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The house that Jack built

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The house that Jack built
The house that Jack built
This exhibition presents an example of the extraordinary illustration work by the acclaimed artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). In 1877 Caldecott was first commissioned to provide illustrations for two books, one of which being ‘The House that Jack Built.’ Proving highly successful, by 1884, sales of Caldecott's Nursery Rhymes, which by this point consisted of twelve books, reached 867,000 copies leading him to international acclaim. Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott work is considered to have transformed children’s books during the Victorian era, a period which is considered the ‘Golden age’ of illustration with the influence of artists like Caldecott still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is from ‘The House That Jack Built', the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, 'The House that Jack Built' is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. The ‘House that Jack Built’ became a world-renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

This exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s style which became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The House that Jack Built’ is a perfect example of this.