The Amazing Postcards
of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
Postcard History is pleased to reprint the following thumbnail sketch of Ida Rentoul. The content is drawn from the New South Wales (Australia) Facebook Group.
In 1904 when Ida Rentoul was sixteen, she illustrated a series of postcards published in Melbourne, Australia. One was titled Son of the Soil which appears below.
The following year she illustrated a twelve-card set published by Robert Jolley. One card, done in the same media and technique was All up a Gumtree.
These were followed by a group of coloured cards that included What a Joke.
Then followed a period of almost twenty years in which her artistic talents were devoted to book illustrations and works of art for sale. During the 1930s she illustrated eight sets of postcards published by A & C Black in the United Kingdom, several of which include depictions of Australian native animals in a fantasy context, including The Revoke.
Her early cards are very scarce and lovingly collected by her enthusiastic followers.
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The Outwaite postcard series published in London by A & C Black in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s are still avidly sought after by collectors of fantasy and fairy postcards in the United Kingdom and the United States. Seeing only a few cards helps you to see why.
As is evident from these examples, a number of these cards feature koalas and kookaburras interacting with fairies and pixies. That may seem anomalous until we learn that her mother and older sister, Annie, were talented writers of children’s literature, and her father was a clergyman.
Ida began drawing illustrations for her mother’s and sister’s children’s stories in 1902, while still in her teens.
The first six postcards illustrated by Ida Sherbourne Rentoul were published commercially in Australia in 1904 when she was sixteen. Each was signed with the initials – ISR – of her maiden name. The illustrations on those six cards had previously been published as folded Christmas cards.
The following year a twelve-card set was published and was so popular that a second printing was required. These included Off on the Wallaby Track.
In 1907 two further sets of six cards illustrated by her were published in Melbourne. The first set, the “Bush Babies,” a mysterious group showing the antics of Aboriginal children, included Two’s Company, Three’s None.
The “Two’s Company” drawing exemplifies Ida’s quite extraordinary ability to see the world through non-conventional eyes. The alarm experienced by the two young Aboriginal children at the sight of a rabbit comes alive because they had never seen anything like it. The rabbit in Australia was a species introduced by Europeans that resembled no native Australian animal with which they were familiar.
The second set of her postcards issued in 1907, The Literary Set, included Not Failure, But Low Aim Is Crime.”
For more than a decade after 1907, Ida appears to have had only three other single postcards published – one in 1907, another circa 1909, and a third in 1912. In those years Ida produced drawings and paintings to illustrate children’s stories (many of which had been written by her sister), sheet music, magazine articles and covers, concert and pantomime programs, (some for the opera singer Nellie Melba), and invitations and posters for fund raising events and promotions. She also had several books of her illustrations published and her artwork was exhibited and sold.
Ida married Arthur Grenbry Outhwaite in 1910. Arthur was a lawyer who left the practice of law and eventually became the CEO of one of Australia’s largest insurance companies. After Ida’s marriage she used her husband’s surname to identify her art. Ida and Arthur had four children. They visited England and France during the 1920s, and while there, she held successful exhibitions of her artwork, and was commissioned to illustrate many books and articles.
While in Europe Ida established a strong and enduring work relationship with the publisher A & C Black and Company of London. Black not only published five of her books, but also her postcards.
Arthur died in 1938, and their two sons died in combat during the Second World War. At the end of the war, Ida observed that “the war stopped the taste for fairies—in parents anyhow—and the fairies fled, appalled at the bomb.”
Ida continued to produce an impressive number of illustrations for publications and a number of her books were republished from time to time in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.
Mrs. Outwaite died in 1960. While her popularity has dropped well below its level in the 1920s, some of her work (illustrations she did almost a century ago) continued to be re-published into the 1980s.