Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Thorn Rose" by Errol Le Cain

Thorn Rose is the Brothers Grimm version of Sleeping Beauty (titled Little Brier-Rose) and one of my favorite illustrators, Errol Le Cain, created a stunning set of illustrations for it. Being the current hot topic fairy tale in entertainment at the moment (and that I haven't ever posted more than a couple of these illustrations), I thought I'd treat you to the set.

I decided to include most of the close-ups I found as well, so you can really see the detail in the illustrations (not just "bits" but design motifs, story touches, uses of shadow and shape and much more. It's really amazing to see how much is in these drawings and yet they're still beautiful to look at without being overwhelming.
Does it look familiar? Maybe you remember Botticelli’s Prima Vera. The branches are very much like the windows we see later, though less thorny.

Botticelli's Prima Vera

This also shows the arrival of the evil fairy at the christening. She is furious at being left out. You cant see it so clearly in this picture, but she is surrounded by autumn leaves, a nice contrast to the springtime of the “prima vera” fairies.

The thirteenth fairy's wings are like a wind-bufffeted, decaying flower turning into a storm cloud. In fact, the whole aspect of the thirteenth fairy recalls a storm. Also note the dragon staff she has as well.
Notice the evil fairy overlooking this, sitting up there on her little dragon, while the good fairy sadly looks on the destruction, toting a spindle-like wand. Also note the babyBrier Rose reaching out to the spindles as they go by below...
Can you see the little devil-fairy-imps that surround her?

Check that window design - an echo of the wall of thorns to come

As a bonus, I found a wonderful paper on Errol Le Cain's illustration as manuscript illumination by Veronica Ortenberg West-Harling and I am posting some excerpts from it below. (You can read the whole article which goes into much more depth, HERE.)

…all of these carry out a strong medievalist flavour in their choice of decoration and visual cues. First and foremost of these cues is the repeated representation of the fairyland multi-turreted castle, whether as a background illustration in the opening or closing pages in King Arthur's Sword and in Molly Whuppie (where it serves as a contrast to the Giant's house in the forest), or as the main focus of the story in Thorn Rose, Cinderella, and Twelve Dancing Princesses. This leitmotif is joined by a variety of medieval images, constructed from various sources, most notably in Thorn Rose, where the opening page weaves subtly in a picture based on late medieval French and Italian costumed ladies, in front of a tent with pennant, as seen in the Lady with the Unicorn tapestries or in paintings by Uccello, moving about in a millefleurs landscape* of the kind so often seen in such tapestries of hunting or courtly love parties. The next page fairy procession, also travelling through the forest at night in a millefleurs setting, includes a fairy riding a unicorn. 

The fifteenth-century setting continues through the castle style and courtiers' dress, and develops the Gothic theme of nature as it encroaches more and more on the palace through the growing wall of thorns, until the prince arrives, a hundred years later, correctly attired in Renaissance dress, to wake up the princess. All full-page illustrations in Sir Orfeo refer specifically to a fifteenth-century court: headdresses, caparisoned horses, knights in Crusader tabards are all present. This medieval fantasy style is used by Le Cain for the upper socialechelons of king, princesses and courtiers, often appearing seated at banquets, dressedin the appropriate brocades, furs and headgear. By contrast, a second type of medievalinspiration, used for the 'below stairs' folk, for example the castle's kitchen in Thorn Rose, or the giant's house in Molly Whuppie, comes from Flemish painting, especially Brueghel, in imitation of the peasants' costumes, activities and human types (the fat cook, the kitchen maid plucking a fowl, the round-faced children). 

Fascinating stuff! While I've been aware that one of the reasons I love Le Cain's work is because it reminds me of tapestries such as The Lady and the Unicorn series, I'd never thought about the motifs and more in such detail. The more I see, the more I see - the balance of shapes and colors, the repeated motifs, the repeated patterns and layouts echoing various pages - it's astonishing work.
I remain in awe of this illustration every time I see it.
Do I detect a Klmit influence in there as well? If so, I LOVE this version of the style.

 Notice her hair has been spun into the spiderwebs, and the stained glass shadows on her blankets.
The article, in which the author has obviously looked at the medieval motif and tapestry aspects in great detail, is very interesting and well worth the read, especially if you are interested in design or illustration. Recommended!

*Millefleurs landscape - I even like how it sounds. I'm all inspired to paint a whole wall  in this tapestry-like background! Unfortunately, I don't think our landlord would be quite as thrilled (though you never know...)


  1. Love the little black cat. Gorgeous illustrations, haven't seen these before.

  2. Now I want a copy of that book. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Here due to having had the book as a kid, and being absolutely entranced by the illustrations. This book, along with "The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopeer's Feast", have stayed in my memory for years due to the graphic design, amazing amount of detail and beautiful colors contained in both.

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