Australian native animals mix with fairies in Foundation Gallery

Published: 13 May 2022

Artspace Mackay is currently exhibiting a curatorial project that is the first major exhibition of work by a famous Australian fairy tale illustrator in decades.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was one of the first illustrators in Australia to produce luxury published books with coloured illustrations.

Artspace Mackay director Tracey Heathwood said in the early 1900s Ida transplanted the European fairy story into an Australian bush setting and was one of the first Australians to do this.

“Previously fairy tales were still depicted in a European setting only, but Ida incorporated the Australian bush and Australian native animals into her illustrations,” Ms Heathwood said.

“The exhibition is a collection of first edition books and original watercolours dating from 1904 to the 1930s. These are incredibly rare items and many have never been exhibited publicly before,” she said.

Ms Heathwood said the exhibition, which runs until June 19, had already had an impact on visitors.

“We’ve had elderly visitors come in that recognise the illustrations and books from their childhood,” she said. “One visitor from far north Queensland said the exhibition brought back memories of his grandmother reading him one of the books when he was a child – so that’s pretty special.”

The works have been sourced from private collections (including from a collection of one of the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW), The State Library of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia.

Residents can view The Art of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite in the Foundation Gallery of Artspace Mackay, or by taking the 3D tour on the website -

Five facts about Ida Rentoul Outhwaite:

  • During her most active period (1907-1930) she published over ten collaborative books and exhibited her drawings both in Australia and London
  • Her first illustration was published by New Idea magazine in 1903 when she was 15 years old
  • In 1985 she was honoured on a postage stamp, depicting an illustration from Elves and Fairies (1916), issued by Australia Post
  • The four-colour process used for Elves and Fairies had required the largest outlay known in Australian publishing history, but despite the subsequently high price for a children's book, all 1500 copies sold quickly
  • Prints from the book were reproduced and decorated the walls of kindergartens, schools and homes for decades afterwards.