Index Engraving
Aspects of the Victorian Book
  Production   Publishing
  Black and white wood-engraved illustration, 1855-1870

Between 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 their work.

Economic 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.

The remarkable 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.

Paul Goldman

production Introduction Printng technology Illustration Lithography 1860s wood engraving Photographically illustrated books Binding John Leighton bindings Publishing Introduction Yellowbacks Penny dreadfuls Children's books Magazines