Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

John Greenleaf Whittier:

71) Poems of Nature. Illustrated from Nature by Elbridge Kingsley.

Boston and New York 1886

If Linton’s commitment to expressiveness in xylography has ever fallen on fertile artistic ground, it was in the work of Elbridge Kingsley, an American engraver who was nearly thirty years his junior. Kingsley had a similar interest in theorizing and in technical experimentation. He had studied Linton’s Lake Country engravings and his Cullen Bryant illustrations closely and had followed him in his impressionistic approach to engrave en plein air. Moreover he developed a kind of mediumistic notion of a “nerve power” which has to be translated as directly as possible from the mind onto the wood block.

He was also interested in photographic processes as a means of a direct transformation of light. The sketching cart which he established as a moveable studio to work in the woods was both an engraving workshop and a photographic darkroom. According to the noted photography historian Estelle Jussim, Kingsley belongs to a group of unjustly “forgotten and neglected artist-engravers of the last century. However neglected, his career provides a fascinating insight into the transformation of the ancient art of wood-engraving into a plein air art of illusionism, with photography and photographic processes as the prime movers in the transformation.”



Kingsley’s illustrations for Whittier’s Poems of Nature with his first originals after nature caused a sensation. Here he had developed his unique style of light-writing, which oscillated strangely between photographic naturalism and nervous écriture automatique. Kingsley’s revolutionary effort was to turn photography into a vital medium by fusing photo-power with nerve-power, and the impression of his landscapes was a rather spiritistic or aural one. Unquestionable Kingsley’s method of manual photo-gravure was the most inventive variation of Linton’s expressive use of white line. It came too late to be accounted for in Linton’s History of American Wood Engraving, and also in his Masters of Wood Engraving, which followed three years later, Kingsley isn’t mentioned. Linton may have counted his work among the dispensable eccentricities of the New School. With the exception of the short essay Originality in Wood-Engraving, which was published in 1889 in The Century Magazine, Kingsley’s extensive writings on reproduction and xylography unfortunately never came into circulation.