Wood Engraving: An Art Lost and Found: Engravers and Illustrators

ALEXANDER ANDERSON (1775-1870) is known as the first American wood engraver. He started a career as a medical doctor, but soon gave up medicine for the burin. He was most likely aware of Thomas Bewick, who began to achieve popularity in the early 1790s. Anderson's first published work on wood was Arnaud Berquin's The Looking-Glass for the Mind (1794). An earlier edition (1792) already contained wood engravings by Thomas Bewick's brother, John. Anderson went on to have a successful career as a wood engraver, lasting well into the nineteenth century.

JOHN BEWICK (1760-1795) was brother of and apprentice to Thomas Bewick. He was more of an interpretive illustrator than his famous older brother, who designed from real life.

THOMAS BEWICK (1753-1828) was trained as an engraver in metal, and it was in imitation of engraving in relief that he successfully introduced and perfected the white-line technique of wood engraving. Although many of his designs were derivative of earlier artists, those of birds and other natural subjects were drawn from life. Bewick had a workshop of apprentices, several of whom went on to distinguished careers, and it is often difficult to determine which illustrations he drew and engraved himself. His major works, A General History of Quadrupeds (1790), History of British Land Birds (1797), and History of British Water Birds (1804), were very popular, going through many editions during his lifetime. His best artistic inventions, however, occur in the hundreds of vignettes that he created for his works. They are primarily pictorial essays in themselves and not illustrations of textual matter. Since they are not tied to the text, these miniature, realistic pictures of rural scenes and situations often reveal Bewick's concern for nature and his humor and insight over human foibles. Bewick's technique of white-line engraving was the major influence in the revival of wood engraving as an art form in the twentieth century.

WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827), the great English poet and artist, was commissioned to create a set of wood engravings for Dr. Robert Thornton's The Pastorals of Virgil Illustrated by 230 Engravings, a schoolbook published in 1821. He designed and engraved a frontispiece and 20 small illustrations. These are the only wood engravings Blake is known to have done.

GEORGE WILMONT BONNER (1796-1836) is best known for his experimentation with color printing. He was also the master of W.J. Linton, a popular and outspoken figure in wood engraving in the later nineteenth century.

ROBERT BRANSTON (1778-1827) began engraving on wood about 1802, shortly after Thomas Bewick. Although he started as a copper-plate engraver, he soon switched to wood, which was becoming more marketable due to Bewick's success. Unlike Bewick, who chose to engrave animals and outdoor settings, Branston usually engraved human figures and indoor settings.

HABLOT KNIGHT "PHIZ" BROWNE (1815-1882) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870) were the most celebrated artist-author book team in the history of English book illustration. Browne, who was chosen by Dickens after three numbers of the Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), took the pseudonym "Phiz" to be more compatible with Dickens's "Boz," signaling the closer association of author and artist. Ironically, Pickwick was first conceived by the publishers as a series of tales to accompany comic illustrations, much in the manner of a comic almanac. By the fourth part, however, Dickens had taken the dominant role and hired Browne to illustrate his text. This remarkable collaboration was a great success, and it made both Dickens's and Browne's reputation. Browne eventually designed a total of ten major and three minor works for Dickens.

MARY BYFIELD (fl. 1830) was associated with the Whittinghams at the Chiswick Press for over forty years, during which time she cut magnificent ornaments from others' designs as well as created many designs of her own. With her brother John, she cut exceedingly fine wood-blocks for Holbein's Illustrations of the Old Testament (Pickering, 1830) and The Dance of Death (Pickering, 1833).

GEORGE CATTERMOLE (1800-1860) was trained as an architectural draughtsman but also produced numerous designs for book illustrations, including 39 vignettes for Master Humphrey's Clock (1841).

GEORGE CRUIKSHANK (1792-1878) began by drawing caricatures for printsellers, which abounded in London and elsewhere during the nineteenth century, and by regularly contributing to Caricature Magazine. His career as a political satirist began in 1819 with The Political House that Jack Built, which brought him immediate recognition; his first major book illustration job was for the first edition in English of Grimm's Fairy Tales (1823). These activities led to his association with Dickens, which produced Sketches by Boz (1836) and Oliver Twist (1837). He continued illustrating for periodical publications, such as Bentley's Miscellany and Ainsworth's Magazine, as well as producing countless drawings for major publishers, such as Longman and Routledge. Towards the end of his career he brought out Cruikshank's Fairy Library (1853-1864), and even though he rewrote the tales to reflect his temperance fanaticism, the etchings are some of his best. His Puss 'n Boots is indeed the classic illustration of that popular story.

The DALZIEL brothers (GEORGE [1815-1902] and EDWARD [1817-1905]) established an engraving studio in London in 1839 and were employed by William Harvey to work on his edition of The Arabian Nights. By 1848 they produced monthly engravings for The Illustrated London News and by 1856 had contracted with the publisher George Rutledge to publish and distribute works for them. The Dalziels' engravings became so well known that their signature frequently appeared on a design when the illustrator's did not. Their firm in England often hired and directed illustrators, such as John Everett Millais, G.J. Pinwell, John Tenniel, A.B. Houghton, and Birket Foster. The Dalziels were both daring in their choice and generous in their support of illustrators, and the popularity of serialized publication insured that these artists would be given wide circulation. They capitalized on children's books, magazines, popular stories, and scenic descriptions.

JOHN DE POL (1913- ), undoubtedly the best known contemporary wood engraver, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, and studied lithography at the Art Students League and subsequently at the Belfast College of Art. He commenced wood engraving in 1947 and soon produced engravings for the Hammer Creek Press, The Pickering Press, and the Thistle Press. For the next twenty years he was design consultant for a number of New York printing firms. He retired in 1978 to devote his time to wood engraving. He has since illustrated over forty books, and a comprehensive exhibition of his works has been shown at the University of Nebraska, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Alabama. He lives and works in Studio Ridge, New Jersey.

GUSTAVE DORÉ (1832-1883) was born in Strasbourg but moved to Paris in 1847, where he started on his career as an illustrator with the Journal pour rire. In 1851 he began illustrating for books, and in 1855 he was commissioned by The Illustrated London News to depict Queen Victoria's visit to the Paris Exposition. He became one of the most famous illustrators of the nineteenth century, creating atmospheric and detailed illustrations for the Bible, Divina Comedia by Dante, Milton's Paradise Lost, Don Quixote, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Perrault's fairy tales. Almost all of his drawings for publications in England, which were compared to the works of William Blake, were drawn or photographed on wood blocks and engraved by Parisian engravers, whose dark shadings have misrepresented him ever since. Although many of his full-page illustrations overpower the text they are meant to elucidate, his graphic depictions of London's poor and destitute for Blanchard Jerrold's London: A Pilgrimage have become part of social commentary.

HARRY FENN (1845-1911) was born in England but immigrated to the United States in 1863. Although he was trained as a wood engraver, he became one of the leading American illustrators, particularly for his work with the monumental Picturesque America (1872-1873). W.J. Linton, in his History of Wood Engraving in America (1882), calls this production "the most important book of landscapes that has appeared in this country."

CASIMIR CLAYTON GRISWOLD (1834-1918) was born in Cincinnati but moved to New York in 1850. Although he was trained in wood engraving, he is best known as an illustrator, particularly for his landscapes and coastal scenes.

WILLIAM HARVEY (1796-1866) is known as Bewick's favorite pupil, engraving a substantial number of blocks for Bewick's Aesop's Fables (1818). Although few engravings are singularly attributed to Harvey, nineteenth-century wood engravers considered his work some of the finest engraving ever produced on wood. In several of his engravings, Harvey mimics copper-plate engraving by employing cross-hatching, a detailed technique not normally practiced in early wood engraving. Early wood engravers wanted to refine their own style instead of copying that of other types of engraving. The Treatise on Wood Engraving commends Harvey's talent for cross-hatching on wood, but also points out that simple designs on wood display more "knowledge and feeling of an artist" than "unmeaning cross-hatchings." After a short time as an engraver, Harvey abandoned wood engraving to become a popular book designer, chiefly for wood engravers.

NIGEL HOLMES was born in England and trained as an illustrator. He immigrated to America in 1977 to become a graphics designer for Time magazine, where he has developed the field of "infographics," which seeks to use pictorial representations to convey statistical information.

LAURENCE HOUSMAN (1865-1959), the younger brother of the poet A.E. Housman, wrote eighty books during his lifetime, although he is perhaps best known as the illustrator and designer of such works as Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (1893), Jane Barlow's The End of Elfintown (8194), and his own Green Arras (1896). These works, with their intricate Art Nouveau illustrations and bindings, establish him as a worthy successor of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. Together with Charles Ricketts, he ushered in a new era of publishers' bindings, and his stylistic influence was greatest on commercial publishing.

ARTHUR HUGHES (1832-1959), a member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and a friend of John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, earned his living designing wood-engraved illustrations for children's fairy tales and stories. Three are particularly significant for his reputation as a book artist: Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays (1869), George Macdonald's At the Back of the North Wind (1871), and Christina Rossetti's Sing-Song: a Nursery Rhyme Book (1872). He also produced 221 drawings for the magazine Good Words for the Young, which was edited by George Macdonald and engraved by the Dalziels.

JOHN JOHNSON (1777-1848), published his Typographia: or, the Printer's Instructor in 1824. He had been associated with the Lee Priory Press, one of the earliest private presses in England. He became a master printer in London and was most well known for his facility with printer's ornaments. The first volume of the Typographia is a history of printing, which is derivative and has been superseded. The second volume is a detailed account of contemporary printing practices and contains much valuable information on the technical development of the craft, although Johnson completely disregards the newly introduced mechanized printing presses.

PAUL JONNARD (ante 1869, d. 1902) was a French engraver who was commissioned for many of the reproductions of art works appearing in The Aldine, the Art Journal of America.

KENT KESSINGER is owner of the River Birch Press in Houston, Texas. He holds the Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently Director of University Placement for Aramco Services Company in Houston. He first became involved in wood engraving in 1985. It is his favorite medium because it allows him to combine printmaking and book illustration. He feels that wood engravings are superior to other print media because "the artist gains the deep, black graphic expression of the woodblock with exquisite detail."

EBENEZER LANDELLS (1808-1860) was apprenticed to Thomas Bewick for a short time. After leaving, he concentrated on reproductive engraving, a practice that downplayed the artistic role of the engraver and that became increasingly common during the Victorian Era. Among his many commissions he engraved for The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge. In 1841 Landells helped found the satirical journal Punch and was also associated with The Illustrated London News. His influence continued throughout the century in his training of Birket Foster, the illustrator of many serialized novels such as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and Edmund Evans, the engraver and printer of Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway.

THOMAS LANDSEER (1795-1880), brother of the painter Sir Edwin Landseer, illustrated two poems by Robert Burns, An Address to the Deil and Tam O'Shanter and Souter Johnny, both published in 1830.

W.J. LINTON (1812-1897) was an Englishman who immigrated to the United States in 1867. Revering the early period of wood engraving (1790-1835), he practiced the older style of white-line engraving. He was outspoken in his traditionalism and wrote several books and essays endorsing wood engraving as an art form. His comments concerning the engraving style prevalent during the 1860s are indicative of this belief: "A generation had arisen in England, unmindful of the artist engravers, and whose new aim was only refinement, the perfection of mechanism . . . Fine they called it: but it was only minute, mean and feeble, and pretty." He did, however, invent a process called "kerography," which allowed a drawing to be electrotyped to make the printing block. Walter Crane, the great artist of children's books, was apprenticed to him, and he was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's favorite engraver.

BARRY MOSER (1940- ), one of America's best known illustrators and printmakers, was born in Chattanooga and studied printmaking at the University of Tennessee. The primary early artistic influence, however, came from his study with the great illustrator Leonard Baskin. His works are in the permanent collections of the British Museum, the Boston Athenaeum, the National Gallery of Art, and other major institutions. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.

STÉPHANE PANNEMAKER (1847-1930) was a member of a German family of engravers, who were known for producing wood engravings with hard, metallic lines and sharp contrast of lights and darks.

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828-1882), brother of Christina Rossetti, was a painter and a poet and a major force behind the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He drew ten illustrations that, even though they are almost independent works of art in themselves, were influential in encouraging artists to take book illustration seriously and to bring creativity to their designs. The few bindings he designed, however, are noteworthy for their elegance and simplicity, which are qualities not usually associated with late nineteenth-century binding styles.

THOMAS PRICHARD ROSSITER (1818-1871) was primarily a painter of large historical scenes, the most well known of which is "Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon" now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

MARCUS STONE (1840-1921) is primarily remembered for having replaced "Phiz" as Dickens's illustrator in Our Mutual Friend and Edwin Drood. Nevertheless, he has importance as an artist of realistic illustrations that, because they were reduced to essentials, freed the engraver from the excessive cross-hatching that had become so prevalent during the 1860s. He also produced a splendid set of designs for Trollope's He Knew He Was Right (1869).

JOHN THOMPSON (1785-1866) was trained by Bewick and apprenticed to popular wood engraver Robert Branston; he went on to become a prolific engraver, working for such famous illustrators as George Cruikshank and John Thurston. Chatto's Treatise on Wood Engraving (1839) ranks him as the "best English wood engraver of the present day."

SARAH VAN NIEKERK (1934- ) was born in England, where she trained at the Slade School of Fine Arts. She is tutor in wood engraving at City and Guilds of London School of Art and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. Her works are part of the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fitzwilliam and Ashmolean Museums, and the National Museum and National Library of Wales.

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