

Old Fashioned Passtime: Postcards, B & N Distribution, 1987.

Carolyn B. Mitchell, Ride a Cock-Horse, and Other Rhymes and Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

(With Walter Crane) Mother Goose and Other Nursery Songs, Lancaster Productions, 1997.


Picture Book, No. 1, Warne (New York, NY), 1879.

Picture Book, No. 2, Warne (New York, NY), 1879.

Picture Book, No. 3, Warne (New York, NY), 1883.

Hey Diddle Diddle Picture Book, Routledge (London, England), 1883.

Randolph Caldecott's "Graphic" Pictures, Routledge (London, England), 1883.

A Sketch-Book of Randolph Caldecott's, Routledge (London, England), 1883.

Panjandrum Picture Book, Warne (New York, NY), 1885.

The Complete Collection of Pictures and Songs, preface by Austin Dobson, Routledge (London, England), 1887.

More "Graphic" Pictures, Routledge (London, England), 1887.

Catalogue of a Loan Collection of the Works of Randolph Caldecott, exhibited at the Brasenose Club, Manchester, England, March, 1888, printed for the Brasenose Club, J. Heywood, Ridgefield, and Deansgate, 1888.

Randolph Caldecott's Last "Graphic" Pictures, Routledge (London, England), 1888.

The Complete Collection of Randolph Caldecott's Contributions to the "Graphic," Routledge (London, England), 1888.

Gleanings from the "Graphic," Routledge (London, England), 1889.

Randolph Caldecott's Sketches, introduction by Henry Blackburn, S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (London, England), 1890.

"Graphic" Pictures, Routledge (London, England), 1891.

Randolph Caldecott's Painting Book, Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (London, England), 1895.

Randolph Caldecott's Second Collection of Pictures and Songs, Warne (New York, NY), 1895.

Picture Book, No. 4, Warne (New York, NY), c. 1907.

Yours Pictorially: Illustrated Letters of Randolph Caldecott, Warne (New York, NY), 1976.

Randolph Caldecott's John Gilpin, and Other Stories (contains The Diverting History of John Gilpin, The House That Jack Built, A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go, and The Milkmaid), Warne (New York, NY), 1977.

The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, edited by Elizabeth T. Billington, Warne (New York, NY), 1978.

Randolph Caldecott, 1846-1886: A Christmas Exhibition of the Work of the Victorian Book Illustrator (exhibit catalogue), City of Manchester Cultural Services (Manchester, England), 1978.

The Old-Fashioned Children's Storybook, edited by Zena Flax, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.

Edmund Evans, Huntin' & Hollerin': A Selection from Randolph Caldecott's Line Illustrations for Three Jovial Huntsmen, Chimaera Press (Beckenham, Kent, England), 1982.

Audrey Featherstone, Randolph Caldecott, 1846-1886: A Centenary Exhibition Held at Manchester Polytechnic Library, Manchester Polytechnic Library (Manchester, England), 1986.

Raymond Caldecott, A First Caldecott Collection: The House That Jack Built, A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go, Warne (New York, NY), 1986.

A Second Collection: Sing a Song for Sixpence, The Three Jovial Hunters, Warne (New York, NY), 1986.

The Glorious Mother Goose, compiled by Cooper Edens, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.


Randolph Caldecott is known as the father of the modern picture book and, according to an essayist for the Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, "as one of the greatest and most influential illustrators in the field of children's literature." Caldecott's illustrated books, first published in the 1870s and 1880s, are noted for their innovative blend of picture and text. They "represented a new kind of book for young people," explained Leonard S. Marcus in Horn Book. "The Caldecott Medal, bestowed annually since 1938 upon the 'most distinguished American picture book for children in the United States,' helped make Caldecott's name synonymous with children's book illustrations of excellence," as Michael Scott Joseph wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. In The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, Maurice Sendak wrote, "To me, his work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. There is in Caldecott a juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the words say it. It is like a bouncing ball; it goes back and forth. In short, it is the invention of the picture book."

Not much has been documented about Caldecott's early childhood. He was born in the village of Chester in Cheshire, England, where his father, John Caldecott, worked as a hatter, tailor, and woolen-draper and the family lived above his shop. Interested in nature, sports, and drawing from childhood, he attended the prestigious King Henry VIII School, where he became head boy. He also continued drawing from nature, carving and sculpting animal figurines, and painting. At one point during his childhood, Caldecott contracted rheumatic fever, and his health would remain precarious for the rest of his life.

Caldecott's father did not encourage his son's creativity, and when he reached age fifteen, it was arranged that he work in a bank in rural Shropshire. Still, during his time away from work, the young man continued to hone his skill, and while hunting, fishing, and touring the surrounding countryside he always had his sketchbook at the ready. Caldecott was described as very friendly and well-liked by his colleagues. In Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of His Early Art Career, one of his fellow clerks is quoted as saying: "We who knew him can well understand how welcome he must have been in many a cottage....The handsome lad carried his own recommendation. With light brown hair falling with a ripple over his brow, blue-gray eyes shaded by long lashes, sweet and mobile mouth, tall and well-made, he joined to these physical advantages a gay good humour and a charming disposition. No wonder that he was a general favourite."

In 1867 Caldecott transferred to the Manchester and Salford Bank in Manchester. "Colleagues at the bank later recalled finding his drawings of dogs and horses on the backs of receipts and old envelopes," the essayist for the Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement wrote. The larger city of Manchester provided the young man with opportunities to grow artistically. His wanderings now might turn up odd details about the city, as well as bits of human nature that he had missed in the more rural homes. He joined the Brasenose Club, a group of local artists, and also took art classes at the Manchester School of Art, where he perfected his already-skillful drawings. His talents grew, but he still kept up his work at the bank, where he was a productive employee. His first published work appeared in the small Manchester publication Will o' the Wisp.

The Artist in London

Eventually, Caldecott made contact with other artists and editors in London, and took frequent trips there. According to John Bankston, writing in Randolph J. Caldecott and the Story of the Caldecott Medal, "In May of 1870, Randolph traveled to London, a portfolio of his drawings tucked beneath his arm. His Brasenose contacts helped him arrange a meeting with a successful older artist named Thomas Armstrong, who was immediately struck by Randolph's talent. For the rest of the illustrator's life, Armstrong would be his friend and mentor." "Armstrong also introduced Caldecott to other well-known artists, James Whistler, Thomas Lamont, and Sir John Gilbert," Elizabeth T. Billington remarked in The Randolph Caldecott Treasury. "He met George du Maurier, who was a writer as well as an artist in black-and-white drawings, and Comyns-Carr, the editor, critic, and playwright. All were part of the surging creative force in London. They liked young Caldecott and welcomed him into their midst." Encouraged by the sale of some of his work, in 1872 Caldecott left Manchester permanently to live in London. In the Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, Caldecott is quoted as saying, "I had the money in my pocket sufficient to keep me for a year or so, and was hopeful that during that time my powers would be developed and my style improved so much that I should find plenty of work." He had already sold many of his drawings to London Society. London provided the artist with exciting new subjects. He went out sketching in Hyde Park, at Parliament, at fashionable weddings and the like. He had a sketch accepted by the prestigious publication Punch in 1872. Several small exhibitions of his work also occurred that year. He was to publish in many other magazines, including Graphic, Harper's Monthly, and the New York Daily Graphic.

Caldecott was asked to go on a trip through the Harz Mountains in Germany to illustrate his first book, The Harz Mountains: A Tour in Toy Country, and his inability to speak German caused some amusement among the natives. He continued his foreign traveling to illustrate Breto Folks and North Italian Folks. According to Billington, "It was Henry Blackburn, the editor of London Society, who first encouraged Caldecott to channel his abilities into becoming an illustrator. Caldecott was adept at taking account of a situation quickly and capturing it on paper, a most important trait in an illustrator of current news stories in the days before the camera was used for newspaper pictures. However, Blackburn was aware of Caldecott's poor health, and he believed that the young artist should avoid the pressures of journalistic work. He suggested instead that Caldecott illustrate books of travel, which would make it possible for him to spend the winters in warmer climates than England."

Defining a Genre

Caldecott's first true fame came as a result of illustrating two books by Washington Irving, Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall. In 1874 he was approached by wood engraver and printer James D. Cooper, who proposed a volume of Irving's stories taken from the 1819 work The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. As Joseph recounted, "Caldecott, who felt at heart a kinship with the time of Irving and a predilection to render the types of that age, agreed. Old Christmas, published by Macmillan in 1875, includes 120 original drawings that demonstrate their illustrator's fondness for the Regency period—a fondness Caldecott had nourished by studying color-plate books—and an eye for local architecture. They also demonstrate the artist's lively fancy, his passing appreciation of John Leech, and his gift for sustained interpretation. Old Christmas introduced Caldecott to a wider, sympathetic audience."In 1878 noted wood engraver Edmund Evans asked that Caldecott illustrate some children's picture books. Caldecott agreed, choosing The House That Jack Built and John Gilpin as his first projects. The books met with great acclaim from reviewers and readers alike. The most notable praise was for Caldecott's ability to show action that flowed from page to page, his uncanny ability to characterize both human and animal, and his sense of humor and wit. As Billington observed, "when Caldecott began working on his illustrations for John Gilpin and The House that Jack Built, he broke the bounds set by his predecessors. He did not decorate the stories, he interpreted them. The heavy black borders that once confined the illustrations were gone. Caldecott's figures leap, dance, run, and chase from page to page." Sendak observed that "Caldecott was endowed with a fabulous sense of lively animation. Characters who leap across the page, loudly proclaiming their personal independence of the paper—this is perhaps the most charming feature of a Caldecott picture book." Percy Fitzgerald commented in the Gentleman's Magazine that "delicacy, originality, variety, and a graceful humour, are [Caldecott's] characteristics. . . . As an illustrator he is among the first. Anyone of taste will find it easy to estimate him by recalling the effect of his pictures the first time he was fortunate enough to see them." From 1879 to 1886 Caldecott picked two books a year to illustrate. These picture books, sixteen in all, were to become the body of work that most defined the talented illustrator and won him sweeping acclaim. Each book sold in the tens of thousands of copies in their original format, and many libraries still stock these classic books today. Martin Hardie, writing in English Coloured Books, claimed that Caldecott's genius lay in the respect he held for his readers' abilities; Caldecott grasped "the fact that the child's book need neither be childish nor priggishly instructive; that the child mind is essentially receptive, and that designs inherently beautiful will find ready appreciation from young as well as old." Hilda van Stockum, writing in Horn Book, stated that "when leafing through his Picture Books it is [the] ebb and flow of perpetual motion which strikes one first. Other artists like to dwell on the scenes they are creating, either from contemplative joy in their beauty or from a psychological joy in their social values. Not so Caldecott. He is always aiming at the next picture; his very figures seem to be pointing to it; one cannot wait to turn the page and see what happens next." "Caldecott's genius for storytelling was preeminent among nineteenth-century illustrators," Joseph maintained. "Combining a gift of insight with a gift for invention—by which he would take the most dramatic features of a text and harmonize them with incidents and subplots from his own imagination—he took children's book illustration far beyond textual ornamentation. In Caldecott's work the illustrator becomes an equal partner to the author, and through his illustrations readers experience not merely the surface activities of the text but the breadth and nature of the world from which the text arose."

If you enjoy the works of Randolph Caldecott

If you enjoy the works of Randolph Caldecott, you may also want to check out the following:

The works of Victorian children's book illustrators Walter Crane (1845-1915) and Kate Greenaway (1846-1901).

Caldecott married Marion Brind in 1880. They were travelling through the United States in 1885 on an assignment from the Graphic to record American life when Caldecott took ill as they landed in St. Augustine, Florida. He died there of acute gastritis in 1886.

Caldecott's Legacy

To honor Caldecott's contribution to the modern picture book, the Caldecott Medal was established in 1938 and awarded to the best-illustrated children's book of the year. Many contemporary illustrators owe a debt to Caldecott's lively art, and it has also been suggested that his flowing illustrations served as inspiration for modern animation. At the artist's funeral, Caldecott's good friend Frederick Locker-Lampson summed up his talent by saying: "Caldecott's art was of a quality that appears about once in a century." Juliana Horatia Ewing, one of the authors for whom Caldecott illustrated, contributed a fitting summary of the artist's talent in a letter published in Yours Pictorially: Illustrated Letters of Randolph Caldecott. "I think you stand alone!," she wrote. "For an 'all-roundness' of genius in 'illustrating' humanity, and human surroundings, with a delicate dexterity that is delicious to anyone who has any knowledge of your art, and with an absence of tricks and mannerism which seems to me only to be found in the highest order of any art whatever." "One can forever delight in the liveliness and physical ease of Caldecott's picture books, in his ingenious and playful elaborations on a given text," Sendak noted. "But so far as I am concerned, these enviable qualities only begin to explain Caldecott's supremacy. For me, his greatness lies in the wholeness of his personal vision of life. There is no emasculation of truth in his world. It is a green, vigorous world rendered faithful and honestly in shades of dark and light, a world where the tragic and the joyful coexist, the one coloring the other."

Marcus quoted portions of Sendak's speech when he accepted the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for his book Where the Wild Things Are: "Caldecott drawings suit their occasion—robustly, modestly, and with a fine sense of proportion. Friends and critics alike who claimed more for his art than that left themselves open to his subtle scorn. As he once wrote a fawning but self-important collector: 'Dear Sir: Your note of 22 May is very complimentary to me—in it you tell me that you are going to preserve for future generations a copy of my volume of Picture Books. I am very glad. I hope others will do the same, and that future generations will feel blessed, be content, and not knock the nose off my statue. Yours pictorially, Randolph Caldecott.'"

Biographical and Critical Sources


Alderson, Brian, Sing a Song for Sixpence: The English Picture Book Tradition and Randolph Caldecott, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1986.

Bankston, John, Randolph J. Caldecott and the Story of the Caldecott Medal, Mitchell Lane Publishers (Hockessin, DE), 2004.

Blackburn, Henry G., Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of His Early Art Career, S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (London, England), 1886, Singing Tree Press (Detroit, MI), 1969.

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard, Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.

Chilvers, Ian, and Harold Osborne, editors, Oxford Dictionary of Art, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1988.

Davis, Mary Gould, Randolph Caldecott, 1846-1886: An Appreciation, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1946.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 163: British Children's Writers, 1800-1880, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 19, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Engen, Rodney K., Randolph Caldecott, Lord of the Nursery, Oresko Books (London, England), 1976, Hippocrene Books, 1977.

English Coloured Books, 1906, reprinted, Rowan & Littlefield (London, England), 1973.

Finlay, Nancy, Randolph Caldecott, 1846-1886: A Checklist of the Caroline Miller Parker Collection in the Houghton Library, Harvard College Library (Cambridge, MA), 1986.

Funt, Robert, Caldecott, Higganum Hill Books, 2000.

Hegel, Claudette, Randolph Caldecott: An Illustrated Life, Avisson Press (Greensboro, NC), 2004.

Huber, Miriam Blanton, Story and Verse for Children, 3rd edition, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965.

Hutchins, Michael, editor, Yours Pictorially: Illustrated Letters of Randolph Caldecott, Warne (New York, NY), 1976.

Lewis, Marguerite Relyea, Randolph Caldecott: The Children's Illustrator, Highsmith Press, 1992.

Lundin, Anne H., Victorian Horizons: The Reception of the Picture Books of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway, Scarecrow Press (Lanham, MD), 2001.

Mahony, Bertha E., and Elinor Whitney, editors, Contemporary Illustrators of Children's Books, 1930, reprinted, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.

Meyer, Susan E., A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators, Abrams (New York, NY), 1983.

Morse, Jane Crowell, editor, Beatrix Potter's Americans: Selected Letters, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1982.

Pressler, M. Joan, A Verie Brief Historie of the Lives and Works of Five Illustrators of Bookes for Little Masters and Misses, 1967.

Randolph Caldecott Treasury, Warne (New York, NY), 1978.

Sendak, Maurice, Caldecott and Co: Notes on Books and Pictures, Farrar, Straus, 1988.

Shaw, John Mackay, Childhood in Poetry, 3rd supplement, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Spielman, M. H., and G. S. Layard, Kate Greenaway, Putnam (New York, NY), 1905.

Sutherland, John, Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1989.

Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, 2nd edition, Antique Collectors' Club (Woodbridge, England), 1978.

Woolman, Bertha and Patricia Litsey, Caldecott Award: The Winners and the Honor Books, Instructional Fair, 1988.

Zipes, Jack, editor, Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.


American Libraries, June, 2000, Cathleen Bourdon, "'The Envelope, Please,' The Newbery and Caldecott Awards, Honors: A Guide for the Medal and Honor Books," p. 122.

Gentleman's Magazine, January-June, 1880, Percy Fitzgerald, "Randolph Caldecott," pp. 629-635.

Horn Book, March, 1946, Hilda van Stockum, "Caldecott's Pictures in Motion"; May-June, 1988; March, 2001, Leonard S. Marcus, "Medal Man: Randolph Caldecott and the Art of the Picture Book," p. 155.

Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, winter, 1988, Marianne Carus, "Randolph Caldecott, Father of the Modern Picture Book," pp. 143-151.

Lion and the Unicorn, Volumes 7-8, 1983-84, John Cech, "Remembering Caldecott: The Three Jovial Huntsmen and the Art of the Picture Book," pp. 110-119.

New York Herald-Tribune Book World, October 31, 1965, pp. 5, 38.

North Light, October, 1985.

Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1999, "Mother Goose Springs Eternal," p. 98.

Times Literary Supplement, January 21, 1977, p. 64.*


Randolph Caldecott Society of America Web site, (February 1, 2005).

Randolph Caldecott Society UK Web site, (February 1, 2005).*

Randolph Caldecott

views updated May 14 2018

Randolph Caldecott

Often called the father of the picture book, Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential illustrators in the field of children's literature.

An English artist who illustrated picture books, fiction, verse, and fables for children as well as novels, poetry, and nonfiction for adults, Randolph Caldecott is the creator of works that are often considered the first modern picture books. Recognized as an artistic genius who brought creativity, technical skill, and a new professional quality to the genre of juvenile literature, Caldecott is best known for creating sixteen picture books that feature traditional nursery rhymes and songs and eightee nth-century comic poems. They are illustrated with economical yet lively pictures in sepia line and watercolor. These books, which include texts by such authors as Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, and Edwin Waugh as well as those from familiar sources such as Mother Goose, depict classic rhymes such as "Hey Diddle Diddle," "The Queen of Hearts," "Sing a Song for Sixpence," and "The House that Jack Built"; songs such as "A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go" and "The Milkmaid"; and humorous verses such as The Diverting History of John Gilpin and The Three Jovial Huntsmen. In his illustrations, Caldecott introduced the technique of animation-the effect of continuous movement that takes the eye from page to page-to the picture book. His illustrations are lauded for expressing Caldecott's insight into human nature as well as for including the humor, action, and detail that appeals to children.

Born in Chester, England, in the county of Cheshire, on March 22, 1846, Caldecott was interested in animals, sports, and drawing from an early age. By the age of six, he had become an avid sketcher. Caldecott attended the prestigious King Henry VIII School, where he became head boy. He also continued his artistic endeavors-drawing from nature, carving wooden animals, modeling from clay, and painting. Although he had a fairly idyllic childhood, Caldecott nearly died from rheumatic fever. After his illness, Caldecott's health was to remain precarious for the rest of his life. When he was fifteen, Caldecott's father-who did not encourage his son's interests-arranged for him to work in a bank in rural Shropshire. In his free time, Caldecott hunted and fished and attended markets and local fairs, sketchbook in hand. In 1867, he transferred to a bank in Manchester. Colleagues at the bank later recalled finding his drawings of dogs and horses on the backs of receipts and old envelopes. Caldecott joined the Brasenose Club-an exclusive gentlemen's club for literary, scientific, and artistic pursuits-and became an evening student at the Manchester School of Art. The next year, his first drawings were published in local newspapers and humorous periodicals. In 1870, Caldecott went to London, where his portfolio was received favorably. In 1872, he moved there permanently to become a freelance illustrator. That summer, he accompanied author Henry Blackburn, later to become his biographer, to the Harz Mountains in Germany. Caldecott's drawings were gathered the next year and published in Blackburns's The Harz Mountains: A Town in the Toy Country.

In 1875, Caldecott provided the illustrations for his first children's book, Louisa Morgan's Baron Bruno; or, The Unbelieving Philosopher, and Other Fairy Stories, as well as for Old Christmas, a collection of Yuletide stories by American author Washington Irving. Two years later, his pictures graced another work by Irving, Bracebridge Hall, which is often thought to have cemented Caldecott's reputation as an illustrator. It also led to his association with Edmund Evans, a successful printer and engraver who had been publishing children's books illustrated by Walter Crane, one of England's best known artists, for twelve years. When Crane retired from the partnership, Evans invited Caldecott to continue in his place. Caldecott agreed to produce two picture books a year; these titles, published from 1878 to 1885, were to become his most acclaimed works. Through Evans, Caldecott became the first artist to be able to distribute his illustrations internationally. Since their initial publication, Caldecott's picture books have been issued in a variety of formats: in a single volume, in two collections of eight titles apiece, in four collections of two titles apiece, and in miniature editions.

In 1879, Caldecott moved to a country home in Kent and was elected a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. In 1880, he married Marion Brind. Although Caldecott loved children and often played with Walter Crane's, the couple remained childless. In 1882, Caldecott moved to Broomfield, Surrey, and entered into a successful collaboration with the children's writer Juliana Horatia Ewing, for whom he illustrated three books. He also continued to submit illustrations to periodicals, including Punch, the Graphic, and the Illustrated London News. In 1883, he illustrated Aesop's Fables, with text written by his brother Alfred. In 1885, he provided the pictures for a collection of fairy tales by the French fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. Sent to the United States to draw sketches for the Graphic, Caldecott suffered an attack of acute gastritis in St. Augustine, Florida. He died on February 12, 1886, just before his 40th birthday. Prior to his death, Caldecott wrote, "Please say that my line is to make smile the lunatic who has shown no sign of mirth for many months."

Caldecott's Illustrations

Caldecott is considered an exceptional artist whose illustrations reflect his originality and intelligence. Michael Scott Joseph of the Dictionary of Literary Biography has noted, "In Caldecott's work the illustrator becomes an equal with the author…," while William Feaver of the Times Literary Supplement commented, "A brilliant combination of free drawing … and tonal restraint … gave his work a spontaneous yet age-old character." Considered a quintessentially English artist, Caldecott characteristically illustrated his picture books with bucolic scenes of local country life. Generally setting his pictures in the England of a century before, Caldecott accurately depicted people, animals, and typography while investing his works with sly wit and a strong sense of the richness and color of everyday living. The artist, who is often noted for the narrative quality of his pictures, created a style of pictorial storytelling by using subplots in his illustrations to enhance the meaning of the texts. Caldecott studied what he called the "art of leaving out as a science" and once wrote that "the fewer the lines, the less error committed." In his works, the artist uses a deceptively simple style to capture the essence of a subject with a minimum of lines, and he is often credited for his ability to illustrate a story completely while expanding its dimensions in just a few strokes. Caldecott's pictures, drawn with a brush used as a pen, appeared as both small line drawings and large double-page spreads. He is often acknowledged for the fluidity of his style, for the vitality of his renderings, for the beauty and accuracy of his backgrounds, and for his skill in depicting animals-especially dogs, horses, geese, and pigs-and facial expressions.

Caldecott's Themes

Although Caldecott's books are filled with gaiety, they do not shy away from harsh realities. His illustrations depict sickness and death, both of humans and animals. In addition, Caldecott includes surprising, often shocking, revelations in his drawings and paintings. One of his most famous pictures accompanies the nursery rhyme "Baby Bunting." Caldecott shows a tiny child walking outdoors with its mother in a suit made of rabbit skins, including the ears. The artist captures the moment when Baby Bunting confronts a group of rabbits. As author/illustrator Maurice Sendak noted in his introduction to The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, "Baby is staring with the most perplexed look at those rabbits, as though with the dawning of knowledge that the lovely, cuddly, warm costume he's wrapped up in has come from those creatures." Sendak concluded that Baby Bunting's expression seems to query, "Does something have to die to dress me?" In the well known closing illustrations for Hey Diddle Diddle, Caldecott shows the anthropomorphized Dish happily running away with the Spoon; however, the final picture takes an unexpected turn: the Dish has been broken into ten pieces, and the Spoon is being taken away by her angry parents, a Fork and a Knife. However, most of Caldecott's illustrated tales and rhymes are filled with robust, rollicking activity and are underscored by the artist's celebratory approach to life.

Critical Reception

A member, along with Walter Crane and Kate Green-away, of the triumvirate of English artists known as the "Academicians of the Nursery," Caldecott is usually considered the greatest of the three. Admired by Van Gogh and Gaughin as well as by children's artists such as Beatrix Potter and Marcia Brown, he is praised for the variety and range of his talents. Caldecott's picture books are often thought to be a perfect blend of art, text, and design. Popular during his lifetime, his works became extremely i nfluential after this death, and his style can be seen in the works of such artists as Hugh Thomson, L. Leslie Brooke, and Edward Ardizzone. In 1924, his drawing of "The Three Jovial Huntsmen"-taken from the book of the same name published in 1880-became the logo for the children's literature reviewing source the Horn Book Magazine, and in 1938 the American Library Association instituted the Caldecott Medal, an award presented to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book published each year. Although Caldecott's popularity is thought to have diminished in recent years due to changing tastes, his reputation is still stellar: most critics acknowledge that his books have timeless appeal and are among the best ever created for children.

Reviewers in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been almost unanimously favorable in their assessment of Caldecott's work. In 1881, W. E. Henley of the Art Journal wrote that he "is a kind of Good Genius of the Nursery, and-in the way of pictures-the most beneficent and delightful it ever had. … Under his sway Art for the nursery has become Art indeed." The next year, artist Kate Greenaway, herself a popular and respected illustrator, wrote of Caldecott in a letter, "I wish I had such a mind." In 1930, Jacqueline Overton, writing in Contemporary Illustrators of Children's Books, commented, "There has never been any picture book like those of Caldecott's, before or since." Beatrix Potter, an artist whose stature is considered near or equal to Caldecott's, commented in a letter in 1942, "I have the greatest admiration for his work-a jealous appreciation. … He was one of the greatest illustrators of all." Four years later, Mary Gould Davis wrote a biography of Caldecott in which she concluded, "As long as books exist and there are children to enjoy them, boys and girls-and their elders-will turn the pages of the Caldecott picture books." Perhaps Caldecott's most vocal supporter is Maurice Sendak. In 1965, he wrote of Caldecott in Book World, "[N]o artist since has matched his accomplishments.… His picture books … should be among the first volumes given to every child." Thirteen years later, Sendak stated in his introduction to The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, "When I came to picture books, it was Randolph Caldecott who really put me where I wanted to be"; the artist concluded, "Caldecott did it best, much better than anyone who ever lived."

Further Reading

Beatrix Potter's Americans: Selected Letters, edited by Jane Crowell Morse, Horn Book, 1982.

Blackburn, Henry, Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of His Early Art Career, Sampson Low, 1886; reprint by Singing Tree Press, 1969.

Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton, 1995, pp. 113-14.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 34, Gale, 1988.

Contemporary Illustrators of Children's Books, edited by Bertha E. Mahony and Elinor Whitney, 1930; reprint by Gale Research, 1978.

Davis, Mary Gould, Randolph Caldecott, 1846-1886: An Appreciation, Lippincott, 1946.

Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Children's Writers, 1800-1880, Volume 163, Gale, 1996, pp. 37-47.

The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, Warne, 1978.

Something about the Author, Volume 17, Gale, pp. 31-39.

Spielman, M.H. and G.S. Layard. Kate Greenaway, Putnam, 1905.

The Art Journal, 1881, pp. 208-12.

Book World-The Sunday Herald Tribune, October 31, 1965, pp. 5, 38.

Times Literary Supplement, January 21, 1977, p. 64. □

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Randolph Caldecott

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