The Writer and the Artist: Romantic Illustration Displayed

On Saturday 29 November, delegates gathered in Senate House for a conference organised by the Institute of English Studies and the Romantic Illustration Network at the University of Roehampton on the ‘communication-circuit’ between artists, writers and publishers. Topics included Dickens and Cruikshank; William Westall and the Lake poets; William Blake; and illustration of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.

[IMAGE viewing the display, 29 Nov. 2014]

viewing the display, 29 Nov. 2014

In a variation of the support Senate House Library offers to conferences by offering displays in a display case, Senate House Library provided scans of relevant works, to be pinned on to a board in the conference room, and displayed books on cushions in the special collections reading room. Twenty-seven people in two instalments bent eagerly over early-nineteenth-century illustrated books, with a sense of immediacy which is reduced when books are under glass and impossible when viewing reproductions. A cheap duodecimo 60-page summary of Pamela, illustrated by a single hand-coloured woodcut frontispiece, rubbed shoulders with Robert Blair’s The Grave (1808), a folio with twelve full-page etchings drawn by William Blake — one black-and-white picture for every three pages of printed text. More colour was provided by the numerous stately homes illustrated by William Westall and others in The Mansions of England: One Hundred and Forty-Six Coloured Engravings of Country Seats of the Royal Family, Nobility and Gentry (1832) and Isaac Robert and George Cruikshank’s far bawdier urban scenes in Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1821).

[IMAGE Mansions of England]

Mansions of England

Cruikshank illustrations of works by Dickens (Oliver Twist and Sketches by Boz) were popular. Samuel Rogers’s Poems (1834) provided examples of vignettes by Thomas Stothard and J.M.W. Turner at the top or bottom of pages which also include print (unlike the other books, in which the illustrations were all full-page ones): an intriguing mixture of cupids, features of an urban landscape, hamlets and mountains.

[IMAGE Samuel Rogers, Poems (1834)]

Samuel Rogers, Poems (1834)

Most of the exhibits were possible because Sir Louis Sterling, in addition to collecting first editions of the high spots of English literature, was also interested in book illustration — whereby he had a particular predilection for the Cruikshanks. The conference organiser felt that the display gave a lot of added interest to the conference – which delighted us, because it is precisely what such displays are intended to do.

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