When an artist and a writer share a common vision, something magical and mesmerising is created. In the past, various great artists have been commissioned to illustrate some of the best literary works, and these illustrations give these classics a completely fresh perspective. It feels like we’re reading the words through the colours of a brush. This list takes a look at 9 such books that combined the works of renowned artists and writers.

01

Ulysses

James Joyce with Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse is undoubtedly one of the most prominent artists of the 20th Century. He was commissioned in 1935 to illustrate Ulysses by James Joyce. Interestingly, he never read the book before etching the illustrations; instead, he based his works on the epic Greek poem, Odyssey. As a result of these illustrations, many who had read Ulysses before felt that they are reading a completely different book. Only 1500 original copies were ever printed, out of which 250 were signed by both Matisse and Joyce.

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02

Faust

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with Eugène Delacroix

Faust is considered a poetic masterpiece of German literature. Delacroix’s illustrations in Faust are believed to be among the best in any book. Goethe was so impressed by these illustrations that in a letter to a friend he wrote that in certain aspects, Delacroix had surpassed his own vision. Delacroix’s work is so perfect for the dark story that it will have a daunting effect on its readers.

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03

The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe with Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet was a famous French painter of the 19th Century known for controversial paintings such as The Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe) and Olympia. Stéphane Mallarmé, a French poet who translated Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven met Manet in 1873 and later, in 1875, commissioned him to illustrate Le Corbeau, the French translation of the book. For the illustrations, instead of using the colours he is known for, Manet used bold black-and-white smudges to fit the dark nature of the poem.

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04

Don Quixote

Miguel Cervantes with Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré was a renowned artist of the 19th Century. Cervantes’ Don Quixote was published in 1868 with Doré’s illustrations and since then has been hugely popular among both artists and readers. The original edition consisted of over 200 highly detailed illustrations which have inspired many artists. Doré has also illustrated The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, and Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

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05

Salome

Oscar Wilde with Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley became a popular artist at a very young age and was often the subject of controversies for his violent and grotesque artworks. In 1893, he was commissioned by a British magazine for a single illustration for the French edition of Salomé. He drew Salome holding the severed head of John the Baptist which was immediately rejected because of its grotesque nature. When Oscar Wilde saw this particular illustration in another publication, he was so mesmerised by it that he offered Beardsley a contract for illustrating the cover and ten pages of the English translation.

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06

Moby Dick

Herman Melville with Rockwell Kent

Apart from being a painter and an illustrator, Rockwell Kent was also a sailor and an adventurer. In 1930, he was commissioned by the Lakeside Press of Chicago to illustrate another book altogether, but he insisted on illustrating Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. He created black-and-white drawings using pen, brush, and ink. Moby Dick with Kent’s illustrations was an instant hit and 1,000 copies were sold out immediately.

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07

The Tempest

William Shakespeare with Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was an exceptional Russian-French artist of the 19th Century known for his modernist artworks. In 1975, he was commissioned to create illustrations for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This edition consisted of 50 signed lithographs by Chagall which give a more personal and in-depth look into the characters and plot.

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08

The House Without Windows

Maurice Sandoz with Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali is considered one the greatest artists of the 20th Century mostly known for his surreal paintings and illustrations. Maurice Sandoz met Dali in New York in 1940 and later commissioned him to draw illustrations for his fantasy book, The House Without Windows. Dali’s dreamlike images seem to provide a lens to look into the peculiarity of the story and a pathway for the imagination of the readers. Dali has also illustrated other classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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09

Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

The Grimm Brothers with David Hockney

David Hockney was one of the most remarkable and celebrated artists in 20th Century Britain. In the book, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, his choice to use black-and-white etchings over conventional colourful images creates a completely new darker world of fairy tales. The book consists of 39 beautifully drawn dark and haunting etchings, which prove that fairy tales are not just for children.

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Do you know any other classics which have been illustrated by famous artists? Which classics would you want to see illustrated versions of? Share with us in the comments below.

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit loves stories, be it in any form- print, media or theatre. After reading Angels and Demons, he fell in love with books, especially suspense, thriller, and fantasy. He is a big fan of Harry Potter series. He quit his engineering career to become a writer and worked with The Curious Reader. Apart from writing he also loves filmmaking, photography, traveling and cooking. You can reach him on Instagram.