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16 The History of Illustration and its Technologies

The Oxford Companion to the Book

Paul Goldman

16 The History of Illustration and its Technologies 

Paul Goldman

  • 1 Introduction

  • 2 The age of woodcut

  • 3 The age of metal

  • 4 Advances in colour

  • 5 The age of stone

  • 6 The age of wood engraving and mass production

  • 7 The book beautiful, livre d’artiste, and the private press

  • 8 Contemporary illustration and the digital revolution

1 Introduction

The impulse to illustrate text is of great antiquity and antedates the printed book by thousands of years. It is known that there were books written on wood in China datable to about the 13th or 14th century bc, and it may be assumed that at least some of these were illustrated. The age and fragile nature of the materials has meant that enormous quantities of material, whether illustrated or not, have been lost from the classical periods of Greece and Rome and most other early civilizations, with the notable exception of ancient Egypt. There, the relative durability of *papyrus and the fact that items were deliberately and carefully buried has ensured some remarkable survivals. Among the more regularly illustrated works was the *Egyptian Book of the Dead: one of the most celebrated examples is the British Museum’s Hunefer Papyrus, datable to about 1300 bc.

During the 2nd century ad, as the *codex began to be introduced, radical changes in the somewhat static style of illustrative designs might have been expected, but there were few striking developments, at least in the early years. Notable illustrated MS codices from about the 4th century ad are the Milan Iliad (Milan, *Ambrosiana) and the *Vatican Virgil. Of necessity, these books were illustrated by hand but, within perhaps as little as three centuries, the first technology to produce designs that could be multiplied had been discovered and successfully employed. This was the making of woodblocks for the printing of both text and image together; it was in use in China by the 7th century ad—initially, it appears, for printing on textiles. Although this process was also current at about the same time in Egypt, it seems not to have developed there to encompass illustration. The blockbooks of China, then, antedate by several hundred years the Western printing of books from movable type, which was discovered, apparently independently, without knowledge of the Oriental achievement. The *Diamond Sutra (British Library)—arguably the earliest dated printed book ( ad 868)—contains a remarkable woodcut *frontispiece. The printing was done by rubbing the paper against the block, since there appears to have been no handpress in this period.

Both Byzantine and Western MS illumination developed from at least the 6th century ad, attaining ever higher levels of artistry and refinement. Among the outstanding MSS of this period are the Book of *Kells (Trinity College, Dublin), datable to about the end of the 8th century, and the *Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library), datable to about 710. All such works may be seen as vehicles for illustration, albeit entirely hand-drawn and *illuminated. In Europe, printing from woodblocks was known by the 12th century, but it was originally employed only for stamping designs on to textiles. The earliest surviving prints on paper are not datable before the final years of the 14th century.

2 The age of woodcut

Among the earliest European woodcuts to bear a date is a Madonna of 1418, but it is probable that the somewhat crude surviving image-prints of religious subjects date from the final years of the preceding century. These were probably sold as devotional images within churches, or were distributed by travelling *chapmen. Although not requiring a press, *block printing produced books that combined text and illustrations and helped pave the way for illustrated books printed with movable type. A notable example is the *Biblia Pauperum, produced in The Netherlands and datable to the middle of the 15th century. Other similar books, mostly of a devotional nature, were printed at about the same time, but almost inevitably the names of their authors, artists, and woodcutters remain unknown. Such books continued to be produced into the 16th century and, when superseded by books printed in a press, their cuts went on being reused for illustrations, sometimes for hundreds of years.

Woodcuts were employed almost as soon as books began to be printed from movable type. It is now believed that *Schoeffer’s *Mainz Psalter of 1457 was the first printed book in the West to contain woodcut decoration—remarkably, some of these cuts were printed in colour. It is possible, however, that the book’s colour initials were printed either directly from wood or, conceivably, from metal cast from wood, so that the Psalter could be viewed as a type of illustrated book. The earliest true woodcut-illustrated books seem to have been produced at Bamberg by *Pfister. The first of these was probably Ulrich Boner’s Der Edelstein (1461), notable also on account of its being apparently the earliest dated book in the German language. Pfister printed some nine editions of five books; most copies of these rare books are hand-coloured. Ulm and Augsburg also saw rapid development in the publication of books illustrated with woodcuts: two especially significant works were the Cologne Bible of about 1478–9, and *Schedel’s Weltchronik, better known as the *Nuremberg Chronicle, of 1493. Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff are known to have contributed designs for the Chronicle, which perhaps marks the starting point for book illustrations undertaken by major artists, with their contributions being recorded. Wolgemut is significant for another reason: he was the master of *Dürer, one of the greatest woodcut designers for book illustration. Among his achievements in this regard are the *Apocalypse, the Great Passion, the Life of the Virgin, and the Little Passion, which were all published between 1498 and 1511. Despite their thin textual content, they should be viewed not merely as vehicles for a genius, but as genuine illustrated books. Dürer’s contribution to the medium also seemed to signal the decline in the hand-colouring of woodcuts in books—his work never required hand-colouring.

The other major designer of woodcut illustration in this period was Hans *Holbein, arguably the only artist in Europe to rival Dürer. Most of Holbein’s work was done in Basel, where the blocks were cut, although many of the books themselves were printed in France. The various cities with which he was associated indicate that the trade in his books was international. The Trechsel brothers of Lyons printed the Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti (1547), largely derived from *Froschauer’s folio Bible (Zurich, 1538), containing Holbein’s designs. In the same year the firm also published the celebrated and influential Dance of Death.

The great advantage of woodcut (a relief method of printmaking) was that illustration and text could be printed together in the same press—a feature not provided by *intaglio and printing from metal. Generally, with 15th- and 16th-century European woodcut printing, artists such as Dürer and Holbein drew designs that were then cut by members of guilds; hence the cuts were not, strictly speaking, autograph. This division of labour was to be repeated in the 19th century, especially in England, where large firms employed wood engravers to interpret artists’ drawings. In both cases, the names of the woodcutters and the wood engravers were only occasionally recorded.

3 The age of metal

Following the advent of the woodcut, copper engraving and *etching were the two most important techniques for producing images for illustrations. Both were *intaglio methods and used a press exerting heavy pressure to force the dampened paper into the lines holding the ink, and hence transfer them to the surface. Etching had been invented first as a means of decorating armour, and the earliest dated print from an etched plate is of 1513 by Urs Graf. Although engraving on metal had been used by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans to ornament items such as bronze mirror-backs, it was not until the 15th century that goldsmiths in Germany employed engraved copper plates, initially to record their designs. The earliest such impressions were made in the 1430s, some 50 years after the first Western woodcuts. Many leading artists in Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands took swift advantage of the new techniques, chiefly to produce single-sheet prints. The benefits of sharper lines and enhanced delicacy also encouraged publishers to explore the medium for their own purposes.

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A copper plate and its print: Rana piscatrix (‘The Toad Fish or Fishing Frog’) from Walter Charleton’s Exercitationes de Differentiis et Nominibus Animalium (Oxford, 1677). Oxford University Press

However, unlike woodcuts, which can be printed at the same time as letterpress, engravings and etchings—both requiring separate, individual printing—had to be inserted into books when they were bound. This was, inevitably, a slower and more laborious process.

Antwerp became an important centre for book production largely through the entrepreneurial French printer Christopher *Plantin, who operated his press there from 1535 until his death in 1589. Illustrated books and separate engravings printed in Antwerp circulated in large numbers throughout Europe, and Plantin ensured the success of his engravings by employing many of the finest practitioners. Books by authors such as Alciati with engravings of emblems (his *Emblematum Liber was first published in 1531) proved enduringly popular. In 1568 Plantin produced what is generally considered to be his most important publication, an eight-volume *polyglot bible which contained both copper engravings and woodcuts. Also highly significant was Hieronymus Natalis’s Evangelicae Historiae Imagines, posthumously published at Antwerp in 1593–5: its engravings were chiefly the work of the three Wierix brothers, who both designed and engraved the plates.

Peter Paul Rubens, himself an Antwerp man, was responsible for some of the most distinguished designs for title-pages that emanated from Plantin’s press, then run by his friend *Moretus who was also Plantin’s grandson. Although making drawings for book illustrations was essentially a part-time activity for Rubens, he produced several which included allegorical figures and motifs, often depicting complex iconographic ideas. One of the most important of such books is the Breviarium Romanum of 1614, in which the engraving work was entrusted to Theodoor *Galle.

In France too, especially in the two main publishing centres of Paris and Lyons, copper engraving was becoming popular for illustrations. The greatest Lyons publisher in the mid-16th century was *Tournes, and from his shop in 1561 came L’Apocalypse figurée, with engravings by Jean Duvet, a faulty though undeniably charming draughtsman, much influenced by Italian mannerist artists, notably Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino.

Etching also began to find favour with French publishers, and a leading illustrator in the medium was Jacques Callot, celebrated for his disturbing plates on the subject of war, Les Petites Misères (1632) and Les Grandes Misères (1633). Issued in carnet or notebook form, their relative lack of text renders their status as illustrated books doubtful. His two books of emblems—Vie de la Mère de Dieu (1646) and Lux Claustri (1646)—belong more securely to the category.

In England at around the same time, *Hollar dominated etching and was responsible for more than 2,500 plates. Some of these were for books, and the 44 he made for Virgil’s Georgics after Francis Clein’s designs constitute what was probably the most ambitious illustrated volume yet published in the country. Commissioned by the publisher *Ogilby, it appeared in 1654. Such was the success of this luxurious publication that Ogilby followed it with an edition of Aesop in 1665 for which Hollar etched 58 plates, once again based on drawings by Clein. The year 1688 saw a significant fourth edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, printed by Miles Flesher for *Tonson. This work contained just twelve engraved plates of which eight were after John Baptiste de Medina. The unsigned images for Books 1 and 2 were of most significance, however. Now revealed to have been derived from prints by old masters, they form a bridge between those artists and the future generation of Blake and Fuseli.

Just as the Goncourts understood the 17th century in France as ‘the century of the frontispiece’, so too did they name the 18th ‘the century of the *vignette’. However, nearly all of the finest productions were made between 1750 and 1780; and it is fair to say that almost no major illustrated books appeared in the country during the first half of the century. Among the finest was La Fontaine’s Contes et nouvelles—published at Paris in 1762 and commissioned by the Fermiers Généraux, which formed ‘the first financial company in the kingdom’; the Goncourts called the edition ‘the great monument and triumph of the vignette, which dominates and crowns all the illustrations of the age’ (Ray, French Illustrated Book, 31, 54, 55). Charles Eisen made 80 designs for the book, considered to be some of the most vivacious and accomplished he ever drew. There were also 53 *tailpieces and four vignette-*fleurons by Pierre-Philippe Choffard which complement the more earthy plates by Eisen.

Another equally distinguished but utterly different venture was the appearance of one of the most ambitious and successful travel books ever published. This was Voyage pittoresque ou Description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicile, published in Paris between 1781 and 1786, with outstanding designs by several important artists, notably Fragonard and Hubert Robert. The entire undertaking was really the brainchild and the obsession of Jean-Claude Richard, abbé de Saint-Non. He visited Italy for the first time in 1759 and the country, and especially Rome, entranced him. He then devoted his life and most of his wealth to ensuring that this large-scale project was completed to his satisfaction. It is far more than a mere topographical record, since the plates are full of drama, including sections devoted to volcanoes—the plate by Robert of Vesuvius erupting in 1779 is especially striking. Some of the plates were engraved after Saint-Non’s own designs, and something of his devotion to creating this book can be gauged by his motto: ‘What flowers are to our gardens, the arts are to life.’

In 18th-century England, black-and-white illustration in books became increasingly sophisticated with the growing mastery of the various metal techniques. In the first half of the century, the Opera of Horace illustrated by *Pine deserves special note. The book appeared between 1733 and 1737 and is significant because both text and designs were engraved. A pupil of Bernard Picart, Pine created a unity in the volume which is elegant and pleasing, and his use of the vignette makes it virtually the only English production worthy to be compared with the books that were shortly to be produced in such abundance on the other side of the Channel.

Several later works also demand mention: one of the most significant involved the reproduction, in various forms of engraving, of oil paintings. This was the Shakespeare (1791–1804) commissioned by *Boydell, an entrepreneurial and influential printseller in London. He launched his grandiose scheme in 1786 and invited most of the leading artists of the day to paint large canvases on subjects from the plays. Among those who contributed were Reynolds, Benjamin West, Fuseli, Romney, William Hamilton, Northcote, Opie, Wheatley, and Wright of Derby. Boydell’s intention was to promote the British school of history painting and encourage a choice of serious subjects by native authors. The idea was first to exhibit the paintings in his own gallery and then, in order to recoup some of the enormous sums involved, to produce engraved versions for a monumental publishing enterprise. Although the project was an abject failure and was mercilessly lampooned by Gillray in his 1791 cartoon, Alderman Boydell or a Peep into the Shakespeare Gallery, it was important as a showcase for most of the current metal techniques. It is, for example, one of the few books in which *mezzotint was extensively employed. This essentially tonal method had been first mentioned by the German Ludwig von Siegen in 1642; it was mastered by Prince Rupert, who developed the required ‘rocking’ tool at around the same time. Its principal virtue is a remarkable softness of texture, enabling it to imbue ‘colour’ to fabrics, especially satin, so that it was used to great effect in the reproduction of portraits, particularly those of Reynolds and Gainsborough. Its chief drawback is the limitation of numbers—only comparatively few impressions can be taken before the plate begins to deteriorate, thus rendering it unsuitable as a method for illustrating books.

Perhaps the greatest book to combine anatomy and art published in England in the late 18th century is The Anatomy of the Horse by George Stubbs, which appeared in 1799. Technically complex—involving various intaglio methods—the 24 plates were intended not only for artists and designers, but for farriers and horse dealers. Additionally, the book demonstrates that illustration could be used for works of imaginative literature and for non-fiction. From the earliest years of printing, science, medicine, and invention, as well as virtually every other subject based on observations that needed recording, provided ideal matter for illustration in Europe and beyond.

*Blake is an isolated genius in the field of illustration. His first significant original work (until late in life he worked as a reproductive engraver) was Songs of Innocence of 1789, in which both the text and the illustrations were etched in relief and coloured by hand. He followed this with several more ‘Illuminated Books’ before the turn of the century; later came two monumental achievements, produced by this method, Milton (1801–8) and Jerusalem (1804–20). Although Blake had disciples (notably Samuel *Palmer), he created no school of illustration. His extraordinary and technically complex publications remain unrivalled and unchallenged, and his unique method of printmaking was rarely emulated.

Turner and Constable, though both primarily painters in oils, nevertheless saw the opportunities illustrated books offered to disseminate their ideas. Turner made nearly 900 designs for reproduction: in his middle years, the larger plates were chiefly produced in the form of copper engravings, but later in life he made many smaller drawings (often vignettes) which appeared as steel engravings. This is a confusing term, since steel is so hard that it is almost impossible to engrave. Instead, where steel was used, the lines were almost invariably etched, although they were laid in the regular manner of a copper engraving. Since Turner was trained in the workshop of the mezzotint engraver John Raphael Smith, he understood the art of engraving almost better than the engravers did themselves, and hence was painstaking in ensuring his watercolours were reproduced in black-and-white prints to the highest possible standards. One of his best books is Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England, which appeared in parts between 1814 and 1826. Employing several brilliantly talented engravers, notably W. B. and George Cooke, the book encouraged an interest in the beauties of the country in much the same way as William Daniell’s A Voyage Round Great Britain, which was published at almost exactly the same time. Constable’s paintings were splendidly recorded in mezzotint by David Lucas in Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery (1833). The artist’s aim was to bring for himself the same kind of recognition Turner had obtained on the publication of his Liber Studiorum (1807–19). In this he was unsuccessful, for both the part-issue (1832–3) and the book itself both sold poorly.

4 Advances in colour

Stipple engraving, which involves a large number of dots as opposed to lines, and *aquatint (a variety of etching) are two essentially tonal techniques, which were important, since both could be printed in colours, and also could have colour added by hand. Stipple was never ideal for use within books, however, although one or two notable examples were produced. Perhaps the most magnificent work containing early English stipple colour-printing is Imitations of Original Drawings by Hans Holbein, which was published in *folio between 1792 and 1800. Francesco Bartolozzi provided all but four of the numerous plates, which are highly sophisticated essays in the form, faithfully recording the appearance of the original designs in the Royal collection.

Perhaps the greatest master of the aquatint method was Goya, but his disturbing plates such as the Caprichos (1799), although intended to be issued in sets or in albums, scarcely qualify as illustrations in the accepted sense, since there is little textual matter. Additionally, he did not employ colour with aquatint. In Britain, however, aquatint, which had been pioneered in France in the 1760s, began to be increasingly used for volumes of topography, travel, sport, and humour.

The Microcosm of London (1808–10) combined a detailed record both of the interiors and exteriors of the major buildings in the city and of the animated figures which bring them to life. The architectural drawings were the work of Auguste Pugin and the people were the responsibility of *Rowlandson—arguably the greatest British comic draughtsman, who drew in an inimitable cursive style. The aquatint plates were undertaken by several of the finest practitioners of the period after the designs of the two artists. These volumes, like so many others conceived and executed on a grand scale, were routinely broken up, in order for the plates to be sold separately. Complete volumes are scarce today, but individual plates taken from them appear frequently on the market. Rowlandson was himself an accomplished etcher and aquatinter, and his masterpieces in this manner are probably the three volumes devoted to the travels of that aged pedant, Dr Syntax, published between 1812 and 1821. Although William Combe’s text is tedious in the extreme, Rowlandson’s quirky images remain forever fresh and amusing.

Aquatint, as its name suggests, imitates watercolour closely, and its rise in popularity coincided, not surprisingly, with the development of the English school of watercolour painting, which was one of the richest and most distinguished movements in the history of art. Travel, botany, and sport were just three of the subjects for which coloured aquatints proved ideal.

Between 1814 and 1825 Daniell produced eight volumes of one of the most sumptuous of such *colour-plate books. For A Voyage Round Great Britain (with a diverting text by Richard Ayton), Daniell both drew the original designs and made the aquatints from them. The result is a view of the country which is gentle and harmonious: most, if not all, industrial ugliness is rendered with restraint and delicacy. In many such books, the plates were first printed in just two colours and were then augmented by hand-colouring, invariably meticulously done. Almost none of the names of these talented colourists, who often were women, are recorded.

Flowers too attracted the aquatint artists: arguably the most outstanding printed specimen of the time is Robert John Thornton’s The Temple of Flora (1807), which formed the concluding section of the author’s New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus. Although the grandiose nature of the publication seems somewhat risible today, the quality of the plates, exquisitely coloured and finished, after both Thornton and Philip Reinagle (and others), is staggering, and the volume as a whole is a tour de force.

The love of sport, so much a British obsession, was a further area suitable for the attentions of the aquatinters. In 1838, R. S. Surtees published Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities, with delightful monochrome etched plates by Phiz (H. K. *Browne), but it was with the second edition of 1843, published by *Ackermann, and containing broadly comic colour aquatints by Henry Alken, that the book became celebrated. Alken continued to use aquatint far longer than most other artists, but he was unable to prevent the relentless march of *lithography, which by the late 1830s began to dominate colour illustration.

5 The age of stone

Lithography was invented, or perhaps more correctly, discovered in 1798 by *Senefelder in Munich. This was the first entirely new printing process since the invention of intaglio in the 15th century, and provided great opportunities to use colour in books, together with a hitherto unmatched softness and delicacy of texture. Lithography proved particularly suitable for large books, especially in Britain for topography and travel, while in France the technique was used to illustrate major works of Romantic literature in which artists such as Daumier, Delacroix, Gavarni, and Géricault chiefly employed black and white.

Delacroix found inspiration in Faust; his version, with a translation by Albert Stapfer, appeared in 1828. (Goethe himself was pleased with the lithographs.) Although it initially met with a hostile reception from a public astounded by the daring, fantastic medievalism of the designs, the book created a distinguished tradition in French illustration. Daumier, however, was perhaps the greatest artist to use lithography, and much of his best work appeared in periodicals. It is in La Caricature (1830–35) that many of his most memorable satires can be sampled: of the 91 images he made for it, 50 were published in the last year before its suppression. The scenes in which he epitomized the oppressive practices of the July Monarchy were especially acerbic.

In contrast, the colour lithographed books in Britain at the same period dealt in the main with very different topics. In The Holy Land (1842–[45]), completed by Egypt and Nubia (1846–9), David Roberts produced probably the most remarkable and imposing of English travel books illustrated by lithography. The prints were the work of Louis Haghe, and they were almost exactly the same size as Roberts’s deft watercolours. The combination of topographical accuracy, aesthetic sensitivity, and delicate colours ensured enormous popularity for these volumes and, needless to say, most fell victim to ‘*breakers’. *Lear similarly published several important books of his tours: in Views in Rome and its Environs (1841) he produced panoramic lithographs of a large size, concentrating more on the countryside than the monuments of the city itself; Illustrated Excursions in Italy (1846) combined lithographs and wood-engraved vignettes. His more celebrated Book of Nonsense (1846) used lithography both for text and image. Lithographic colour printing, or *chromolithography, provided Owen *Jones, an architect and ornamental designer, with a suitable medium for his work: perhaps his greatest achievement using it is The Grammar of Ornament (1856). His ideas proved influential on the design of wallpapers, carpets, and furnishings, and his approach to book illustration culminated in the work of William *Morris.

6 The age of wood engraving and mass production

At the end of the 18th century and in the early years of the 19th, *Bewick was the first leading exponent of wood engraving.

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A wood-engraved block and its print: ‘The Night Heron’ by Thomas *Bewick for A History of British Birds (Newcastle, 1804). Harvard University, The Houghton Library (Typ R 2(1) and (*57‒1418a)

Not only did he illustrate delightful books—chiefly of natural history, such as A General History of Quadrupeds (1790), with vignettes frequently drawn from life—but he was an influential teacher. Among his pupils were William Harvey, John Jackson, and Ebenezer Landells. Luke Clennell was also taught by Bewick, and one of his best books is undoubtedly Samuel Rogers’s The Pleasures of Memory (1810), for which he engraved 34 delicate vignettes after *Stothard.

Wood engraving, like the woodcut of a previous age, had the same advantage over all other methods of printmaking: blocks could be set up and printed with the letterpress at the same time. This led in mid-19th century Britain to the mass production of illustrated books and, in a significant expansion of activity, of periodicals. Etching, which was very much the province of comic artists such as *Cruikshank and Phiz, was coming to the end of its life as a mass method of communication, but one of its last gasps was also, paradoxically, hugely influential. This occurred when Phiz was asked to take over the illustration of some ‘Sporting Sketches’ by Charles Dickens, following the death of the originator of the project, Robert Seymour, who had completed just seven designs before his suicide. Phiz contributed 35 etched plates to what Dickens termed merely ‘a monthly something’, which became The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Issued in parts (or *numbers) from 31 March 1836 to 30 October 1837, the work has genuine claims to being the first illustrated English novel of stature. In other words, it is probably the first such publication where original illustrations accompany a true first edition, as opposed to a reprint.

Wood engraving soon began to overtake etching in Britain and in France, both on account of its convenience and because of the excellence of the engravers. Across the Channel, a landmark was Paul et Virginie (1838), published in Paris by Curmer. This lavish edition of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s classic tale of natural love in Mauritius was illustrated with numerous wood engravings—after artists such as Tony Johannot, Paul Huet, Isabey, and others—that integrated happily with the text. Equally significant is the fact that most of the engravers were English, demonstrating their superiority in the field. Within a year, an English translation was published in London by W. S. Orr in almost as fine an edition, although it lacked four of Curmer’s plates. Other English publishers soon followed, bringing to the public the wood-engraved illustrations of artists such as Grandville and Gigoux in English-language editions.

Stylistically, many British artists of the 1840s betray the influence of German designers such as Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld and Moritz Retzsch. A notable publication in this manner was Samuel Carter Hall’s The Book of British Ballads (1842, 1844), which was notable for a consciously Teutonic layout—where the designs often encircle the text or run in panels next to it—and was the sole work with illustrations by the uniquely disturbing Richard Dadd.

The year 1848 saw the foundation in London of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and although the movement itself was short-lived, its influence on illustration was momentous. In 1855, *Routledge published The Music Master by the Irish poet William Allingham, with wood engravings after John Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Arthur Hughes. Almost at a stroke a new kind of illustration, which was powerful in execution, intellectual in approach, and essentially realistic in the way faces and bodies were depicted, came to the fore. Rossetti’s beautiful image ‘Maids of Elfen-Mere’ set the standard, not only encouraging other Pre-Raphaelites, such as Holman Hunt and Edward Burne-Jones, to make increasingly bold designs, but also spurring the group known today as the ‘Idyllic School’ to produce distinguished work. Among these practitioners were George John Pinwell, John William North, Frederick Walker, and Robert Barnes. In 1857, *Moxon published an edition of Tennyson’s poems, now known as the Moxon Tennyson, containing designs by Millais, Rosssetti, and Hunt in the new style, and others by artists such as J. C. Horsley and William Mulready, still highly reminiscent of the 1840s. The book was a commercial failure, partly because of its lack of artistic unity, but it was a significant achievement. From this date, there was an explosion in the publication both of illustrated books and also of periodicals. Three of the most important magazines for illustrations in the 1860s were the Cornhill Magazine, Good Words, and Once a Week. The wood engraving for them was largely undertaken by large London firms, notably the *Dalziel brothers and Joseph Swain. The names of the highly skilled people who worked at speed and often overnight to meet deadlines are rarely recorded. Many of them are likely to have been women who worked in a sweatshop economy. Long *press runs from wood engravings were often achieved by the use of metal *electrotypes, which were faithful *facsimiles of the boxwood blocks.

In The Pencil of Nature (1844–6), W. H. Fox Talbot produced the first published book illustrated photographically. It was not until the 1880s that *photomechanical processes such as line-block, *half-tone, and *photogravure began to supplant wood engraving, then in decline.

The subject of illustrated children’s books is so vast that it can only be touched on here (see 15). By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more books were being published specifically for children to enjoy and read on their own. It was soon realized that colour was an essential ingredient for them, and sophisticated effects were achieved by artists such as *Caldecott, *Greenaway, and *Crane.

7 The book beautiful, livre d’artiste, and the private press

As a reaction to the decay in production values prevalent in the 1880s, William Morris began a movement to produce beautiful books that were consciously medieval both in style and means of production. Paradoxically, however, in his *Kelmscott Press books he did not entirely outlaw mechanical means for producing them. Other presses that made illustrated books of distinction included the *Vale and *Eragny presses, vehicles for *Ricketts and Pissarro respectively. By definition, their books were published in *limited editions and were aimed at wealthy collectors. At about the same time in France, the concept of the livre d’artiste (*artist’s book) emerged, led by entrepreneurial publishers such as *Vollard. These were luxury publications, containing woodcuts and lithographs by major artists such as Bonnard, Rodin, *Picasso, *Matisse, and Dufy. Similar publications appeared also in Germany and Austria featuring artists of the stature of Paul Klee and Franz Marc.

Significant and striking though these volumes are, they are fundamentally portfolios of master prints: they are not books in the traditional sense and are certainly not designed for reading. Since the impressions were not invariably bound in, they encouraged the removal and framing of individual sheets. In Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, a few books were published containing original copper engravings, etchings, and even *pochoir designs (hand-coloured through stencils). However, it was in autograph wood engraving that the British *private press movement excelled. The *Golden Cockerel Press was one of the best; it hosted the talents of, among others, *Gibbings, Clifford Webb, and Gwenda Morgan. Towards the end of the century several private presses—notably Whittington, Gwasg *Gregynog, and the Fleece—continued to thrive using original wood engravings, invariably printed from the wood and published in limited editions and to very high standards.

8 Contemporary illustration and the digital revolution

While the limited edition artist’s book continued to flourish throughout the 20th century and beyond, perhaps most notably in the US and UK, becoming ever more experimental and avant-garde, nearly all non-fiction trade books were routinely illustrated by photographic means. The only genre of imaginative book to attract illustration today as a matter of course is that of young children’s books, while works aimed at teenagers, such as J. K. Rowling’s *Harry Potter series, remain unillustrated. Some publishers like the *Folio Society still commission new illustrations for their high-quality reprints. Such books are printed in commercial numbers, though theoretically limited, and hence are available relatively inexpensively.

With digital technology, the appetite for illustrated books seems inexhaustible, as the means of meeting it becomes simpler both for the self-publisher and for the professional. In the world of the adult trade novel, an interesting development has been the recent use of digital images by writers such as W. G. Sebald and Michel Houellebecq. Their skilful combining of word and image may presage developments soon to come.


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