Edmund Dulac painted scenes which came from dreams, fairy tales…all kinds of wishes. He was the contemporary of Arthur Rackham, Kay Neilsen and W. Heath Robinson – he was part of a very wonderful period: it was still before the war, ladies were taking off their corsets, Klimt was painting, seemingly, in pure gold, and the illustrators of story books were elevating that genre to something rich and magical. Viewing the illustrations from that time was like closing your eyes and falling back onto velvet pillows whose lushness seemed to go on forever.
The illustrations of Dulac were engulfed in beauty; silken and sensual, sparked with stars, dotted with light – the colors are soft yet passionate. I’ve read that doctors in the 16th century would treat an abscess with a poultice of crushed emeralds. I believe that Dulac painted with crushed jewels – rubies, jade, onyx, sapphires, amber, coral, garnet: a glowing rainbow of decoration. The colors are that deep and varied.
Skies are beige and overcast. Or pale blue, like melted ice. Or the blue of dusk, before it deepens into a cobalt sky. No primary colors; shades are split, and split again – achieving, no, creating subtletites of color that are deep and delicate.
He painted ladies with dark hair and pearl skin. Eunuchs asleep outside their mistress’ room. Cream colored stallions. Genies towering over an Arabian ocean. Maidens of ice, of fire, of air – all the elements.
Light was never stark, throwing shadows into sharp relief. Instead, it was diffuse, smoky. Shadows always dissolve gracefully into the forests, mountains, castles and oceans of his illustrations. Take one of his illustrations away from the protection of its page, and I believe it would melt back down into the original daubs of his palette.
I've included three examples here, and believe me, choosing just three was NOT an easy task.
With paper-thin wings of pale turquoise, she is resting on a cloud of the same color. The background is an array of colored smoke, blending together into a million shades. Her tunic is ice-blue, with a taffeta skirt embroidered with dazzling white sequins. One white hand pulls back the heavy velvet drapes of the bed. Is Beauty awake?
This woman. With a gaze as fierce and forthright as that of the panther she is walking. Her fabrics are purple and auburn, with color washes layered one atop the other to create depth, yet to hold onto the fragility and delicacy of the finest silk:
This one is my absolute favorite:
One color: a fantastical green/blue/gray, investigated thoroughly. From the lightness of her cheek, to the shadows within the folds of her starry gown, this color no longer has any secrets. Resting on clouds, she looks on earth through thoughtful, half–shut eyes:
Edmund Dulac painted scenes from the most romantic of imaginations. He discovered colors as exotic and fragile as any gem mined from the earth. And like the most experienced diamond-cutter, he divided those colors until the subtleties were myriad. And that's just what I fancy.