In 1955 the finest private collection of Victorian illustrations ever formed was pur chased for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by Henry P. Rossiter, then curator of the Department of Prints and Drawings. The collection had been assembled around the turn of the century by an Englishman. Harold T.
Hartley, and was sold to the Boston Museum after his death by his son, Sir Harold Hartley. The years between 1855 and 1875 were referred to as the “golden decades” of il lustration by Hartley and others knowledgeable in this field, and most of the collec tion is concerned with illustrations of this era, although some important forerunners and successors of the “sixties” artists arc also included. More than 200 artists are rep resented by more than 1,000 unbound wood engravings, about 300 preparatory draw ings, 83 original woodblocks, and almost 500 bound volumes, including sets of the notable illustrated magazines of the sixties. In addition to the works themselves, there are significant documents relating to the art of illustration in the Victorian period, in cluding a collection of manuscript letters written by or about various artists and their engravers, and a collection of books about the illustrators of the sixties which were published in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and which are now quite rare themselves.Order now
Hartley’s collection contains not just the work of a few major artists but work repre senting over two hundred illustrators. This enables us to see a complete range of qual ity as well as the influence various artists had on one another. He collected a variety of objects, including prints, drawings, and woodblocks, which show several stages of the wood engraver’s technique as it was refined for the purposes of the illustrators of the sixties. Few collections of Victorian illustrations of this quality exist, with perhaps only the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London having compara ble collections. Between 1855 and 1875 the art of book illustration in England reached a high point. The technique of wood engraving was a cheap reproductive means that could achieve many of the same effects as etching and engraving on metal plates.
A rediscovery of wood engraving was made by Thomas Bewick at the very beginning of the nineteenth century, and by the 1850’s there was a substantial group of commercial wood en gravers, such as the Dalzicl brothers, Joseph Swain, and Edward Whymper, who were able to render designs onto wood with great delicacy. The designers of the illustra lions were often the famous painters of the time, such as Sir John Millais or Sir Edward Leighton. Because wood was so much less expensive than metal plates, with the re finement of the wood engraving techniques illustrated publications of good quality were available to the general public for the first time. No book that was destined to attain popularity in the 1860‘s would have been published without illustrations, and in fact the public’s demand for these mass-produced images was so great that a num ber of periodicals came out featuring stories and poems illustrated with wood engrav ings designed by well-known artists.
One of the main attractions of the Hartley Collection is that the variety of objects makes various stages of the technique involved in wood engraving clear to us. The black and white process begins with the artist’s preparatory sketch on paper. In the next step the artist repeats the sketch on a block of boxwood, often using tracing pa per to transfer the main outlines Irom his preliminary drawing on paper. A coat of whitewash is brushed onto the block before the drawing, so that the pencil lines are more visible to the engraver. (There are several blocks in the collection that are uncut, so that the pencil drawing and wash can still be seen. ) The engraver then goes to work, cutting away all the parts of the design that are to print white, leaving only the actual lines drawn by the artist in relief.
Usually, the blocks were made up of two or three sections, which could be unscrewed and handed out to various engravers This practice was especially helpful for a periodical when there was a strict deadline. After the pieces were joined together again, a skilled engraver would go over the joinings and integrate the various sections so that the boundaries would not be visible. To ob tain the fine Imes necessary to make the print resemble an etching, metal engraving, or pen drawing, an engraver’s burin was used for the more delicate areas. (The burin is a metal tool with a diamond-shaped point that cuts a fine V-shaped groove into the wood.
) To keep the directional grain of the wood from hindering the burin in cutting a smooth line, the end gram was used for the surface of the block rather than the side grain. It is the use of this tool and the use of the end grain that distinguish a wood en graving from a regular woodcut. The pnnting of the block is the same as for a woodcut. The surface of the block is inked and printed in relief. When the artisan has finished his work, he pulls a proof, or a trial printing, to present to the artist for his approval.
(Writers on Victorian illustra tions generally refer to any impression that was not intended for a copy of the publi cation as a proof. ) The most carefully printed proofs were done completely by hand on a fine paper which was called India paper. The paper was placed face down on the inked block, and the back of the paper rubbed or • burnished” with a spoon so that it would absorb the ink better. Other proofs were made on India paper, with a small press.
Most of the proofs collected by Hartley arc on India paper, and a great many of them were burnished rather than printed with a press. It is on these artist’s proofs that one often finds the artists corrections of the engraver s work in pencil or white water color, or penciled instructions to the engraver, who then uses his burin to correct the areas indicated by ihe artist. After the cutting is finally approved by the artist, a metal cast is made, called an electrotype. This is fastened to a wooden block and used in the actual printing of the publication along with the metal type of the text.
The editions of the periodicals were so large that if the original woodblock relief had been used, it would have eventually flattened under the pressure of multiple printings. Of the blocks in the collection, five are electrotypes mounted on wood. When the published version was printed in a periodical, a title and the names of the artist and engraver were often added in type below the illustration. The process of color printing employs basically the same technique, but a block must be made for every color used, in addition to a block printed in black or brown that shows the basic outlines of the composition.
Edmund Evans, the craftsman for Walter Crane. Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway, cut the color blocks so that the colored spaces were not flat color but narrowly spaced parallel lines or other open pattern. Because of this, the printed colors had a paleness that approximated the effect of watercolor. A special advantage of this texture was that one color (yellow, for example) could be pnnted on top of another (blue) to get a third color (green), and so new colors could be made without cutting any new blocks. Some of the drawings made by the artists presented a problem to the engraver, in that the lines were not well defined, or the pencil or a wash was used to create a tonal effect that could not be reproduced in the black and white medium save by approxi mation. The role of the engraver was often that of interpreter by necessity, although some artists (who did not fully understand their own chosen medium) found the craftsman’s interpretation of their work difficult to accept.
John Tcnmcl, for example, always made his drawings with a 6H pencil, and the result is that they are pale and silvery, most unlike anything that actually appeared on the pages of Punch. He did not complain to his engraver but did admit to “a weekly pang “1 when glancing at his own work in Punch, transformed from pale gray to sharp black and white. But he still de signed his cartoons in pale drawings rather than trying to approximate the appear ance of the finished work. In a more dramatic case, Dante Gabriel Rossetti became funous with the Dalziel brothers for transforming his designs for Tennyson’s Poems (1857). He was angry enough to be inspired to verse:? Woodman, spare that block!? gash not anyhow!It took ten days by dock. I’d fain protect it now.
Chorus—Wild laughter from Dalziels’ Workshop. And yet, the Dalziel brothers did some of the finest cutting of the sixties, as can be seen in Rossetti s own Minis o( t Hen-Mere. There are several instances where a series of steps toward one illustration can be assembled from the various parts of the Hartley Collection. One particularly fine ex ample is John Millais’s Lord lutton and Lidy Roberts for Anthony Trollope’s novel framley Parsonage. There is a pencil drawing for the illustration which is in a highly finished state , the block, a proof on India paper , and the pub lished illustration in a bound volume of Comhill issues. The illustrated periodicals of the 1860’s (including Once a Week, Cood Words, and Comhill) were vehicles for the publication of many sentimental stories and poems, illustrated with pictures that were in keeping with the melodramatic writing, but when drawn by the capable hands of Millais, Fred Sandys, or Fred Walker, had never theless a charm and sensitivity of their own, and they are interesting as art despite their sentimental subjects.
Weekly serials were popular, with one or two wood en gravings illustrating the most emotional moment of the week’s story, such as a woman in tears over a fetter, or a deathbed scene. These stories must have had the same ap peal as the television soap operas of today to a public that depended on the illustra tions in newspapers, magazines, and books exclusively for their everyday visual enter tainment. The emotions expressed were simple but intense and perhaps served the purpose of allowing the somewhat restricted Victorian woman and child to enjoy an emotionally thrilling world vicariously, through stories and pictures. The reader’s de sire to identify with the stories’ emotions led naturally to a greater and greater de mand for realism in illustrations; thus, as soon as photography was technically able to replace wood engravings, it did so.
But for thrs brief period, before final improvement in the new invention usurped the place of wood engraving in reproducing illustra tions, the inexpensive woodblocks made it possible for prints designed by first-class artists to reach the hands of the public in enormous numbers. It was the weekly ex pectation of finding a John Gilbert wood engraving in his mother’s London lourml that led Hartley to accumulate his large collection of pictures. Harold T. Hartley was born in 1851, the year of the Crystal Palace Exhibition, and thus was a child of the 1850’s and 1860’s.
He says in his autobiography, Eighty-eight Not Out (1939), that his interest in illustrations began when he was a child, and his collecting instincts made him clip out Gilbert’s engravings. When Hartley grew up, he was a producer of expositions in London, inspired by, but on a smaller scale than the Great Exhibition of 1851. His collection of clippings grew to a collection of proofs, drawings, and books. Hartley spent much time on this hobby, which he began in earnest in 1881.
In his untiring search for proofs and drawings, Hartley met many of the 1860’s artists and engravers, or their families. He carried on an extensive corre spondence with Frederick Sandys, Henry Holiday, the Dalziels, the Swains, and others. He was able to buy many things directly from the artists and engravers before they were sought after by others. In Eighty-eight Not Out he claims “Long before 1901 I had ceased to be satisfied with cut-out pictures and became a purchaser of the origi nal drawings, studies and artist’s proofs, many of the latter with notes and corrections. I can certainly claim to have been the first collector of these. “The drawings, wood blocks, and marked proofs are unique items, and the burnished proofs are rare, as only a few of these would be made from the woodblocks themselves before the electrotype was made.
In 1922 Hartley quoted a verse by Robert Brough to describe his “incorrigible habit, dating from far-away boyhood”. The Hartley Collection and Hartley’s extensive knowledge of Victorian illustrations were shared with many alter the turn of the century in exhibitions, publications, and consultative duties. In 1901 he was asked by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be on the executive committee of a proposed exhibition of illustrations. He found the Vic toria and Albert lacking in some of the major books and periodicals of the era and helped them to build up their collection. He comments in his autobiography “This was the first time that the penod known as the ‘sixties’ was brought into any promi nence Enough time had elapsed that the illustrations of the sixties could be seen in art historical perspective, and shortly after the 1901 exhibition at the Victoria and Al bert came the first important book on the subject, Glccson White’s Illustrations of the Sixties (1905). It was followed by many other books, articles, and collections of works by various artists reproduced by photomechanical processes.
Many of these works are in the collection. The second important work. Illustrators ol the Sixties, by Forrest Reid, was published in 1928 with a foreword acknowledging the use of Hartley’s col lection and his “valuable suggestions springing from his expert knowledge of the sub ject “7 In the 1920’s the collection made a tour of exhibitions at galleries in Gteat Britain, beginning with the Tate Gallery in 1923 and including the Royal Academy, Whitechapel Ait Gallery. Manchester, and Glasgow in 1925, where Walter Shaw Spar row acclaimed the collection as “Single in kind and excellence. ” Besides his own autobiography. Harold Hartley published an article on Pinwell in The Print Collector’s Quarterly (1922) and one on “Lewis Carroll and His Artists and Engravers” in a Carroll centenary exhibition catalogue (1932).
Pinwell was one of Hartley’s favorite artists; the collection contains a large group ol his proofs and draw ings, and Hartley made a separate collection of his watercolors. In Eighty eight Not Out, Hartley gives Pinwell high praise: “Nothing he ever did could be said to be soul less; lacking, as it often does, the craftsman’s touch, yet his work always possesses a sense of beauty, pathos and mystery of life which only the eye of the poet can pierce. To no other artist has a greater power been given to invest the humblest figures and scenes of daily life with a halo of poetry. “’ Hartley’s article on Carroll’s illustrators also shows a special interest of his, but un fortunately most of the Carrolliana in the collection were sold elsewhere before Hart ley’s death. However, there remains a drawing on tracing paper by Henry Holiday for The Hunting of the Snark depicting the Snark himself as a sort of giant puffer fish , which was never used because Carroll “had made the Snark strictly unimaginable and wanted him to remain so. “1 Holiday says of his own drawing in a letter to Hart ley: “You may rely on my drawing being strictly accurate.
I pledge my word that 1 have never met with any-onc however critically disposed who was able to prove a single fault in it”11 The only other representative of Carroll illustrations is a set of two proofs with pencil remarks by John Tcnnicl, showing Alice’s entrance into and exit from the looking glass. Hartley did not limit himself to acquiring only the works that future critics might consider the best or most interesting (such as those of the Pre-Raphaelites), but be cause he himself was essentially a product of the Victorian era, he collected what the Victorians considered the best and any illustration that might happen to strike his fancy, even though it was the work of a minor artist. The scope of the illustrations of the sixties is shown in the variety of illustrators whose work appears in the collection. There are works done before the 1860’s that give a historical setting for the collec tion, including a drawing by Thomas 8ewick, who began the wood engraving boom, and a drawing by llablot K. Browne (better known as “Phiz”), whose work was transi tional between etched illustrations and wood engravings.
Bewick stands well apart from later wood engravers because he was conscious of the inherent properties of the medium and used the effects of white lines on a black background. Later, the realiza tion that with careful cutting a wood engraving could come close to reproducing the black lines of an etching led to wholesale imitation of intaglio processes. Most of Phiz’s illustrations for the novels of Charles Dickens were etched, but by the 1840’s, when he designed the second cover for Punch, it had become possible to obtain an imitation of his etching style, although the effect was not as free in linear movement. A representative of the artists who came after the sixties period is Aubrey Beardsley.
Hartley acquired about a dozen comic drawings to illustrate Virgil’s Aeneid, drawn by Beardsley as a schoolboy, as well as three more characteristic black and white pen drawings for illustrations to Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. The artists of every important group of illustrators are represented in the collection, from the cartoonists of Punch to the most solemn of the Pre-Raphaelites. Hartley’s collection of proofs and drawings of Punch cartoons is particularly fine. Although he had no issues of the magazine itself, there is a bound collection of Punch Almanacs and several of the leather-bound annual Pocket Books, published by the Punch of fices.
Punch was, in the nineteenth century, and still is, England’s foremost comic magazine. It was started in 1841 under the influence of the Parisian satirical periodi cals such as La Caricature and Lc Charivari, and was originally titled Punch, or the London Charivari. The Punch cartoons arc especially interesting as illustrations for several reasons. First, because of the popularity of the magazine, they represent the “official” public humor of the time, and, second, they arc often true “illustrations” in the sense that the joke or caption was invented by the Punch staff of editors and writers rather than by the artist himself, and the cartoonist merely illustrated an idea.
A third reason is that even if the idea for the cartoon was the artist’s, these pictures are still a kind of illustration, not of a literary (heme but of the political and social events of the day. One of the two most important cartoonists in Punch’s first fifty years was John Ten niel. His images of public figures such as Queen Victoria, Gladstone, and Disraeli, and allegorical figures such as John Bull, Britannia, Hibernia, the British lion, and the Rus sian hear were seen weekly in the “large cut” of Punch. They were sometimes in tended to be humorous (as the cartoon of Disraeli as an angel, fig. 5), and sometimes not (as in the cartoon of Britannia sympathizing with Columbia at Lincoln’s death), but they always served as a kind of crystallization of a current event, commemorating it or commenting upon it, in a particular language of visual symbols. Tenniel, with the help of John Leech before him, Charles Keene after him, and his own controlled neo classical drawing style, transformed the hbald cartoons of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century into something “decent” and palatable to the Vic torian public.
The collection contains over a hundred onginal pencil drawings by John Tenniel, with a similar number of his proofs from Punch assignments, as well as a large number of drawings and proofs in the freer, looser style of John Leech. The proofs of Charles Keene’s cartoons, more than a hundred, were considered by Hart ley* s son to be a prize part of the collection.