This age, as it has been well observed, is “the age of engraving;” nor is this to be accounted one of the least important among the many advantageous circumstances which distinguish the present times. Through the instrumentality of the Engraver, the glorious creations of the great painters of bygone ages have been endowed with that perpetuity which, by reason of the perishable nature of the materials employed, seemed to be, of necessity, denied to them. No longer can we say —
“When the last hue is from thy canvas fled,for by the exquisite art of the Engraver, the great works of Raffaelle and Titian, and other “great heirs of fame,” are preserved among us, in all the beauty of their graceful proportions; and in the freshness with which they first glowed in the light of a southern sun. Nor is perpetuity the only excellence which the productions of the greatest masters have received at the hands of the Engraver. By his art they have been so multiplied, that the forms of grace and beauty which lived “on the rich canvas or the breathing scroll,” are no longer confined to the galleries of nobles and princes, or the cabinets of the great and the wealthy, but are rendered familiar among us, and shed their graceful influence in the ordinary “homes of England.” The vast diffusion of education which has taken place of late years, has enabled all classes of persons to value, and in some degree to appreciate according to their real worth, these master-pieces of art; and the principles of a just, and noble, and refined taste, have been thus brought home to our domestic hearths.
Its memory gone — then, Raffaelle, thou art dead!”
—The Gallery of Engravings, edited by Mrs. Milner.
The Royal Gallery of Pictures, being a selection of the cabinet paintings in Her Majesty's private collection at Buckingham Palace. Published under the superintendence of John Linnell, Esq. London: James Bohn, 1811.
One Hundred Plates Illustrative of the Principal Scenes in Shakespeare's Plays. London: H. R. Young, 1819.
The Gallery of Modern British Artists; consisting of a series of engravings from works of the most eminent artists of the day. London: T. W. Stevens, 1834. (The ornamental title page is dated 1836.)
Finden's Gallery of the Graces: a series of portrait illustrations of British Poets. From paintings designed expressly for this work by the most eminent British artists. London: Charles Tilt, 1834. —Well-known poems are used as tenuous threads on which to hang a delightful gallery of pin-up girls.
The Cabinet Gallery of Pictures by the First Masters of the English and Foreign Schools, in seventy-three line engravings; with biographical and critical dissertations by Allan Cunningham. London: George and William Nicol.
One Hundred and Fifty Wood Cuts, Selected from the Penny Magazine: worked, by the printing-machine, from the original blocks. London: Charles Knight, 1835.
Heath’s Book of Beauty. With beautifully finished engravings, from drawings by the first artists. Edited by the Countess of Blessington. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman. —A beautifully printed annual, featuring stories, poems, and dialogues, illustrated by pictures of beautiful women. The Countess of Blessington was admirably suited to editing sentimental annuals; her heart, as an autopsy revealed after her death in 1849, was three times normal size. She could also have competed with any of the beauties illustrated in these books, and she wrote some very pleasant poetry and sentimental stories herself.
The Book of Beauty! how talismanic the sound! how seductive the name! how calculated to mislead the soberness of impartial judgment, or blunt the arrows of just criticism. But when that Book of Beauty presents a galaxy of female charms arrayed in all the imposing loveliness which the painter’s skill and graphic art can bestow, well may the critic feel alarmed lest his judgment should be compromised by his feelings, or his impartiality be sacrificed at the shrine of admiration. However, we must endeavour to follow the well-known Turkish maxim of “never permitting the judgment to be overcome by the feelings,” and proceed to a brief examination of the work.
After a cursory view of the different portraits, (nineteen in number) which form the embellishments, we necessarily felt some desire to be acquainted with the origin and history of the selection; but on turning to the preface, all the information we gain is, that the fair editress knows nothing about the matter, or does not choose to inform us:
“I feel it almost an impertinence (says she) to speak of the beautiful embellishments of the present work; the novelty of the design, the taste and splendour of the execution, may well be left to plead their own cause.”
As the reader can thus obtain no information relative to the history of the book, we are obliged to supply it ourselves. In the first place,— there is not one portrait connected with history, nor one calculated to associate the mind with any biographical recollections;—some are mere creatures of the imagination;—others are the portraits of young ladies, painted by Miss Sharpe, Boxall, Harper, &c., and possess about as much interest or real value to the public as the “portrait of a young lady,” which is perpetually recurring in the annual catalogues of the Royal Academy. Though Heath's name is pompously put forth, ‘ad captandum,’ there is not a single engraving of his own execution, and the only merit to which he can lay claim is the activity he has shown in adapting the portraits which were accidentally in possession of his different friends, to the stories concocted by Miss Landon; and where this could not be done, the fair authoress has adroitly adapted the figments of her brain, either in verse or prose, to the character of the painting. Thus the lady who forms the frontispiece, engraved by Thompson, from Boxall, having all the appearance of a Medea, with Grecian countenance, gipsy expression, raven locks, and oriental costume, was styled ‘The Enchantress,’ in order to accompany a tale of the same name, fabricated by Miss Landon; which is full indeed of bold and poetic imaginings, but replete with inconsistency and physical impossibilities. The portraits of Medora, Lolah, Laura, Donna Julia, and Gulnare, are intended to illustrate Lord Byron’s poems; and Rebecca and Lucy Ashton to illustrate Sir Walter Scott. The most pleasing portraits in the collection, according to our taste, are those of Donna Julia engraved by Robinson, from Stone; Theresa, engraved by Thompson, from Stone; Rebecca, by Ryall, from a painting by Miss Sharpe; and Leonora, drawn and engraved by Woolnoth. The elaborately engraved portraits of ‘The Bride,’ by Cochrane, from Chalon; of Lucy Ashton, from Dean, by Wright; and Grace St. Aubyn, by Ryall, from Parris, are almost spoiled in the shading. The first appears to have come in contact with a sootbag, and only to have half-washed her face. Lucy Ashton is little better; Grace St. Aubyn, in addition, is out of drawing, both as to length of visage, and Hottentot lowness of bosom.
On the whole, however, the work may be considered a pleasing display of female beauty—more splendid perhaps than useful.
1833 (this number, the one reviewed above, was edited by “L. E. L.”)
Finden's Byron Beauties: or, the principal female characters in Lord Byron's poems. Engraved from original paintings, under the superintendence of W. and E. Finden. London: Charles Tilt, 1836.
American Scenery; or, Land, Lake and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature. From drawings by W. H. Bartlett. The literary department by N. P. Willis, Esq. London: George Virtue, 1840.
The Waverley Gallery of the Principal Female Characters in Sir Walter Scott's Romances. From original paintings by eminent artists. Engraved under the superintendence of Charles Heath. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. —These galleries of "principal female characters" (in Scott, Shakespeare, etc.) seem to have been another fine excuse for publishing books of pin-up girls.
Payne's Universum, or Pictorial World: Being a collection of engravings of views in all countries, portraits of great men, and specimens of works of art, of all ages and of every character. Edited by Charles Edwards. London: E. T. Brain and Co., . —First-rate engravings, and very good scans by the librarians.
Payne's Royal Dresden Gallery: being a selection of subjects engraved after pictures, by the great masters...with accompanying notices consisting of tales, biographies etc. Dresden and Leipzig: A. H. Payne; London: W. French, .
The American Book of Beauty. With illustrations on steel, by eminent artists. Edited by a lady. New York: Wilson and Company, 1845. —American pin-up girls are in no way inferior to their English counterparts.
The Gallery of Engravings. edited by Mrs. Milner. Second Series. London: Caxton Press, .
The Wonders of Engraving. By George Duplessis. Illustrated with thirty-four wood-engravings. New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1871.
My Pet's Album. With 130 illustrations by first-class artists. London: S. W. Partridge & Co., . —Skillful, if not always first-class, engravings, each illustrating a little moral lesson for children.
The Orchid Album, comprising Coloured Figures of New, Rare, and Beautiful Orchidaceous Plants. Conducted by Robert Warner and Benjamin Samuel Williams. The botanical descriptions by Thomas Moore. The coloured figures by John Nugent Fitch. —The scans are better at archive.org.
Vol. I (1883).
Vol. II (1883).
Vol. III (1884).
Vol. IV (1885).
Vol. V (1886).
Vol. VI (1887).
Vol. VII (1888, at archive.org; not found on Google Books).
Vol. VIII (1889).
Vol. IX (1891).
Vol. X (1893).
Vol. XI (1897).