University Archives


Medal Namesake Randolph Caldecott Lovely Illustrated Letter Depicting Scenes from Venice

A spectacular 4pp letter entirely engrossed and illustrated by British artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). Written in Venice, Italy on April 30, 1880. Caldecott's original illustrations in pencil, ink, and watercolor are interspersed throughout and embedded in the text, with a grand total of 18 drawings/sketches. Each oversized page is matted within a cream mat printed "Randolph Caldecott" along the bottom. Some of Caldecott's handwriting has faded and is difficult to read. One of the sheets has a closed tear at top, and two of the sheets have partly trimmed edges, suggesting edits Caldecott may have made some edits himself. Unevenly toned pages and mats, one mat with water stains, and some mats with scattered chips and loss. Else good to very good. The sight size of each sheet is 11.5" x 16.875" while the overall matted size is 16" x 22."

Caldecott addressed this letter to an unidentified cousin in the spring of 1880. The trip to Venice may have been Caldecott's honeymoon (he had married Marian Brind (1850-1932) six weeks earlier in mid-March 1880), though he also frequently sought out warmer climes for his health.

In the letter, Caldecott paints pictures with his words as well as with his drawings, first describing picturesque scenes of daily life in late nineteenth-century Venice, and then depicting them visually. Caldecott's charming descriptions of gondoliers, washerwomen, and fishwives selling still-thrashing fish in baskets are matched by his illustrations of St. Mark's Piazza, the Rialto, and iconic Venetian canals. The letter flows and wraps around the illustrations.

"Dear Cousin,

We have reached this city in the sea - here is the scene of our arrival at the railway station. No noisy cabs - no rattling of wheels and hoofs - we stepped - were handed by a polite but tattered & dirty gentleman into a gondola..."

Randolph Caldecott was a popular Victorian illustrator and the namesake of the Caldecott medal, awarded after 1938 to exceptional children's book illustrators. During his brief career, Caldecott illustrated fairy tales, nursery rhymes, cartoons, novels, and travelogues. He also frequently illustrated his private correspondence, as can be seen in our example.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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