Event Report: ‘The Artist and the Writer’, IES, 29th November 2014. Supported by the British Association of Victorian Studies and the University of Roehampton.

‘The Artist and the Writer’, IES, 29th November 2014.

Supported by the British Association of Victorian Studies (www.bavs.ac.uk) and the University of Roehampton.

‘The Artist and the Writer’ at IES told a chronological narrative of the relationship between artists and writers c. 1750 – 1850, revealing the contrasts and connections in book illustration from the eighteenth century to the Victorian period. The day opened with Lynn Shepherd’s paper on ‘Illustrating Pamela’. Shepherd showed how the illustrations to Pamela by Hayman and Gravelot create a narrative with a significantly different perspective from that provided by Pamela’s narration.  In the 28 illustrations – chosen on literary rather than visual grounds by Richardson himself – the ‘warm scenes’ are totally omitted.  Mr B’s assaults therefore exist only in Pamela’s words and not in the third person visual narration of the illustrations.  Lynn Shepherd read the images in terms of the pyramidal structures of contemporary conversation pieces, and also traced the gradual disappearance of barriers placing Pamela outside the class territory occupied by Mr B. The following discussion focused on the question of the kinds of visual literacy that readers might have brought to the task of reading the illustrations.  Shepherd argued that those who had sat for portraits would have understood the visual languages of these images.

Mary L. Shannon (Roehampton) introduces novelist and scholar Lynn Shepherd

Mary L. Shannon (Roehampton) introduces novelist and scholar Lynn Shepherd

Sandro Jung’s paper on ‘Thomas Stothard, Romantic Literature and the Illustrative Vignette’ took an ephemeral publication – The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas  – as a means to overturn some of the key assumptions of illustration studies, namely that illustrators focused on old canon works newly freed from copyright. Stothard’s more than 800 head vignettes for Baker’s annual diary featured illustrations to recent and fashionable authors, prompting purchasers to discuss their current reading.  Baker followed Bell’s example in commissioning illustrations, but Baker made the decision to include recent poets not illustrated by Bell. Stothard, for instance, illustrated Crabbe, Byron and Scott, as well as Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper and Rogers’ Pleasures of Memory.  Stothard’s recognizable visual style thus provided a branding device not just for Baker’s publication but also for the concept of literature.  Jung argued that the Baker series offers a snapshot of consumer historical conditions.

Tim Fulford presented the early nineteenth-century as a period of virtual travel, when travellers prepared themselves by visiting exhibitions and looking at engravings, and picture books changed what the Romantic poets published.  Turning away from an earlier anti-picturesque aesthetic, and an earlier hostility about literary annuals, after 1818 Wordsworth and Southey repeatedly produced virtual topography, which functioned as guides for tourists.  The new urban bourgeoisie craved reminders of the countryside they had left, and technical developments made illustrations increasingly affordable.  Industrialization lowered the cost of paper, while from the 1820s the move to steel rather than copper engraving made larger print runs possible.  The Lake District gained its name through the sale of books of engraved views which were more popular than verse.  The Lake poets were therefore keen to foster links with artists and by the 1820s were working on jointly authored picture books in which poems were written to accompany pictures.  In the following discussion William St Clair argued that we needed to follow the logic of two industries and two media, tracing the links between them.

Exhibition of images from Senate  House Special Collections

Exhibition of images from Senate
House Special Collections

After a lunch sponsored by the British Association for Victorian Studies, and a visit to see some beautiful illustrated books in the Senate House library Special Collections (chosen to complement the day’s talks), Sophie Thomas traced the pre-history of the figure of the Bard in painting and illustration, from Thomas Jones’ the Bard (1774) via West, Sandby, Fuseli, Turner and Martin to the Bard in Blake’s illustrations to Gray and his painting of Gray’s Bard for his 1809 exhibition. Thomas’s paper on ‘Bardic Exhibitionism’ showed how Gray’s Bard appeared in Bentley’s illustrated Gray and reappeared in a lower illustrative mode in editions by Bell and Cooke, carrying complex meanings.

In the final session on Dickens, Mary L. Shannon’s ‘What did Dickens learn from Romantic Illustration?’ argued that Dickens drew on the more recognizable figure of Cruikshank to establish his own public identity, creating a visual image which drew on the conventions of visual Byronism.  Sadly, Ruth Richardson was unable to speak due to a bereavement, so more time was then devoted to open discussion. This ranged across author portraits, later images of Dickens and Victorian authors, continuities between the Romantic and Victorian periods, and links between theatre and visual culture. Anthony Mandal reminded us of the influence of Scott on Dickens, and Julia Thomas raised the significance of Luke Fildes’ watercolour tribute to Dickens, ‘The Empty Chair’ (1870).  The day concluded with a sociable drink nearby, at which it was agreed that the lively atmosphere, high-quality papers, and the trip to Special Collections had all made the event enjoyable, varied, and successful.

Susan Matthews, University of Roehampton

Report: 1st Reading Group Session

The inaugural meeting of the ‘Illustration: So What?!’ Reading Group took place on May 19th 2014 at the University of Roehampton, introduced by Mary L. Shannon and Susan Matthews. We convened for a varied and lively discussion, reflecting the nature of our chosen subject as well as the fields of scholarship represented at the table.

Susan Matthews opened the session with her observations regarding the etymology of ‘illustration’. The careful consideration given to the development of our contemporary usage of the word, in contract with its earlier meanings, emphasised just how much has the publishing industry and book design and decoration have evolved, even in recent times. This point is perhaps particularly poignant for the illustration scholar with a background as an illustrator, such as myself. As students – and scholars – it is often considered that illustration has existed since the earliest days of human creativity, and is at the heart of creative and intellectual development. The implication that in name at least this is not the case is quite profound; the acknowledgement that a timeless occupation is actually only 198 years-old (according to the OED definition) is a novel perspective. The idea that the Romantic illustrators were working in a newly named field, perhaps makes them more radical than was previously thought.

The core text, J Hillis Miller’s Illustration (1992), provided a number of interesting points for discussion. It was observed and agreed that Miller used ‘illustration’ with a multiplicity of meanings – with a particular penchant for added connotations of ‘light’. This, of course, married perfectly with discussion of pre-1816 definitions of ‘illustration’ as well as with the glowing glass books of Olafur Eliasson in his 2013 artwork A View Becomes a Window. Examination of Miller was as stimulating and varied as the contents of his book, with the group drawing parallels between all texts discussed as well as to fields as diverse as theatre and architecture.

The first meeting of the ‘Illustration: So What?!’ Reading Group did, as promised, throw new light on the idea of illustration. With future meetings planning to discuss texts just as varied as those considered here, and likely to be approached with the same enthusiasm and varied perspectives, I have no doubt that further light will be shed on this very rich area of study.

– Bee Hughes (PhD student, Liverpool John Moores)

The Political Economy of Book Illustration – 6/6/2014

The Romantic Illustration Network held its opening event at the British Academy in London last Friday.

Leading and emerging scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century visual culture gathered to discuss the materiality of the visual image and the printed text, in the beautiful surroundings of the British Academy’s Lee Reading Room.

RIN OpeningSusan Matthews (Roehampton) welcomed attendees, and used the OED’s definition of ‘illustration’ to suggest that the term itself is odder than we have come to believe it is. She pointed out that in the early nineteenth-century the word was used regularly in both its visual and its verbal senses, and proposed that the world of book illustration is one which is less straightforward than one might initially think.

This theme of the inter-relation of text and image in the illustrated book was picked up by William St Clair (IES, London) in his paper ‘Towards a Political Economy of Book Illustration’, c. 1800-1820. St Clair showed us how a focus on literature and art as material transactions can move us away from notions of ‘cultural emanation’ or ‘influence’, if we ask questions such ‘who had access to which texts at which time?’ and ‘how did images get from producer to consumer?’. He argued that expected demand, rather than supply, drove the publishers’ offerings of illustrated books. St Clair brought items from his own collection to display as a mini exhibition during the symposium.

Brian Maidment (Liverpool John Moores) took us into the next part of the century; he surveyed ‘Comic Illustration in the Marketplace 1820-40’ through a close reading of a series of comic caricatures, prints, and illustrations. He emphasised that the Victorians did not invent the serialised illustrated magazine, and that examples from the 1820s and 1830s are under-researched and understood. He also discussed questions of the democratic nature of popular serial culture, and made the point that any discussion of visual radicalism needs to recognise the willingness of artists such as Robert Seymour to work in multiple kinds of publications for money.

RIN DelegatesMoving into the Victorian period and digital materiality, Anthony Mandal, Julia Thomas, Nicky Lloyd, and Michael Goodman from Cardiff’s ‘Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research’ presented three digital resources: the Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (http://www.dmvi.org.uk/), the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (under construction), and Lost Visions; Retrieving the Visual Element of Printed Books from the Nineteenth Century(http://cardiffbookhistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/lost-visions/). Together these papers demonstrated how practical and theoretical considerations must be tackled in tandem on such digital projects, and how online academic resources can be rigorous and scholarly as well as accessible.

The symposium closed with an open discussion which drew together various different strands from across the day, and also pointed towards profitable new lines of inquiry, before we all headed for a sociable drink nearby. Apart from the lively buzz at the event itself, if such Network-building events are to be judged by the resources shared and the connections made, then RIN has got off to a productive and promising start.

– Mary L. Shannon (Roehampton)