Robert Ingpen, Wonderlands: the illustration art of Robert Ingpen, National Library of Australia Publishing, 1 Oct 2016, 176pp., $34.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9780642278975
This is a stunning book and one which is a must-have for anyone interested in book illustration in Australia. From the Wonderlands cover of Alice falling down the rabbit-hole, through the wonderful endpapers of studies of Peter Pan, on through each chapter, this book will delight and enchant readers young and old. It is a book to read right through, to dip into and to re-visit, again and again.
The book includes an Introduction by Elizabeth Hammill, co-founder of Britain’s Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. In this introduction she gives a brief biography of Robert Ingpen, emphasises his commitment to the environment, his close ‘attention to authorial intent’(p. 7) in the works he illustrates and his understanding of characters as well as the ‘power, immediacy and energy’ (p. 7) of his work. The introduction is a very interesting opening to the book and one which gives a fitting overview of Ingpen’s work. It is also an indication of the esteem in which he is held across the world.
The book is divided into Finding Wonderlands sections: Australia, Classic Stories, Magic and Dreaming, and Nature. Within each section, Ingpen gives us fascinating insights into his inspiration for each work, the background, the context and even the history of the book he is illustrating where that is appropriate. The background to the Christmas Carol, ‘Silent Night’, for example, enriches our reponse to both the carol and Ingpen’s illustrated version.
The book is generously and beautifully illustrated – including working plans, endpapers and working drawings. These add to the richness of the book and to our understanding of the development of each of the works Ingpen has illustrated. The working plans for an unpublished work called The Children of Dickens give great insight into how Ingpen plans a book, using a ‘flat plan’ to see how the finished product might look. The pencil and wash endpapers for Treasure Island show us the development of some of the finished illustrations within that work.
By necessity, however, what this book discusses is only a selection of his work. Ingpen has illustrated well over 100 books and was recently awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to children’s literature in Australia. Ingpen has illustrated an extraordinary range of books and has worked with an extraordinary range of authors as well as illustrating the works of others from the past, especially in the Children’s Classics Series of books.
It is a real thrill to revisit classics such as Storm Boy and more recent work such as Tea and Sugar Christmas. Summer holidays with his wife and young family provided the inspiration for the illustrations in Colin Thiele’s wonderful book and also, Ingpen tells us, began his career as a book illustrator. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is enriched by Ingpen’s interpretations of Chaucer’s characters although, Ingpen says, he always likes to leave space for readers to use their own imaginations and ‘make the story their own’ (p.28) And how I love the ghostly and threatening Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations. No wonder poor Pip stands frightened at the edge of the illustration, not wanting to approach this vengeful figure.
The book is enhanced as a reference work by the full chronological list of all Robert Ingpen’s published works, his murals, his sculptures, his tapestry designs and communication designs included at the end of the book. He is renowned around the world and was the first Australian to be awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal. Wonderlands is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary and diverse talent of one of our greatest illustrators.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel