Melton prior Institut

Linton

Linton- Life in the Collections

Thomas Bewick:

5) History of British Birds. 2 Volumes,

Newcastle 1797 / 1804

The first editions of the most famous production of the Bewick workshop

“In the History of British Birds, we find increasing power and nicer finish, as we look through one hundred and seventeen figures and ninety-one tailpieces of the Land Birds, completed in 1797, and the one hundred and one birds and one hundred and thirty-nine tail-pieces of the Water Birds, 1804. (...) The Tame Duck is Bewick’s masterpiece: It absolutely has colour. (...) He has drawn with his graver (not meaning that he had no drawing on the wood, but that he choose his own lines to represent the drawing). Triumphantly manifest is the worth of this white-linework. My concern here is chiefly with the engraving, not less to be admired if the figures are not always quite correct. The scientific naturalist may find fault for some nice point not seen by artists’ eyes; but judged only as an artist, designer or engraver, Bewick’s work is perfect, to a hair or a feather. (...) His backgrounds to the Quadrupeds are mostly but careless adjuncts (...), but in the Birds we find abundant proof of advanced study and increase of skill. The mere backgrounds are pictures of themselves, appropriate to the birds, as carefully engraved as truthfully drawn. (....) In these cuts to the two volumes of the Birds we see the best of Bewick’s graver-work. Among these tail-pieces also are the best of his designs. There he stands securely, first of all illustrators of English landscape and rustic life and bird-nature.” (Linton, Masters of Wood Engraving)


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