collections

Old French Fairytales, illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1920)


Old French Fairy Tales by Comtesse De Segur; illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett; 1920; The Penn publishing company, Philadelphia.
In 1920, at the tender age of 19, Chicago-born artist Virginia Frances Sterrett received her first commission from The Penn Publishing Company to illustrate Old French Fairy Tales — a collection of works from the nineteenth-century French author, Comtesse de Ségur (Sophie Fedorovna Rostopchine). Shortly after completing the work Sterrett was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She would manage a few other commissions, including illustrations for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales the following year, and for a 1928 edition of Arabian Nights, but her failing health meant she could only work in short bursts. She eventually passed away in 1931, at the age of 30.

Upon her death the St Louis Post-Dispatch paid this tribute to her life and work:

Her achievement was beauty, a delicate, fantastic beauty, created with brush and pencil. Almost unschooled in art, her life spent in prosaic places of the West and Middle West, she made pictures of haunting loveliness, suggesting Oriental lands she never saw and magical realms no one ever knew except in the dreams of childhood …

Perhaps it was the hardships of her own life that gave the young artist’s work its fanciful quality. In the imaginative scenes she set down on paper she must have escaped from the harsh actualities of existence.

See a selection of Sterrett’s illustrations for the book below, also available to buy as prints from our online shop.
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
Front cover
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
Rosalie saw before her eyes a tree of marvellous beauty
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
She threw her arms around the neck of Bonne-Biche
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
They were three months passing through the forest
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
A part of the wall crumbled with a terrible noise
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
They walked side by side during the rest of the evening
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
“Ah, ha! you are at last in my domain, little fool!”
old french fairytales virginia frances sterrett
Violette consented willingly to pass the night in the forest