Beautiful Books: Pinocchio

Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio (1883; Limited Editions Club, 1937)

Growing up, I was lucky to have a few books illustrated by Richard Floethe: Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, as well as Pinocchio. Floethe’s strong, minimalist images were very striking to me, with their clean lines and simple shapes. Like many who develop a relationship to an illustrator in childhood, it’s hard for me to see these books illustrated in any other way.


Richard Floethe was a German-born, Bauhaus-influenced artist who studied with Kandinsky and Klee. After moving to New York city in 1928, he worked in advertising and as a freelance illustrator and portrait painter. The commission to illustrate Pinocchio for the Limited Editions Club came when he was only 36 years old.



The linocut technique (a modern variant of woodcut printing) was fairly new at the time, and Floethe employs it masterfully. Areas of color are beautifully composed and complemented with the negative white space to create lively but perfectly balanced images.


Pinocchio is often a dark and even frightening tale, and some of the images are slightly disturbing, as when poor silly Pinocchio burns his feet off in the fire. . .


. . . or starts to turn into a donkey.



But in the end Floethe’s jaunty puppet comes through all his adventures unscathed, still in his cheerful outfit of blue, coral and brown. These images will always be “Pinocchio” to me: amusing, stylish, and slightly abstract.


There are two editions available: the original Limited Editions Club publication, limited to 1500 copies and signed by the artist, and the lower-priced, mass market Heritage Press edition. The HP version has much thinner paper, is missing a few illustrations, and most importantly the colors are not as bright and distinct. But if you can find a copy in good condition, it’s still a good alternative to the higher-priced LEC edition.
In whatever form you view them, I hope you’ll agree that Floethe’s pictures are a very fine artistic approach to Collodi’s classic tale.
Image source: eBay
Be sure to visit the Pinocchio readalong and Children’s Literature Event at Simpler Pastimes.

More of Richard Floethe’s very interesting and diverse work can be viewed in this gallery.


18 thoughts on “Beautiful Books: Pinocchio

  1. This is the second post I've seen recently featuring illustrations beloved in childhood… when I get back home to my picture books I think I shall I have to write one. I'm not usually a fan of this style of illustrations, but I love the bold colours!


  2. This is such a lovely edition! I love the colors and the simplicity of the drawings. It seems to fit a children's story perfectly. I've read that the original Pinocchio tale is not quite as upbeat as the Disney version though, so I'm afraid to read the story and have it ruin my impression of Pinocchio! 🙂


    1. And I'm not sure I've ever seen the movie in its entirety…but I know that it's a very different interpretation. The book is not for the faint of heart, but it is an interesting and important landmark in children's literature.


  3. I had not seen these illustrations before but I find them very impressive. I agree, there is something maybe more then a little dark, to the one with the burnt feet. The minimalistic nature of the drawing adds to that impression.


  4. What charming illustrations! It's funny how firmly illustrations can become wedded to a particular story in our minds. One such association for me is Tasha Tudor's illustrations for The Secret Garden. Another is the original illustrations for the Oz books. And of course, there are Ernest Shepard's illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh books, and Beatrix Potter; I simply cannot imagine those stories with any other pictures.Last Christmas, my husband gave me a recently-released hardbound edition of Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse with the original illustrations – just as I remember them from the paperback I had as a child. It's one of my most special books.


    1. Especially for children, I think that illustrations don't just accompany the text — they are part of the text. A while ago, I was reading the Oz books without the pictures and realized how much of what I experienced was in the illustrations, not just the words.


  5. Pinocchio was never one of my favorite books, as a child or now as an adult. But I think I would have enjoyed it more if my book had pictures like those in it! Those are really pretty and neat looking. I may have to look around and see if I can find a copy to give to my niece and nephew.


  6. I hadn't seen the Flothe illustrations before, but they're very lovely, and appropriate for the story. I was reading just yesterday about the hundreds of different illustrators that have worked on Pinocchio over the decades–so many versions to choose from! I'm most familiar with the Enrico Mazzanti illustrations which accompanied the first Italian edition, but are only linework and lack the bold color of the Flothe.


  7. Those illustrations are terrific. I'm pleased to see that the illustrator didn't shy away from the more gruesome scenes such as the burning of the feet. To me there's something just right in the way that particular illustration captures something of Collodi.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s