Linton- Life in the Collections
William Luson Thomas ed.:
44) The Graphic Portfolio. A Selection From The Admired Engravings which have appeared in The Graphic and a Description of The Art of Wood Engraving with Fifty Engravings.
William Luson Thomas, the editor and owner of the illustrated weekly The Graphic, was a professional engraver, who had been trained in the workshop of Linton. He had founded this magazine, which proved to be the only one which was able to rival the Illustrated London News over long distances, in 1869 with the intention to enhance the artistic quality of the illustrated press. As Luson Thomas explains in his preface to this Best of – selection, his basic idea was to eliminate the professional draughtsmen on wood, who served as middlemen between the originals and the engraver, and to encourage artists from all directions to draw directly on wood. He says that these had introduced a variety of new methods like, for example, drawing on wood with broad charcoals, which had not only vitalized the appearance of the journal but also challenged and stimulated the work of the engravers. Each of the fifty selected engravings, which were finely printed on thick paper, is annotated by the editor. Attached is a short history of the profession, which proves to be an abridged version of Chatto & Jackson’s Treatise on Wood Engraving. Some prominent examples of exponents of the School of Social Realism are included such as Luke Fildes’ Houseless and Hungry or Hubert Herkomer’s Lodging Hose St. Giles. “I have taken apart the Graphic Portfolio and inserted the items among my loose sheets,” wrote Vincent van Gogh to his friend Anthon van Rappard in March 1883. He considered these prints from the Portfolio as being of specific worth as he held them not for ordinary impressions from “clichés, but impressions of the original blocks.” Those images formed the basis of his print collection, which served him as a kind of pattern book.
One wonders why Linton never mentioned his former assistant Luson Thomas and his concept of artistic press illustration in one of his tracts on wood engraving. There was hardly anyone in the business, who could claim to have rendered more outstanding services to the enhancement of woodengraving and its artistic reputation. Besides a good measure of professional jealousy, two reasons for this could be proposed. Linton did not think much of Dickensian social realism, which the Graphic artistically promoted. And in terms of the craft it could be argued that it was not the engraver whom Luson Thomas had granted more freedom of expression in his editorial concept, but the artist. One could say that by having the original drawing directly on the block, the degree of imitative slavery would only increase. Notwithstanding those objections, one can hardly deny that Luson Thomas had established a new mode of expression in the field of popular graphics of such intensity that it had been able to attract someone like Van Gogh and make him want to become a member of staff.