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Fritz Eichenberg

Black Beauty was an essential part of many publishers' repertoires when constructing children's libraries. Macdonald published the Illustrated Junior Library, which included many of the other usual suspects when classics are gathered together: Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Swiss Family Robinson being but a few.


The Illustrated Junior Library edition of Black Beauty had specially commissioned illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg. It's a generally attractive production. Fritz Eichenberg (1901 - 1990) was an American-German illustrator, born in Cologne. As a child, he endured the bombing raids on the city during the First World War. Faint with hunger, he collapsed in the doorway of Dr Fritz Witte's house. The eminent art historian gave Eichenberg a book on artists such as Goya and Daumier who commented on the conditions they saw around them, and Eichenberg was inspired. After an apprenticeship at a printing shop, he enrolled at the Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig. After graduating, he worked for the publishers Ullstein, producing satirical, and more conventional illustrations. With the growth in power of the Nazis, Eichenberg became convinced he and his family were no longer safe. After a preliminary trip to America, on the pretext of doing illustrations of American subjects for German publications, he moved his wife and family to America. His employers, Ullstein, by then under Nazi control, promptly fired him.


Eichenberg supported himself and his family by teaching, and after building up his contacts in his new country, returned to book illustration. Besides Black Beauty, he illustrated many classics, including Shakespeare and many of the major Russian authors. He became a Quaker after the death of his first wife: it would be interesting to know if he was the only Quaker to illustrate the Quaker Anna Sewell's book.


Some of the illustrations have a rather relentless jollity: I prefer the line drawings in general. The people and surroundings are much better depicted than the horses, who are occasionally anthropomorphised, presumably to emphasise the fact they talk to each other. The cover illustration is repeated on the endpapers. Whether the dustjacket was recoloured and taken down a bit, or whether both the copies I've seen have faded, I do not know. The colour plates are generally on the bright side, and with a few exceptions, like the rainy cab scene, I don't think the colour plates are as successful as the line drawings. The horses have a faintly ditsy quality, almost as if they're about to strike off into Black Beauty - the Musical. The line drawings, of which there are many, are a delight. Eichenberg, I think, was infinitely better at people, and I love the sheer variety of the characters' expressions - the chap looking into the horse's mouth on the front cover and endpapers is a particular gem.


Macdonald, London

Special contents copyright Grosset U Dunlap, Inc.

Undated. Part of The Illustrated Junior Library.

Hardback. Decorated boards in cream with turquoise horse heads and brown leaves; spine brown with turquoise horse head, turquoise lettering on white background. Colour endpapers (same front and rear). 288 pp. Colour frontis. 6 full page colour illustrations. Numerous chapter decorations and text illustrations.