The wood engravers’ self-portrait

The Dalziel Archive and Victorian illustration

Author: Bethan Stevens

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.

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