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 Randolph Caldecott  (1846 - 1886)

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Lived/Active: Florida / United Kingdom/England      Known for: children's book illustration, rural genre and interior painting

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THE DAIRYMAID AND HER ADMIRERS
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following has been provided by Claudette Hegel, author of Randolph Caldecott: An Illustrated Life, published by Avisson Press, 2004.

Randolph Caldecott, known primarily for his 16 Picture Books, was also an accomplished painter and sculptor. In his short lifetime, he completed at least 56 oil paintings and 22 sculptures, in addition to having at least one illustration in a minimum of 66 books and more than 120 illustrations in at least 14 different newspapers and magazines.

The Royal Mint hired him to design a medal for those who fought in the Second Afghanistan War Campaign for the years 1878-80.

Caldecott was born in Chester, Cheshire, England, on March 22, 1846. He was the third of seven children born to John and Mary Dinah Brookes Caldecott. The family lived above the shop where John Caldecott worked as a tailor and hatter. When Caldecott was six years old, he and his mother contracted rheumatic fever. His mother died, but Caldecott recovered. The illness left the artist "always delicate" in the words of his brother Alfred. John Caldecott married Maria Guest in 1854 and the couple had at least six more children. John Caldecott eventually became an accountant.

Randolph Caldecott attended King's School until he was fifteen years old, about five years longer than most children of the time. Mr. Harris, the headmaster, gave Caldecott the honor of being his assistant. The teacher encouraged Caldecott's art. Mr. Harris even convinced John Caldecott, who didn't approve of his son's interest in art, to allow the young artist to take classes at the Chester School of Art. Caldecott worked in his father's shop to pay for the classes. John Caldecott hoped his son would take over the family business one day.

John Caldecott's wish didn't come true. The atmosphere in the hot, steamy shop made Caldecott's health worse, but he continued to work at the shop for about a year, after which the instructors at the Chester School of Art had taught him all they knew.

Because Caldecott had also completed his general schooling at that time, his father secured a job for him as a clerk at the Whitchurch and Ellesmere Bank in Whitchurch, about 20 miles from Chester. Records show Caldecott was good at his work, which consisted mostly of adding long columns of numbers. He helped ease the boredom of the work for himself and others by making sketches on various bank forms. His manager once reprimanded him for these sketches by saying they weren't "proper" for a bank, but he also appreciated the art enough to take home a sketch of himself for his wife.

Caldecott's first illustration was published while he lived in Whitchurch. The illustration of a fire at the Queen Railway Hotel appeared in the December 7, 1861, issue of the Illustrated London News. After the drawing was published, people came into the bank just to see the artist whose drawing appeared in the newspaper. Even Caldecott's father was impressed by the publication.

Life in Whitchurch didn't allow Caldecott many artistic opportunities beyond practicing his art whenever he could. After five years in Whitchurch, he moved to Manchester to work at the Manchester and Salford Bank. That way he could be in a community with other artists and more chances to learn about art. Soon after moving to Manchester, Caldecott enrolled in classes at the Manchester School of Art. He also joined the Brasenose Club, an organization devoted to art. Many of the other Brasenose members became lifelong friends.

Caldecott made friends with fellow bank clerks, artists, and business associates easily. Artist Thomas Armstrong became his best friend and one of his mentors. Later, illustrator Walter Crane also became a close friend. Caldecott often went to the Crane home to play with the children. He never had children of his own.

Illustrator Kate Greenaway also became a friend. She and Caldecott were sometimes called the "twin illustrators" because they were born just five days apart. Speculations of a romance between the two were false. Caldecott married Marian Harriet Brind on March 18, 1880.

Through some of his friends, Caldecott was able to make connections with editors. Encouraged by sales of some illustrations and paintings, Caldecott moved to London in 1872. He was prepared to go hungry if it meant that he could work on his art full-time.

Caldecott took the Life Class taught by Sir Edward J. Poynter at Slade Art School at the University College in London. He also traded lessons in sculpture from French sculptor Jules Dalou for lessons in the English language. The same year he moved to London, Caldecott was elected to the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painting.

Caldecott called George Du Maurier "the greatest master of drawing in line that we have." Caldecott was also influenced by the Punch illustrator John Leech and John Tenniel, who illustrated Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll wanted Caldecott to work on a project with him, but Caldecott didn't have the time when asked. The two likely would have worked together if Caldecott had lived longer.

After moving to London, Caldecott designed wallpaper, made signs, and did any other work he could find to bring in money to supplement his income from his fine art and illustrating. His illustrations appeared in magazines such as Graphic, Punch, The Sphinx, Will o' the Wisp and others.

Henry Blackburn, editor of London Society, had a reputation for being difficult to work with, but he and Caldecott worked well together. Blackburn even recognized that the pressures of meeting magazine illustration deadlines adversely affected Caldecott's health. Blackburn asked Caldecott to illustrate a book Blackburn would write. Caldecott spent several months traveling with Blackburn and his wife to gather material for the illustrations. The Harz Mountains: A Tour in the Toy Country was published in 1873.

Wherever he went, Caldecott worked on his art. He filled the sketchbooks that always accompanied him with drawings. Some pages have the same subject, even as specific as only tails or ears, over and over. He also included notations of how to correct the drawings such as "longer beak" or even "like this."

Caldecott was serious about the accuracy of details in his work. He once made an employee of the British Museum take the stuffed storks out of the cases so that he could study how the individual feathers were attached to the wings. Once, when working on a sculpture of a crouching cat, Caldecott used a live cat, a dead cat, and a cat skeleton as models. The cat sculpture now resides at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The actual drawing wasn't the only part of Caldecott's work to which he paid close attention. He also learned about various inks and the processes of printing. He often corresponded with other artists giving and getting advice on how to produce work that would have better results once printed.

Caldecott wrote many letters to business associates, friends, and occasional fans. Never one to pass up an opportunity to practice his art, his letters often included sketches. Writing the letters helped fill the time he wasn't working on his art. Strenuous physical activity was difficult for Caldecott, but in his free time he enjoyed working with his dogs and horses, going for long walks, riding a horse, and driving a gig (a two-wheeled cart pulled by a horse).

Caldecott continued to illustrate for magazines, but also continued to illustrate books. Some of the books he illustrated after The Harz Mountains include Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall, both written by Washington Irving; Breton Folk: An Artistic Tour in Brittany, written by Henry Blackburn; and Some of Aesop's Fables with Modern Instances, written by Caldecott's brother Alfred Caldecott.

Writer Juliana Horatia Ewing asked Caldecott to illustrate her story "Jackanapes" for Aunt Judy's Magazine, which Ewing's mother had founded and she and her sister edited. Caldecott and Ewing enjoyed working together and later collaborated on Jackanapes expanded to book length. Caldecott and Ewing also worked together on Daddy Darwin's Dovecot and Lob-Lie-by-the-Fire before Ewing's death in 1885.

Caldecott and Ewing worked closely with engraver Edmund Evans on their books. After Walter Crane became too busy to do the children's books he had been doing with Evans, the engraver asked Caldecott to illustrate books based on traditional rhymes and songs.

When Caldecott asked Crane for advice, Crane suggested Caldecott ask for a royalty instead of a set fee for doing the books. Caldecott followed his friend's advice. After much discussion with Evans, sometimes to the point of being heated arguments, Evans agreed to give Caldecott a penny for each copy of the books sold. He is one of the first people to collect a royalty for his work.

The House that Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin, the first two of Caldecott's Picture Books, were released in 1878. Critics and the public agreed on the excellence of the books. The first printing sold out before a second printing could be ordered.

Two more Picture Books were released for Christmas each year through 1885 for a total of 16 books. Their popularity increased with the release of each new set of books. By the time of Caldecott's death, nearly a million of the books had been sold.
Later volumes combined four or eight of the Picture Books into one volume. After Caldecott's death, a series of his Picture Books in miniature was also available.

While working on the Picture Books, Caldecott often made small changes to the words to help the text and illustrations blend better. For example, he changed the one word in the title of traditional rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" to become his book Sing a Song for Sixpence. He thought the small change would make a more complex story.

Caldecott's illustrations are known for adding to the story instead of merely decorating it. Maurice Sendak, who received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are, said, "Caldecott's work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book" because "Words are left out, but the picture says it. Pictures are left out, but the word says it."

Caldecott didn't see the final copies of his last two Picture Books. In the fall of 1885, Caldecott and his wife, Marian, left England for a trip to the United States. Caldecott planned a sketching tour from New York to Florida that fall, with travel to California in the spring, then back "through Colorado and home by Boston."

Bad weather caused the voyage across the ocean to take twelve days instead of the usual eleven. Caldecott joked in a letter that he hoped "there will be an overland route discovered by the time of our return." Even with the rough seas making him "light-headed," Caldecott still made several sketches while on board.

After spending their first night in the United States in New York City, the Caldecotts boarded a train heading south. Caldecott didn't like the many advertising billboards he saw and made a sketch of horses using the billboards as hurdles.

The Caldecotts made extended stops in Philadelphia and Washington, D. C., along their way south. Caldecott became weaker and more ill each day. They cut their visit in Charleston, South Carolina, short and stayed only long enough for Caldecott to do the last sketch he would ever do: Negroes Loading Cotton Bales in Charleston.

The Caldecotts finally reached St. Augustine, Florida, where they planned to spend the winter. Unfortunately, that Florida winter was the coldest in 50 years. Caldecott's health worsened. Marian Caldecott said in a letter that his weak heart complicated his "severe attack of gastritis."

By the end of January, Caldecott began to gain strength, but he soon relapsed. Randolph Caldecott died of "organic disease of the heart" on February 13, 1886, about six weeks short of his 40th birthday. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in St. Augustine, Florida.

The Randolph Caldecott Society was established in England in 1983. The organization offers guest lectures, provides funds for art students, hosts members of the Randolph Caldecott Society of America when visiting England, and organizes trips to various places where Caldecott lived or worked.

The Randolph Caldecott Society of America (RCSA) was established in 1983 in St. Augustine, Florida. The RCSA tends Caldecott's grave, grants art awards, offers presentations, and donates copies of Caldecott Medal books to the local library. Information about the RCSA can be found at www.rcsa.com.

The American Library Association established the Caldecott Medal to recognize "the most distinguished American picture book" each year. The first award was presented in 1938 and quickly became one of the most prestigious book awards.

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