- The coloured engraving above is by Edmund Dulac
An illustrated book is a partnership between the Author and the Artist to which the Artist contributes something which is a pictorial comment on the Author's words or an interpretation of his meaning in another medium. This partnership works in a number of ways.
The 19th. century is in every way the most formative period in the history of book-illustrations. It began with a revolution in all the arts. A new economic system was getting under way; a different social order was emerging; and startling developments in scientific knowledge altered the whole way of life. In the dusty world of books this meant that publishers were looking for new methods which would produce cheaper books in larger editions and smaller formats with more illustrations. The Publishers availed themselves of various technical discoveries in other branches of graphic art, and during the first quarter of the century a remarkable range of processes was not only in use but was brought to a very high level of excellence.
Wood-engraving was rescued from its long eclipse in the shadow of line-engraving on copper only to be challenged immediately by the invention of lithography and steel-engraving. Mezzotint and aquatint with their emphasis on total rather than linear quality were favoured for the reproduction of works by the leading landscape Artists, the former being a sympathetic medium for the reproduction of oil painting in black and white, and the latter, with the addition of delicate hand-colouring, equally happy for the multiplication of popular topographical subjects by the justly renowned English School of Water-Colourists.
Next came tremendous discovery of photography, an invention nearly as significant as printing itself and one which threatened the very existence of the Illustrator. But in time every new technique is assimilated by the Artist and the fluctuating struggle between the crafts and the machine becomes not a battle for extinction but a source of vitality. So in the incunabula of photographic illustration during the last two decades of the 19th. century we see Artists already creating a new style in terms of the process or line-block. The camera holding a machine that harnessed light now replaced what had been a handicraft for 500 years, and acid did in a few hours what the engraver had taken as many days to do. The camera was, of course, chiefly used for the mechanical facsimile reproduction of paintings and drawings first in monochrome and then in colour, but with this we have no concern here. The story of illustration in the 19th. century is therefore inevitably bound up with the development and mastery of a great variety of technical methods.
In 1800 Thomas Bewick, 1753 – 1828, had rescued the woodcut from oblivion, and in his birds and animals, and above all in his vignettes he was laying the foundation of an English school of wood-engraving which contained throughout the 19th. century and is still unsurpassed. An obscure German Artist, named Senefilder had only three years earlier stumbled by chance on the lithographic process, which was to be one of the most fertile inventions in the history of illustrations, especially when its use with colour had been mastered. Another German, the publisher Ackermann opened his famous Repository of the Arts in the Strand in London whence came innumerable volumes illustrated by all the leading Artists of the time and in aquatint and exquisitely coloured by hand. Finally, William Blake was taking his three years slumber by the banks of Ocean before on the last and greatest work in his unique series of Prophetic Books. In a single decade each of these men made a highly individual contribution of major importance in the history of illustrations.
Thomas Bewick, 1753 – 1828, was the first British wood-engraver to earn and deserve a continental reputation. Thomas Bewick greatness lies in the perfect harmony between his technique and his subject matter. Chief among his innovations was a new conception of the black and white picture. Thomas Bewick did not think of it as a white space on which black outlines and solids made a linear design printed in relief, the background having been cut away to a lower level, as in the woodcuts of the 15th. 16th. centuries, or in the crude illustrations in the chapbooks peddled around the country in the days of his youth.
Thomas Bewick, 1753 – 1828, two greatest work were his art reaches its summit in his “General History of Quadrupeds” and “History of British Birds” Here, in full-length portraits, the marking on a feather or the characteristic gait of every kind of animal from an elephant to a mouse are recorded with absolute fidelity.
We at www.felixrarebooks.com have many original illustrated books by all the Great illustrators, and Artists
- Thomas Bewick,
- Count Buffon
- Gustave Doré
- Edmund Dulac
- Kate Greenaway
- Arthur Rackham
- John Tenniel
- E. H. Shepard
- P.P. Rubens.
- Edward Ardizzone
- Walter Crane
- Mabel Lucie Attwell
And many more, we here at felixrarebooks.com have a long list of the world’s great Engravers and Illustrators and their Books.