Online GalleryA small sample of Bewick’s work.
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. Bewick did not invent boxwood engraving as such, but he developed techniques of drawing, cutting and printing which attracted much attention. It led to the new phenomenon of the popular illustrated book where letterpress text and engraved woodblock could be set into the same printer’s forme to be printed together, thus reducing the cost of illustration (and therefore of publication) and changing the appearance of the printed page. This technique went on to dominate nineteenth century illustrated book production.
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. [For Vignettes and Tailpieces from these works, please see the separate pages under the heading below.]
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 ‘talepieces’ because they often represent an event with narrative implications. Owing to the freedom of invention possible in these kinds of image Bewick took more pleasure in these designs than in any other of his works. The page divides the samples shown into four categories: firstly, those drawn and cut by Thomas Bewick himself; secondly, those drawn by an apprentice but cut by Bewick; thirdly, those drawn by Bewick but cut by an apprentice; and fourthly, those drawn and cut by an apprentice. [See also below.]
This page shows a few examples of the work of the Bewick apprentices, usually reprinted without any attempt to distinguish them from their apprentice–master. 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. Insofar as their work was produced in the Thomas Bewick workshop, it is assumed that Thomas directed, supervised, corrected and approved all their work as their master and instructor.