Major Publications

This page shows examples of the figures from the major printed works that made Bewick's reputation. The two large prints from the beginning and end of his career are shown, The Chillingham Bull and Waiting for Death, and a selection of figures from A History of Quadrupeds, A History of British Birds (Volume 1 on Land Birds, Volume 2 on Water Birds), and The Fables of Aesop are included here. Most of the figures are by Thomas Bewick’s own hand, observation and imagination. Except for Aesop, these were mainly executed in the evenings after a day’s work in the shop.

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The Chillingham Bull

1789, single sheet print. This single sheet print (7 1/4 x 9 3/4 inches) is the best known of all Bewick’s prints. It was commissioned by Marmaduke Tunstall, of Wycliffe in North Yorkshire. The original block still exists in the collection of the Hatton Gallery, though it is split and unusable. A copy block also survives.

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Waiting for Death

1828 (publ. 1832), single sheet print. This single sheet print (8 3/4 x 11 1/2 inches) was the last piece Bewick worked on before he died. It was part of his experimentation in larger sized prints and it was not finished when Bewick died. It was published by his son Robert Elliott Bewick in 1832. The subject matter was identical to a much earlier vignette-sized print based on one of his earliest known drawings

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A General History of Quadrupeds

Bewick’s first major independent publication was printed and published in 1790 in Newcastle upon Tyne. The single volume had been nine years in the preparation. It contains 199 figures illustrating brief descriptions of the animals, their habits and habitats. Most of the engraving was done in the evenings after a day's work in the workshop.

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A History of British Birds, Volume I (Land Birds)

The first volume of British Birds was started soon after the great success of the Quadrupeds in in 1790. It did not appear until 1797. It was sold for 10 shillings and sixpence (half a guinea), or just over half a pound. There are 118 main figures (with another 20 added in a supplement to later editions).

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A History of British Birds, Volume II (Water Birds)

The second volume of British Birds was devoted to Water Birds and appeared in 1804. It contained 101 figures in the first edition, with a larger number of vignettes, of which some samples are to be seen on the Vignettes page. Supplementary figures were added to later editions.

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The Fables of Aesop and Others

The Fables were projected long before the engraving work was begun in 1811; some of the drawings may have been done by Johnson, who died in 1796. The title–page clearly says “Designs on Wood by Thomas Bewick”. In fact, one of Bewick’s letters acknowledges the work done by the apprentices in cutting the blocks.

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Technical Background

This page provides a brief introduction to the technology of Bewick’s image production. Photographs of boxwood blocks in various states, of his tools and of the printing presses used in print workshops of the period are shown.

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Vignettes are supplementary images included in illustrated works as decorations to fill blank space on the page. They are not necessarily relevant to the main illustrations (which are here referred to as “figures”). Tailpieces are vignettes specifically placed at the end of sections or chapters. Bewick sometimes referred to these punningly as his “tale–pieces” because they often represent an event with narrative implications.

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Thomas Bewick’s brother, John Bewick, (who died young after a promising start to his career in London) and his son Robert Elliot Bewick (who stayed in Newcastle and carried on the business after his father’s death) are often confused with each other and with their father. Perhaps the most prominent of the many other apprentices were Robert Johnson and Luke Clennell.