Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

delights him in the picture was often produced amid the clouds and darkness of a chequered life.

The two plates by Woollett which have received the highest commendation of foreign amateurs, are “The Death of General Wolfe,” and “The Battle of La Hogue,” from the pictures by Benjamin West : these works have never been surpassed by any engraver. His best portraits are those of George III., after Ramsay, and of Rubens, after Vandyck.

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

K T ATURE is a grateful mistress to her votaries, and

there is no instance of the artist who has studied her

beauties, and honestly depicted them, being unrewarded by Fame. Bewick is a prominent example; he studiously and perseveringly devoted himself to this study, and the celebrity he won in his life has increased since his death; all modern

[graphic]

refinements in the art of wood engraving cannot eclipse or rival the simple truth and vigour of his woodcuts

“And the skill which he learned on the banks of the Tyne.”

Thomas Bewick was born in 1753, at Cherry-burn, about twelve miles west of Newcastle, and received his earliest education at Ovingham, on the opposite bank of the river Tyne, Northumberland. His father rented a landsale colliery at Mickley-bank, in the same township, and he assisted him in his labour, having consequently that privation of education which a poor man's son has always to contend against. The lad never lost a chance of improvement, and in good weather or bad walked to his school whenever he could be spared, and noted those bits of nature in his lonely journeys that won him fame in after-life.

Bewick's taste for drawing developed itself very early, and determined his father to apprentice him to an engraver of Newcastle, Mr. R. Beilby, who appears to have taken all classes of engravers' work, from initials on tea-spoons, and names on doorplates, up to copper-plates for books; but his ability was but rarely in demand for the latter. In this employ Bewick did not labour long, for in 1768, one year after his apprenticeship, Dr. Hutton wishing to illustrate his “Treatise on Mensuration” with woodcuts, such as he had seen executed in London, applied to Beilby for them; and young Bewick, having made some attempts in the art, was encouraged to persevere, and to him was entrusted the work : he entered upon it with enthusiasm, and succeeded, although he had difficulties of all kinds to contend against, no one to help him over them, and was necessitated to invent his own tools.

Bewick by this means formed a style of his own, and though it would be unfair to state that wood-engraving was a lost art, which he resuscitated, it is perfectly true that it was his superior genius that drew public attention toward it, established it on its present firm basis, and thus “ wedded art unto the press.”

He returned to Cherry-burn when his apprenticeship was completed : it was his custom to pay weekly visits there, and shout his inquiries across the river, when it was too swollen to ford. His heart was in his early home, and when writing in afteryears to a friend, he says—“I would rather be herding sheep on Mickle-bank top than remain in London, although for so doing I was to be made Premier of England.” London was not to his taste; he visited it in 1776 for a short time, and was employed by Hodgson, the best wood-engraver of that day,-probably in consequence of having received, the year before, the award of a medal from the Society of Arts, for a cut illustrative of the fable of the “Huntsman and the Old Hound.” In 1777 he returned to Newcastle, entered into partnership with his former master, and thenceforward devoted his chief attention to engraving on wood. His first work was an illustrated edition of “Gay's Fables,” published by Saint, of Newcastle, in 1779, whose trade chiefly consisted in children's books, many of which Bewick illustrated in conjunction with his younger brother John. In 1784 they engaged in publishing an illustrated edition of “ Select Fables ;" but it was in the cuts for the “History of Quadrupeds,” published in 1790, that his great genius fully made itself felt. The truth and vigour with which the animals were delineated, and the admirable treatment of the accessories,

-the characteristic tail-pieces, where his profound study of nature told to such great advantage,-rapidly made him a great fame. He had thus struck out a path for himself in which he is still alone: he was no slavish cutter of lines laid down for his guidance, as the more modern wood-engraver too frequently is; but he cut with his graver out of the wood many an object no draughtsman could place there—such as the minute figures in a farm scene, the birds that flit in his vignettes, and the rich foliage that clothes the trees, all of which are expressed by his graver with the ready knowledge of a dextrous hand, guided by a mind completely familiar with the object he depicts. Elaborate labour is now bestowed on wood engravings, and wonder may be excited at the weary toil they exhibit; but the vigour and truth of Bewick's bolder works elevate them far above mere manual dexterity-nor will better engraving rival his well-earned fame, until drawing is more definitely expressed with it, as it is in all his woodcuts.

An illustrated “ History of Birds " next engaged his attention, and here his power of delineation strongly appeared: the minutiæ of plumage is always wonderfully rendered, and the tail-pieces with which he decorated his pages are redolent of original genius.

In 1797 Bewick dissolved his partnership, and thenceforward worked with his pupils regularly and methodically at Newcastle, in the house delineated in our cut. It is situated in St. Nicholas

« ZurückWeiter »