Illustration and Black-and-White Art

The publication of the Picturesque Atlas was situated within a ‘golden age’ of illustration: the great global explosion of mass-produced images that occurred between 1850 and 1900 with the rise of the illustrated press.

The Technology of Illustration

Illustration was an unashamedly commercial and collaborative artform, engaging the talents of artists, engravers, photographers and printers. Art had in fact become an industry. By the 1860s advances in ‘photo-process’ wood engraving and printing technologies enabled engravers to reproduce pictures with astonishing accuracy. The best results were achieved when they were able to work with an original artwork, which had also been photographed and projected on to a sensitised wood block. Engravers required extraordinary dexterity and skill to incise a picture’s subtle shadings and tonality onto a hardwood block. Indeed, many engravers were themselves talented artists, such as the English-born and French-trained Collingridge brothers, George and Arthur.

The Art of Illustration

Between 1850 and 1900 the illustrated press relied far more on artists for its images than photographers, partly due to the camera’s technical limitations. As a result, wood-engraved images became the era’s most widely seen art.

Illustrated newspapers employed thousands of artworkers, many of whom pursued successful careers as etchers and painters. These included European artists like Félix Buhot and Frank Holl, whose work influenced and was admired by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Vincent van Gogh, respectively.

Australian publishers generally imported their artist–illustrators from England, including Julian Ashton, A. Henry Fullwood and Constance Roth. Two exceptions were the Sydney-trained artists William Macleod and Frank Mahony.

 

Activities

Reproductive Printmaking

The Picturesque Atlas is a masterclass in the techniques of fine-art engraving and for illustration.

Have students explore the processes behind the following styles of printmaking:

  • Woodcut
  • Engraving
  • Lithography
  • Photomechanical

As an example of the power of ‘photo-process’ engraving, set a task for students to reproduce a painting using linocut printing.

They should first make a linocut reproduction of the image from a screen or on a page in front of them.

Next, to simulate the ‘photo process’, use an old overhead projector to project the same image the onto the lino block as they cut the design.

Compare the two prints for accuracy in reproduction.

Drawing

The artists of the Picturesque Atlas were well-trained draughtspeople.

Have students compare the following preparatory drawings with the resulting engraved versions appearing in the Atlas. Pay special attention to line, shading and composition. How have these visual conventions been maintained in the reproductions?