Page images
PDF
EPUB

are visible both in the initial letters and the outlined wood. cuts. The printing is restrained, unaffected, and pleasant to read, and, although the type is open and of quite modern appearance, it harmonises sufficiently with the somewhat thick lines of the woodcuts. In the later volumes the added thickness to the type and consequent blackness of the page, are more tiring to the eye; and, what is worse, the printing becomes more ornamental and intricate, verging upon obscurity. We feel that the energy of a newly acquired ambition has inclined Mr. Ricketts to overdo his work from excess of zeal. However, the lasting attraction of the * Daphnis and Chloe' is to be found in the woodcuts, and although on principle their antique style is objectionable, we unfeignedly admire them, both in themselves and as a beautiful decoration to the page; and being both drawn and cut by the artists, they possess a value which can never belong to the blocks of the Kelmscott Press. Avowedly imitated from the early Italian woodcuts, they not infrequently surpass their prototypes, and are full of delightful inventions and modern touches not to be found in any other books. The decorative device of carrying a continuous design across two pages is one which we do not recollect having seen elsewhere, and deserves to be repeated. There is a more human emotion in the scenes than in the older cuts, and above all the book has the delicious sentiment and glowing beauty of Italian art, and in spite of its poor paper this rare quarto is likely to remain an object of precious regard to the bibliophile for all time.

The collaboration of Mr. Shannon in the illustrations of the Vale Press has exercised the same sweetening influence upon its pages as upon everything which he touches. In one respect his genius is like that of Millais; a perfect absorption of beauty is an inborn faculty of his nature, infusing his work with an unfailing and indescribable grace, equally conspicuous in his paintings, his drawings, his woodcuts, and his lithographs. In the latter he has developed a surprising distinction of style, to which the resources of the stone are better adapted, and are worthier of his fine technical accomplishments, than the more obdurate medium of woodcutting. Before the appearance of the 'Daphnis • and Chloe,' Mr. Shannon and Mr. Ricketts had begun to issue the · Dial,' an occasional publication, similar in aim to the “Germ,' or the more recent · Hobby Horse,' edited by Mr. Macmurdo and Mr. Horne. It contains numerous original woodcuts, of varying interest, drawn and engraved

stomprising distinecgraphs. pimntings, his d

? by the artists, but most people will join in a preference for

the series of lithographs contributed by Mr. Shannon. ? The leap from the end of the fifteenth to the middle of the : nineteenth century, is scarcely less significant in the history

of book illustration than the short step from the woodcuts of forty years ago to the contemporary process-block. Now for the first time, manual art has entirely given place to a mechanical and unintelligent operation. And the unattractive assemblage of drawings reproduced by some of the photographic processes on exhibition at South Kensington is an unpleasant revelation of the latest developement of demand and supply. Work of this class being principally affected by cheapness, unlimited multiplication of copies, and rapidity in the means of printing, it mostly goes to feed the voracious system of journalism and commerce, which bores us with a daily output of illustration, exceeding the capacity of our waste-paper baskets. At first sight it might be questioned whether this inordinate supply of pictorial art is not made in response to a purely supposititious demand, but on reflection it is clear that the arrival of our illustrated journals is an agreeable event in the lives of more families than we care to count, so that the process-methods only too plainly reflect our taste, the standard of workmanship which satisfies us, and the particular talents of the illustrator who adopts them.

When English illustration, within the last decade, took a new and aggressive shape in the pages of the Yellow Book' and the Savoy,' Beardsley and a few other young men were found ready to submit their work to the uncertainties and vagaries of the process-printer. To Beardsley the illustration of books was not an incidental by-play, but the one serious purpose of a pathetically short career. His manner of drawing, a convention of pure line contrasted with black or opaque washes, quite flat, without half-tones or gradations, was perhaps an influence of the new mode of printing. In this technique are the distinguishing properties and limitations of the early woodcuts of Italy and Japan ; yet with these primitive materials he re-created a new art, half ornamental, at one time intricate, extravagant and artificial, at another, severely reticent and concentrated, and at its best with a mysterious and impressive power which is unlike all other men's work. Nearly all his drawings were made with a view to reproduction by photography, and as he drew them it not infrequently happens that they have neither the finality of a finished work, made for its own sake, nor have the prints the quality which belongs to an original. Herein lies one of the bapeful evils conspicuous in the work throughout the exhibition at South Kensington, where we see many specimens of an execrable form of draughtsmanship evoked by the exigencies of the process-block.

The chief objection to the new printing is not that it is mechanical, but that its mechanism is unequal to reproduce the refinements of a delicate drawing. An instance of its failure is particularly noticeable in Beardsley's design, ‘Les • Revenants de Musique. A dark-haired youth, with a face of intense gravity, having the inward look of a man who is seeing a vision, sits on a chair so slender that it must be made of bronze or silver. Three ghostly figures rise up before him. One has the beauty of a young girl; another approaches with a mocking gesture and the grimace of evil which lurks in so many of his drawings. Wholly fantastic, decorative and abstract, this design has the rare and deeper sensibility which gives Beardsley a place amongst the few notable draughtsmen of his time. The delicacy and essence of the drawing are utterly lost in the reproduction, but it is creditable to Beardsley that he did not omit with his pen those subtleties which could not be photographed in the print.

It is a relief to turn from the unfruitful processes to a book illustrated with etched plates, and it will be of some interest to contrast the claims of a book of simple structure with the elaborately decorative printing of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses. Mr. Binyon and Mr. Strang have collaborated to produce such a volume. And it convincingly proves the supremacy of the etcher in spite of all that photography and mechanical art can do to cheapen and multiply the means of reproduction. The book is a tall folio by a man of letters and an artist giving their impressions of Western Flanders through the medium of their several arts. Mr. Binyon describes his contribution as a • medley of things seen, considered, and imagined,' and conveys to us in a series of essays a picture of the scenery and landscape of the Netherlands, some historical episodes, picturesque and noteworthy ceremonies and customs of the people, with many reflexions, critical and romantic, sug. gested by the countless beauties and singularities of the country. These essays in prose are the work of a charming poet, and are both attractive and varied in their interest and form ; but it is with the etchings that we are concerned here.

[merged small][ocr errors]

The size of the book has been obviously determined by the extent of the longer plates. The type is of the normal kind characteristic of the nineteenth century, and its form only fails when ornamentation is attempted, as in the initial letters or the arrangement of the title-page. The illustrations are simply interleaved with the letterpress, distinct from it, having a personal identity of their own. Yet, as adornments and comments upon the text, they lose nothing by this decorative isolation, but rather acquire a certain importance, and we are made to value each plate for its intrinsic worth as an individual product. For this reason we also demand more from the artist who offers his work apart from that of the printer or even the author. He claims more, and must expect a keener criticism, as well as a larger appreciation.

In Mr. Strang's etchings we have an art corresponding to the modern spirit of the text, with which its individuality is as closely related as though its form had an outward consonance with the lettered page, and it possesses the masterly quality which justifies its reception on an equality with fine literature. Unlike the woodcuts of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses, Mr. Strang's plates are impressed with the technical methods of mature art. The view of the “Ramparts of

Ypres,' illustrating the site of an imaginary dialogue, admirably fulfils the modern conception of a landscape. It reveals the stillness and self-centred repose of the old town enclosed by its broad walls extending in a long line across the horizon. And the grove of dark trees and the deeply shaded recesses of the walls show a full appreciation of the etcher's use of black. Again, whilst Mr. Binyon was in the Hospital Gallery of Bruges, wondering at the saints enjoying martyrdom in Memling's pictures, Mr. Strang was out of doors etching the Ghent Gate. This is, perhaps, the most robust and impressive of the series. The bridge and the two flanking towers of the gateway rising out of the water, are a fine architectural group, vividly realised in the strong shadowy composition of the plate. Another landbruge depicts a solitary and sandy region bordering op tite se called the Dunes. It does not look like a wholt w el country, but the black valley, with its rugged bank, ing indefinitely out of sight, bas something of the counter aspect which Mr. Binyon describes. Barely as we eck a curiously vivid picture as that of the Lagna Pro • cession of Furnes. Here Mr. Strang's mini wake the opportunity of seizing upon homels tres ne mai vonsh

tehers, 1Gallery Memling's picted This is the bride the water

momentarily moved by, to them, a great occasion. The mixture of profound piety, self-importance, and awkwardness, with which these simple townspeople pass along, is a triumph of characterisation. A grave seriousness is the predominating note, but it is seriousness decorated and dressed in its best, and symbolically tending to gaiety.

Rembrandt has taught as that etching is the most spontaneous of all methods of engraving, and that its resources are inexhaustible. In his prints we see a unique manifestation of skill so daring and brilliant as to be almost incredible. For delicacy and minute finish, for strength and parity of line, for the rich luminous quality of blackness, and for the exquisite gradations of light mingling with the deeply bitten shadows, his work is without a parallel and remains an example of perfection to this day. Etching, therefore, is the one excellent means of reproduction and mast, until a better is discovered, be the most precious form of illustration.

рое. and tu

here.

« PreviousContinue »