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The Wood Engravers’ Self-Portrait focuses on the Dalziel Brothers, the leading image-makers of Victorian Britain. It is the first major study of the Dalziels, combining expert archival research with a radical methodology: it incorporates detailed examination of printmaking techniques, a focus on word–image relations in illustration, and a creative-critical approach to theory. Between 1839 and 1893, Dalziel Brothers made around 54,000 illustrations. These range from works of global influence – such as the illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, novels by Charles Dickens, and landmark Pre-Raphaelite prints – to intricate and fascinating unknown works, ranging from brilliant scientific illustrations to keep-fit diagrams and Cadbury’s advertisements. The Wood Engravers’ Self-Portrait tells the multifarious stories of the Dalziel artists and employees; these were discovered by Stevens during an AHRC-funded fellowship, in partnership with the British Museum, where she catalogued the Dalziels’ unique archive for the first time. This book is the culmination of knowledge gathered through this project. As well as exploring the Dalziel family and the works they made, this study addresses the challenges of uncovering and understanding creative work made by low-paid and supposedly mechanical artists (such as the precarious freelance engravers hired by Dalziel). It investigates the image firm’s role in shaping aspects of Victorian culture that continue to have a strong and ambivalent legacy, from the fast and wide circulation of wood engravings to the visualisation of gendered and imperialist texts. It proposes a widely applicable theoretical framework for the study of mass print culture and word-image relations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During their lifetime, the Dalziel Brothers worked furiously to maintain their profile and legacy. They negotiated with both the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), not only offering their work for acquisition, but making special requests about how it be stored and exhibited, in order to emphasise the engravers’ authorship. This chapter looks at the history of the curatorship of Dalziel’s work, examining Trustees reports and correspondence from the British Museum and the V&A to show how wood engraving and illustration were perceived institutionally. Unusually, the Dalziels set out as self-archivists right at the start of their careers, keeping a phenomenal record of work that acts as a claim of authorship, as well as a scrapbook repository of professional memory. The chapter proposes ways of reading the archive as a graphic memoir, a narrative in its own right. It examines Dalziel engravings for Ally Sloper and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, using these to think through the structures of archives, and the ways they engage with narrative temporality. In exploring the Dalziels’ archiving practice and the unique qualities of visual archives, the chapter draws on contemporary theories of user-generated archives (Giannachi 2016), as well as research on amateur and private album-making practices (di Bello 2007, Pettitt 2016). It shows how the Dalziels’ written memoir and their visual albums presented distinct and often contradictory accounts of their firm.
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’.
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.
Anthony Trollope’s novel Orley Farm was illustrated by Dalziel and John Everett Millais in 1861–62. Through its magnificent heroine, Mary Mason, this novel links the amanuensis to the criminal forger of signatures. One of the novel’s minor characters is a disreputable engraver, Père Snow. This chapter’s reading of Orley Farm examines Trollope’s horror at the obscene crime of signing another’s name, and links this to the everyday work of engraving. Wood engravers constantly signed other people’s signatures. This was true of the engraver-employees that were paid to sign their own work as ‘Dalziel’; it was also true of the firm’s execution on the woodblock of draughtspeople’s signatures (like Millais’s monogram); and finally, there are the many celebrity signatures that Dalziel engraved, to embellish portraits and autograph books. The chapter considers the way ‘Dalziel’ was developed as a signature brand. It explores the horror expressed by Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the name and signature of Dalziel, as the firm produced engravings that clashed with what they felt they owed to their own celebrity brands. Following this, four of the junior draughtspeople employed by Dalziel are considered – Henry French, Francis Arthur Fraser, Harry Tuck and Hal Ludlow – as is the different kind of voice they had in their designs because of their humbler status. This is put into the context of our ongoing cultural obsession with the signature in western models of authorship. The chapter ends with an analysis of a coded system of authorship in the Dalziel Archive that represented certain designers numerically, and it thinks through the significance of the proper name in art.
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.