Arthur Rackham's illustrations for Undine are a perfect fit for the mermaid novella signed by de la Motte Foque. His unique style which can be depicted as a fusion of surreal fantasy and whimsical ink and pen drawings colored with signature greenish tints is just right for the story about the water spirit who falls in love with a human but eventually tries to gain much more - an eternal soul.
There are fifteen (frontispiece and fourteen tipped-in pages) color illustrations full page (all presented here) plus a lot of smaller black and white drawings (everything and many more drawings of Undine by other artists can be seen here). You can find different editions through the specialized sellers on the web, offering books in good to great condition for several hundred dollars and occasionally there are also specific color lithographs for about twenty dollars apiece available.
Such a book can be a very special treat for a collector because the publishers (William Heinemann, London, in this case, or Heineman with DoubleDay, New York joint venture in case of first American edition) often offered several versions at the same time. Apart from classic hardcover bindings and paperbacks, they loved to sell a very limited (typically one or two hundred pieces) numbered series in special bindings, with gilded letters, printed on the best paper and signed by Rackham. You can hardly find such book on the market.
Such books were for instance bound in ivory vellum and decorated with silk ties). A bit less prestigious and expensive were so-called quarto editions made of high-quality materials with marbled endpapers and protective sleeves in numbered editions (up to one thousand). It's much easier to get quartos on the market. First edition of the quarto of Undine by Rackham in good condition in folio size may cost more than one thousand dollars.
The illustrator also sold originals (typically on a twice larger format than in the book) on auctions what proved to be a nice additional source of income for him and his family.
Now let's focus on the illustrations!
Undine outside the window (frontispiece)
At the back of this little tongue of land there lay a fearsome forest right perilous to traverse
A beautiful little girl clad in rich garments stood there on the threshold smiling
The Infancy of Undine
He saw by the moonlight momentarily unveiled, a little island encircled by the flood; and there under the branches of the overhanging trees was Undine
The Knight took the beautiful girl in his arms and bore her over the narrow space where the stream had divided her little island from the shore
He held up the gold piece, crying at each leap of his, "False gold! False coin! False coin!"
At length they all pointed their stained fingers at me
When the storm threatened to burst on their heads, she uttered a laughing reproof to the clouds. "Come, come," saith she, "look to it that you wet us not"
"Little niece," said Kuhleborn, "forget not that I am here with thee as a guide"
"She hath a mark, like a violet, between her shoulders, and another like it on the instep of her left foot"
Bertalda in the Black Valley
Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube
He could see Undine beneath the crystal vault
This once popular romantic novella is a bit out-dated today, but most of us still know it from one of many rewritings - the popular fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid with essentially the same plot and message, empowered with strong autobigraphical references from probably the most influential fairy tale writer in literary history.