As we prepared for an auction of rare, signed, limited and first edition books – which were laid out on a long table in the centre of the Saffronart gallery – I came across some stunning illustrations created at the turn of the 19th century. They seemed as important as the words in the books, and taking a cue from Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I delved deeper into some of the artists behind these creations. Here is an excerpt.
A (very) brief history of 19th century illustration
The history and progression of illustrated stories is closely entwined with advancements in printing and publishing technologies. Early medieval illustrations, known as illuminations, were created and coloured individually by hand. With the advent of the printing press, etchings, woodcuts and woodblock prints – the latter influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e art – became the preferred style of illustration. The development and prevalence of book illustration in early Victorian England was believed to represent an important shift in publishing compared to the Romantic period.Coloured images were produced by hand-colouring, which raised the cost of the book due to the efforts involved. Publishers often chose not to include coloured illustrations for this reason, or produced two versions of the book. However, innovations in the latter half of the 19th century, such as coloured lithography, colour printing from woodblocks, and “natural” printing – where objects such as leaves were pressed to create textured impressions – helped lower the costs and make coloured illustrations more popular.
‘a partnership between author and 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’… Often the artist was the first outside reader of the text and, in a sense, its first critic.
|A limited edition copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield published in 1929, illustrated and signed by Arthur Rackham. Images courtesy of Saffronart.|