The colour of monochrome, and Thomas Dalziel’s The May Queen
This chapter is all about colour. It begins with a brief overview of Dalziel’s work in commercial colour printing, exploring how the family’s willingness to experiment with new techniques and approaches – constantly seeking artistic and commercial success – extended into this field. The chapter then moves on to consider in more detail the chromatic effects of monochrome engraving and proofing, and the way black-and-white illustration both has colour and mourns its loss. ‘All the colour has been cut out of this’, John Tenniel complained in his corrections to one monochrome proof. Wood engraving in the Victorian period manipulated tone in a way rarely seen before or since, and corrections to proofs frequently discuss effects of ‘colour’. In the second half of this chapter, Thomas Dalziel’s stunning unpublished manuscript of Tennyson’s The May Queen (1855) is presented and interpreted. It is an ambitious work in colour, but one that was totally unsuitable for commercial publication. It illustrates Tennyson’s poem through subtle changes in a monochrome-like palette, as the ink Thomas uses shifts between various shades that all approach black: from the deepest browns and reds, to stark black, to deep greys and navy blue. Through these shifts, Thomas Dalziel presents a new reading of Tennyson’s popular ballad, and makes a powerful statement about the chromatic aesthetic wood engravers learnt from their work. He offers an attached but ambivalent response to the confines of commercial image-making, which in the Dalziels’ case involved a focus on the black and white.
This chapter explores employment and education in the wood-engraving factory, the erosion of the apprenticeship system and Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge. The Dalziel Archive provides evidence about the employees used by the firm, deciphered and presented here. We consider three workers: Francis Fricker and James Clark were full-time, long-term employees who started out as teenage apprentices, whereas John Bowcher turned much later to wood engraving, as a second career. Bowcher struggled to launch his own small firm, alongside precarious freelance jobs for Dalziel. His pencilled signature on the Dalziel engraving of William Bell Scott’s illustration of Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ offers a fascinating claim of authorship in the context of a poem that itself celebrates doubled artistry. Revealing annotations on some proofs document Thomas Dalziel’s role as an educator of junior engravers, developing future skills in the firm’s workforce. Framing this history of art labour are the illustrations to Dickens’s historical novel Barnaby Rudge (1841), a novel that features a memorable and wicked apprentice, Simon Tappertit. Interestingly, this novel was illustrated twice by Dalziel, at different moments in the firm’s history. George and Edward Dalziel engraved illustrations after Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) for the first edition in 1841, when they were themselves young freelancers working under another engraver, Ebenezer Landells. The Dalziel firm then produced a new visualisation under their own signature in 1874. The chapter compares these illustrated editions, reading them alongside the changing historical conditions for engraver-apprentices between the 1840s and 1870s.
This conclusion reflects on capitalist art production. It offers a reading of Dalziel’s final and most ambitious narrative advertisements – for example, for Cadbury’s Cocoa, Maravilla Cocoa, and Clarke’s night lamps – exploring technical reasons why wood engraving remained the preferred medium for commerce for some years after photomechanical methods had taken over literary illustration. The Dalziel employees were called ‘rats’ by one of the firm’s competitors, William James Linton (1879), who championed a more artisanal approach. The chapter interrogates the extended ‘rat’ insult, both in its attitude to capitalist art production and the insult’s casual racism (it alluded to a complex context of globalised indentured labour that is explored in the chapter). The rat is a useful figure for probing key anxieties in nineteenth-century art, including around linearity, purity and authority – as well as the selfhood of the artist. We return to Trollope’s Orley Farm, a novel that not only features a despicable wood engraver, but has a peculiar sideline obsession with rat-hunting. Alongside Trollope, the chapter analyses Charlotte Tucker’s children’s novel Rambles of a Rat (1871) illustrated by Dalziel. The rat’s mouth becomes a model for one of Dalziel’s most beloved engravings, of the Jabberwocky, whose sharp claws are read as a set of engraving tools. The greedy rat becomes a helpful theoretical figure for thinking about the mass production of commercial art, with reference to Maud Ellmann’s critique of modernist rats (2010). The chapter considers how representations of the anonymous, indiscrimate ratpack suits the anonymity of a commercial engraving factory.
Wilkie Collins’s After Dark and Dalziel’s freelance engravers
This chapter examines the work of those Dalziel employees who created other people’s lines, theorising their labour through the idea of ghostwriting and Wilkie Collins’s fictionalisation of the amanuensis. It starts by considering how the execution of the line helps to forge creative identity. From drawing to autograph, the line powerfully pervades concepts of artistic work. The line is essential to aesthetics; without it there can be no boundary, no form, no artwork. Curling into letters and forms, the line connects writing and the image. An expressive gesture, the line is what links the body of the artist – their hands and eyes in particular – with the artwork as object. As we have seen, the mainstream Victorian wood engraver also had the job of creating another person’s line, and according to common beliefs this is a paradox which undermines many of our assumptions about what lines mean in art. Antony Griffiths and others have discussed reproductive copper engraving in terms of ‘translation’ (2016). This chapter outlines the different production contexts of facsimile wood engraving, and proposes ‘ghostwriting’ as a useful concept. This is explored through Wilkie Collins’s short story collection After Dark, and its title illustration designed by Walter Crane. In the course of the chapter several unknown Dalziel ‘ghostwriters’ are introduced and discussed: Ann Byfield, Philip Hundley, William Hardy, William Burnett, John Eastop and Charles & William Tilby.
This introduction brings together the technical, imaginative and theoretical qualities of wood engraving as a medium, analysing the distinctive research dilemmas that these set in play. It introduces the Dalziel Archive as a record of an image factory, one that unites works of canonical cultural history with curious ephemera and brilliant pieces of unknown engraving. As a medium, commercial wood engraving was often seen as transparently replicative; this introduction questions this, and thinks about ways of understanding engravers as imaginative producers. It also considers the methodological implications of an archive that is entirely visual: a wordless archive of literary images. Building on influential definitions of illustrations as paratexts (Genette 1997, Thomas 2017), and inspired by Derrida’s (1988) challenges to the boundaries and integrity of individual texts, the chapter proposes a new model for reading book illustrations as parasites, which perpetually belong to a text through and despite their unbelonging. Considering illustrations as disruptive, the textless Dalziel Archive is read in terms of a derailed communication, with reference to the Dalziel Brothers’ engineering diagrams of truncated bridges.
Execution, technical violence and the discipline of visual culture
This chapter unpacks some collaborative executions that went on in the Dalziel office, to show how the minute technical changes that were executed by engravers shaped much larger aspects of visual culture. For instance, thinning a young woman’s eyebrow or nose, reducing the size of big hairstyles, or correcting a nymph’s genitals – all were ways in which engravers’ practices of proofing and correction became part of the broader ideological disciplining of bodies in the nineteenth century. Such practices can be seen throughout Dalziel’s oeuvre, from unknown fragments of ephemera to racist picture books, major Pre-Raphaelite prints after John Everett Millais or landmark exemplars of femininity like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the latter, the queen’s famous cry of ‘Off with her head!’ is uncannily echoed by the material sawing of Alice’s head out of one woodblock, to correct the arrangement of her hair and features. The chapter opens up a consideration of engraved execution in terms of a gendered, sexualised and racialised violence. Corrections to wood engravings were a kind of early airbrushing or photoshopping in which so-called mechanical artists introduced formal, technical changes to achieve ideological regulation. In one of his letters complaining about Dalziel’s shoddy work, Rossetti writes about their deathly ‘execution’ of his drawing, spinning out and delighting in the pun. The chapter concludes with an exploration of the concept of execution through three key images: Dalziel and Rossetti’s ‘Maids of Elfen-Mere’, an anonymous execution broadside, and an amateur-theatrical execution in a middle-class staging of ‘Bluebeard’.
Disjointed hands and brains, and the division of art labour
Ruskin’s writing on wood engraving in Ariadne Florentina (1873–76) is discussed, particularly the way he sees wood engraving as organising and dividing labour between hands and brains. In his analogy, the ‘hand’ is the engraver, while the ‘brain’ is the draughtsperson, who draws the illustration on the woodblock. This chapter discusses the peculiar way Ruskin imagines this process in terms of bodily fragmentation, comparing this approach with three unknown but brilliant works of Victorian fiction that were illustrated by Dalziel and that represent disembodied hands in remarkably similar ways. Arthur Crowquill’s The Giant Hands (1856) is read visually and textually, with the engraver’s hands driving the narrative forward. Next, Henry Morley’s ‘Adventures in Skitzland’ (1860) is a fantastical story that offers sharp political satire of alienated labour practices, and the consequent fragmentation of the body. This is compared to historical accounts of wood engraving, since it was a trade that was seen as particularly suited to disabled workers (e.g. in Walter Crane’s memoir). Next, presenting a series of engravings of hands that appear in the Dalziel Archive, the chapter uses creative captioning to explore how these works can help us reclaim Ruskin’s figure of the ‘sinister’ alienated hand as a positive image of engraving. Finally, changing ideas about handwork are analysed in the context of the new industries of the fin de siècle, looking at Dalziel’s front cover illustration to James Maclaren Cobban’s sixpenny novel The Missing Partner (1889), a novel about industrial printing, environmental degradation, and murder among collaborators.
This chapter explores the speed and timing of prints, labour and the press. As a bodily gesture, engraving dense boxwood is not a fast activity. Nevertheless, the profligacy of wood engravings binds them up with speed, at the level of both production and reception. Victorian readers confronted new illustrations in books and magazines, page after page, week after week – seeing them fast and frequent. Tom Gretton (2000) has described the magazine as a space of ‘chaotic abundance’. Looking at wood engravings is by its nature a speedy business, and print is a fast medium. Letters survive in which illustrators complain bitterly about unreasonable deadlines (and the omnipotence of publishers). We examine an 1873 edition of Dickens’s Bleak House, considering the enormous time pressure put on Frederick Barnard, who designed the illustrations, and examining the representation of a journalistic illustrator within the novel. More broadly, this chapter considers the time of engraving as revealed in the Dalziel Archive, from slow gestures and fast news deadlines to hourly pay for commercial ephemera; prints that were divided between multiple engravers for speed; and slow masterpieces that took years. We compare the six years the Dalziel spent engraving John Everett Millais’s Parables of Our Lord (1864) with the 7½ hours spent by William Hardy engraving a toothpaste advertisement. Likewise, a sixteen-year production of ‘Samson at the Mill’ (made by Dalziel after Frederic Leighton) is set alongside ephemeral images of factory labour, and the formal-political qualities of engravings of turbines and machines, horses and railways.
What happens when the image factory looks in the mirror? This chapter is framed around an illustration of a wood engraver, made for a children’s encyclopaedia, which can be read as a notional self-portrait. It investigates the concept of self-portraiture within a collective and commercial medium like wood engraving, and tells the story of the five Dalziel siblings involved in Dalziel Brothers: George, Edward, Margaret, John and Thomas. Reappropriating the archive’s wordless illustrations – particularly to Wordsworth’s poetry – and developing creative reading strategies, the chapter proposes ways of remembering Margaret and John Dalziel, skilled engravers whose roles were crucial (especially Margaret as a senior woman engraver) though evidence about them is limited. George and Edward’s work as founders and leaders of Dalziel are materially read in their albums, as are Thomas’s contributions as a draughtsman and in-house art educator. The chapter considers archival evidence of Thomas Dalziel’s illustrative method when approaching A Thousand and One Nights. The final family member considered in the chapter is an employee, Alice Gladden, who worked in the engraving factory as a 12-year-old nursemaid, and who here becomes a catalyst to re-read Dalziel’s wood engravings for Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This chapter asks what it was like to live and work in the image business, uncovering family ties, friendships and professional networks. With reference to Michael Fried’s recent work on painted self-portraits (2010), it thinks through the practicalities of a collaborative self-portrait of a working wood engraver.
Photography and wood engraving, from Eadweard Muybridge to Julia Margaret Cameron
When drawings were made on woodblocks and destroyed in the engraving process, then there was no original artwork, only a draft for a finished print, a multiple. In the previous chapters we saw how challenging this could be for the artists whose drawings were executed. However, there was a substantial change once a drawing could be photographed onto the block. Once this happened, the still-extant drawing began to be perceived as an ‘original’, and wood engraving began to be understood as a replication technology (as opposed to being a distinct, collaborative form). This chapter explores distinct aspects of the increasing closeness between wood engraving and photography, and how the two emerging media affected each other stylistically and technically. Stevens outlines the unpredictable timeline of technical innovations compared to their actual use in practice – often staggered across decades – which is crucial to understanding the way photography influenced the broader chronology of visual culture. This is a history of the relationship between two media, which also changes our understanding of major moments in illustration history. For instance, it affected copyright agreements; the chapter shows how the introduction of photography into the process of wood-engraved illustration changed Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown’s understanding of his own intellectual property. The chapter explores photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s influence on engravers, and also how Lewis Carroll returned to the Dalziel firm two decades after their work together on Alice, commissioning trials to compare wood and photomechanical processes for his new manuscript facsimile, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1886).