- Rene Cloke-The Illustrator
- “Alice in Wonderland”-Rene Cloke illustrations (P. R. Gawthorn Ltd, undated, 1944+)
- “Through the Looking-Glass”-Rene Cloke illustrations (P. R. Gawthorn Ltd, 1958)
Rene Cloke-The Illustrator
British illustrator Rene Cloke (1904 – 1995) has journeyed to the metaphorical Everest for illustrators on four occasions, having produced four different versions of “Wonderland” and one of its sequel “Through the Looking-Glass”. Despite her long and incredibly prolific illustrating career, very little is written about Rene Cloke. Hopefully, I can shed a little more light on the work of this talented artist.
Born Irene Mabel Neighbour Cloke in Plymouth, England, this shy daughter of a bank manager showed an early natural talent for drawing and was for the most part self-taught. Her artistic career began in the 1920s, illustrating textbooks for the publishers W. & R. Chambers. She went on to design more than a hundred greeting cards for Medici Cards and the Valentine Company (below).
As a testament to her civic responsibility and artistic versatility, she worked for the “War Office” during WWII as a tracer (cartographer), drawing maps of enemy camps and installations from aerial reconnaissance photographs. The gritty realism of wartime cartography was a far cry from her trademark subjects of fairies, pixies and elves, as well as flora and fauna. Her delicately coloured illustrations unlocked a doorway to a whimsical, fantasy world and wide-eyed wonderment that spoke to a more innocent time for children.
Notwithstanding her textbooks, greeting cards and wartime efforts, Rene is best known for her charming watercolour paintings and drawings that illustrated more than a hundred children’s books (shown below). The list includes fairy tales by Grimm Brothers’ and Hans Andersen, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll and Children’s Annuals (Jack and Jill Annual, Tiny Tots Annual, Blackie’s Children’s Annual), as well as numerous nursery rhymes. Having worked with the most important British publishers of the last century, some of her books remained in print well into the 21st century, and she continued to work up to four months before her death in October 1995.
Basecamp for Rene Cloke’s “Alice” ascent began modestly in 1934 with three coloured paintings and three line drawings produced for an extract from Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” which formed part of “The Radiant Way: Fourth Step”. Published by W & R Chambers between the 1930s and 1960s, these short stories and adapted extracts were from larger books in a series of compilations designed to assist children in learning to read. You can see two of these “Alice” colour plates below:
A decade later in 1943, Rene Cloke produced her second set of “Alice” illustrations, this time for an entire book published by P. R. Gawthorn in 1944 (shown below). Thirty-five years later, in 1979, Cloke created a third “Alice” set, and not happy to rest on her laurels, she reached the summit of Everest with her fourth in 1990. All four “Alice” versions are unmistakably Cloke, but each conveys its own uniquely enchanting style.
In 1950 Rene Cloke illustrated “Through the Looking-Glass”, first published by P.R. Gawthorn in 1951 and subsequently reprinted. My copy of this edition is un-dated, but it includes this touching inscription (shown below) which suggests that the publication date was 1958 or somewhere close to that year.
Allow me to digress here briefly and say that nothing pleases me more in a vintage book than an inscription such as this. Not only does it narrow the range of possible publication dates for these commonly updated print runs, but it triggers my imagination just as much as Rene’s illustrations.
I can almost see Auntie Mabel dipping her nib into the blue inkwell and lovingly writing this message to Carolyn. So many questions fill my head. Where is the giver and receiver of this book now? How old was little Carolyn when she received this gift? Was August the month of her birthday? Or was this a get-well gift as she recuperated from illness? Perhaps “Alice” was one of Auntie Mabel’s favourite books as a child? Am I the only one who gets a thrill out of these long-forgotten dedications? Please comment below if you feel the same.
I surmise she must have been a neat little girl to have kept the dust jacket (shown below) in such good condition. Dust jackets rarely survived the heavy-duty handling by voracious little readers. Perhaps its survival in this instance was because Carolyn didn’t particularly care for “Alice”? You could write a whole book around the unanswered questions that his simple inscription poses.
On the subject of dust jackets, given that they were generally worn out and disposed of quickly, Rene Cloke’s Gawothorn editions of “Alice” and “Through the Looking-Glass” are very hard to come by with original jackets, and it has taken me a while to land both of these. As you can see below the jacket for “Wonderland” is somewhat crudely restored, and “Through the Looking-Glass” has some losses, but generally both are in good condition, the ultimate bibliophilic delight!
Unlike some other vintage “Alice”, the surviving copies of this P.R. Gawthorn edition without dust jackets are not rare or expensive. Eight colour plates in each book and numerous drawings on almost every page make this one of the most profusely illustrated editions of “Alice” and “Through the Looking-Glass” I have seen.
Unlike the surrealist French and avant-garde Russians, most English ‘Alices’ of the 20th century targeted younger audiences. Rene Cloke’s enchanting illustrations spoke directly to children’s unbridled capacity and willingness to immerse themselves in make-believe.
To draw a line under Auntie Mabels’ inscription, I’d like to think that upon receiving this book, Carolyn let out a squeal of delight as she clutched it to her chest. Spellbound by Rene’s imagery and with open-mouthed wonder, she enthusiastically pursued Alice through the looking glass and into an enchanted world of make-believe.
Enjoy browsing both Gawothrn editions illustrations below, including all colour plates and a selection of beautiful line drawings.
To browse other editions in my collection of illustrated “Alice in Wonderland” click here. To browse other editions in my collection of illustrated “Through the Looking-Glass” click here. What is your favourite illustrated ‘Alice’? Is Rene Cloke your cut of tea? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.
Author and title: Lewis Carroll “Alice in Wonderland”
Illustrator: Rene Cloke
Publisher: P. R. Gawthorn Ltd
Year of publication: undated, circa 1944+ (first published in 1944)
Author and title: Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking-Glass”
Illustrator: Rene Cloke
Publisher: P. R. Gawthorn Ltd
Year of publication: undated, circa 1958 (first published in 1951)