Thursday, April 18, 2013

Herbert Cole Illustrates The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

There was a point at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century when it could have been said that to call yourself an illustrator and not to have 'done a Rubaiyat' was something close to fraudulent. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is still collected today for its various editions, translators and illustrators but it is never again likely to match the phenomenal popularity it had in the decades at the turn of the last century.  These images are from a small hardcover edition issued by John Lane in 1901 and illustrated by Herbert Cole (1867-1930).

Cole was an illustrator, an expert in heraldry, an engraver and a designer of bookplates. He was based in London and for some time taught at The Camberwell School of Art. One of my reference books suggests that he was heavy on the talent and light on the imagination. Another points out the similarities of his work with those of the pre-Raphaelite inspired renaissance in illustration in the 1860s, indeed, his work wouldn't look out of place in Forrest Reid's Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties. However, given when he was working, this amounts to saying that he was a little old fashioned in his day. Of course, that doesn't matter now and whatever the critics might think his illustrations in this diminutive volume caught my eye strongly enough that I wanted to find out more about the man and his work: which seems success enough to me. 

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