1855 and 1870 the art of imaginative book and magazine illustration
reached remarkable levels of quality and intensity. The Pre-Raphaelites,
led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, were
largely responsible for this transformation in English wood-engraving.
They saw themselves essentially as painters, who turned to
illustration as a means of expressing the narrative element
which was so essential to their work; with the exception of
Millais, they preferred to illustrate poetry, using scenes
from the remote or imaginary past. They were swiftly followed
by a second group of artists, known as the 'Idyllic' School,
including George John Pinwell, Arthur Boyd Houghton and John
William North, who tended to take a more pragmatic view of
and social conditions at the time, together with technical
advances such as the use of photography to transfer drawings
to the wood block, meant that both new and reprinted literature,
periodicals, children's books, poetry and many other categories
of writing could be cheaply illustrated by talented artists.
The wood engravers who interpreted the artists' designs were
frequently hard-pressed and poorly paid. Many were employed
by large engraving firms based in London, the two most important
being the Dalziel Brothers and Joseph Swain, who worked closely
with publishers such as George Routledge, responsible for
most of the major gift books of the period, and Alexander
Strahan, known especially for his illustrated magazines.
engravings of this period, with their emphasis on realism,
adherence to the text, and a new seriousness of approach,
changed the entire status of book illustration. They led indirectly
not just to the revival of book arts in the 1890s but also
far beyond, towards what is routinely expected of the illustrated
and fully designed book of today.