The Art of Illustration in 19th Century England

As Johanna Drucker discusses in Chapter 9 of the coursebook to this site, the nineteenth century was a period of numerous innovations in printing technologies, spawning an expansive set of techniques for the production of images in particular. The traditional forms of woodblock printing, intaglio engraving, and hand-coloring were all in their way emboldened by the industrial revolution and its effects on things like the mechanization of presses and photosensitive chemical processes.

This resource list concerns the techniques used in England in the nineteenth century for the production of images in books. In many ways, these image-making technologies and the artistic styles of their users were international in scope. However, the period was more bound to geography than we might be today, and artists, styles, and works are usually categorized by nationality. There were also innovations in the art of the book that were consciously happening in England, due to commercial enterprises and due to literary innovations, such as the Romantic movement and the proliferation of the novel.

This resource list is separated into two sections: 1. Historical and academic works that act as an overview of the topic of the 19th Century Printed Image in England, to aid in your research; 2. A list of links to resources about prominent book illustrators.

Note that the resources here reflect historical biases related to the people who are remembered versus those who are forgotten. The lack of diverse representation should not imply that there were not a diverse array of artisans involved in image-production. The contribution of women in this field continue to be under-recognized. This resource is only a starting point.

Resources for Research: British 19th Century Book Illustration

1. White, Gleeson. English Illustration, ‘The Sixties’: 1855-70. Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co., 1897.
Online copy:

White makes the point that the fifteen-year period in the title was the golden age of Victorian illustration, partly because so many well-respected and highly-trained artists were contributing illustrations to periodicals and decorated books. It also details prominent periodicals and weekly papers, and discusses periodical illustrations separately from illustrated books. It has numerous images, making it a useful sourcebook from the period.

2. Sketchley, R[ose] E[sther] D[orothea], English Book-Illustration of To-day: Appreciations of the Work of Living English Illustrators with Lists of their Books. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner and Col., Ltd., 1903.
Online copy:

Sketchley’s book is a fantastic overview of the subject, and despite the seeming focus on the present implied by “of To-day,” this book functions as a solid overview of the English nineteenth century book illustration during its heyday, from about the 1850s to the 1890s. Her distinction between three categories of illustrators is not the most common way of categorizing subjects and styles, but is informative in itself: she divides the work into four essays discussing, respectively: Decorative Illustrators, Open-Air Illustrators, Character Illustrators, and Children’s Books Illustrators.

3. Wakeman, Geoffrey. Victorian Book Illustration: The Technical Revolution. Exeter: David and Charles, 1973.
About: Google Books

This important work by one of the preeminent scholars of the topic of Victorian book illustration is especially useful for its focus on the technological developments that impacted the illustration arts. Wakemen places book illustration into the context of the new methods that these technological changes allowed. He discusses the general forms of printmaking such as intaglio etching, lithography, chromolithography, and wood engravings, and also discusses the impact of photographic methods, such as photogravure, photozincography, and electrotype.

4. Maxwell, Richard (editor). The Victorian Illustrated Book. Richmond: University of Virginia Press, 2002.
About: Google Books

This volume of essays shows the influence of various methods of theoretical interpretation applied to the illustrated book of nineteenth-century England. Essays track several prominent visual themes, such as maps and topographical representations, city scenes and commerce, and watches, dials and clocks. It also focuses on famous works that are known for their illustrations, such as those of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott. And it focuses especially on the illustrations produced by William Morris, Aubrey Beardsley, and Alvin Langdon Coburns.

5. Ives, Colta. “The Print in the Nineteenth Century.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004.
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Colta’s essay is not strictly about illustrators of England, but helpfully and succinctly traces the development of printing techniques alongside influential artists in Europe and America. The other of this page's Primary and Secondary essays, linked in the sidebar, provide extensive and relevant context that relates to nineteenth century illustration.

6. "Victorian Illustrators from Sketch to Print." L. Tom Perry Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Online exhibit:

This beautiful online exhibit is based on a physical exhibit that ran from 2013-2014, and has five “chapters” that track the topic chronologically. It gives a useful description of methods and technologies and discusses works of the popular press, and the rise of children’s books and the rise of aesthetic books later in the period. Each section features “authors and artifacts,” including images and descriptions of famous illustrators and famous works.

7. “Victorian Children’s Illustrators.” Special Collections & Archive Blog, Queen's University Belfast Blogs, April 12, 2017.
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This blog post of the Special Collections of Queen’s University Belfast is an online version of a display from 2017 concerning five illustrators of Victorian children’s books. It includes a biography of the illustrators with numerous images, as well as a bibliography of books displayed.

8. “Titles of Victorian Illustrated Books in the Victorian Web.” The Victorian Web. Providence: Brown University.
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This list of illustrated books focuses on those of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, but includes many of the most influential works of illustrated aesthetic books. This resource foregrounds literary works rather than commercial or children’s literature.

19th Century British Book Artists & Works Online

William Blake (1757–1827), engraver, artist, and poet.

“Illuminated Books: Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Composed 1789, 194).” The William Blake Archive. Morris Eaves, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors.
Online Article and Gallery:

This article includes images of a complete copy of Blake’s famous illuminated book, consisting of 54 prints. Blake’s influence on the nineteenth century was significant both in literature and in art. His conception of the total work of art, in which poetry was written inside of the image, was a point of reference for aesthetic illuminated books thereafter. This online archive was one of the first of its kind, and every part of the site is worth exploration.

George Cruikshank (1792–1878), graphic artist.

“Satire and Social Commentary: The Life of George Cruikshank.” The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Online Exhibit:

This online exhibit gives an extensive background on one of Victorian England’s most celebrated newspaper illustrators. Cruikshank is best known for infusing political satire into the pages of the popular press using the medium of the panel comic, a single frame that usually included caricatures of politicians or social types.

John Tenniel (1820–1914), artist and cartoonist.

De Rooy, Lenny. “About John Tenniel and the Illustrations.”
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This site concerns one of the most influential works of children’s literature, Alice in Wonderland. This article focuses on the illustrator John Tenniel and some of the decisions he made for the Alice series. It includes a useful timeline of his creative involvement with Lewis Carroll.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), painter and poet.

McGann, Jerome J., editor. “Material Design.” The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Online Article and Archive:

Although primarily a painter, Rossetti and fellow members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that he helped found were massively influential to English Victorian illustration. McGann’s incredible online archive includes this introductory article that gives some context to Rossetti’s forays into the decorative arts, with a focus on his book arts. Numerous scans of his book illustrations and binding designs are useful for further research.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), painter.

Cooke, Simon. “Edward Burne-Jones as an Illustrator in the 1860s.” The Victorian Web. Providence: Brown University.
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This article discusses the Victorian painter Burne-Jones’s emergence into book illustration, which would later solidify his influence through his work with William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

William Morris (1834–1896), designer, author, and socialist activist.

“Introducing William Morris.” Victoria and Albert Museum.
Online Article:

This article provides an overview of Morris’s life and work, along with links for further reading. Morris’s Kelmscott Press is exemplary of the interest in Victorian book arts, and the books of the Kelmscott represent innovations in illustration, typography, and page design. The Victoria and Albert Museum has an extensive collection of Morris’s works.

Simeon Solomon (1840–1905), painter and draughtsman.

Conroy, Carolyn. “Dalziels Bible Gallery 1881.” Simeon Solomon Research Archive. Carolyn Conroy and Roberto C. Ferrari, editors.
Online Article:

Solomon was one of the second-generation painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood school, and midway in his career he did a number of finely-wrought illustrations for the famous Dalziels Bible Gallery of 1881, which is the subject of this site. The Dalziels were expert engravers, and the final illustrations were the result of the Dalziels translating each artist’s contribution into an engraving.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), illustrator, designer, and painter.

“Walter Crane's Children's Illustrations for the Cause.” The Illustrated Word at the Fin-de-Siecle. Tanya Agathocleous Beinecke Library, Yale University, 2006.
Online Exhibit:

Walter Crane is a beloved illustrator of the Arts and Crafts movement of late-Victorian England, due especially to his children’s books. This student-curated exhibit contextualizes his fairy-tale illustrations in light of his socialist politics, and includes numerous spotlights on works by Crane.

Kate [Catharine] Greenaway, (1846–1901), illustrator.

Zoschak, Vic. “Kate Greenaway: Legendary Illustrator of Children’s Books.” International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, May 9, 2013.
Online Article:

This succinct article details some of the background and influences on the work of one of Victorian England's most famous children's book illustrators. That Greenaway is the only woman on this list is a testament to her ability to establish herself as an innovative artist and designer in an age when women's contributions were too often overlooked.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898), illustrator.

“Aubrey Beardsley illustrations for Salomé by Oscar Wilde.” British Library.
Online Exhibit:

Beardsley’s illustrations demonstrate late-Victorian decadent motifs and show the influence of French and Japanese printmaking. This online exhibit of the British Library displays the 16 illustrations used in the 1907 edition of Wilde’s infamous play. This exhibit also includes a description of the background of the text and the collaboration, as well as some biographical details about Beardsley.

Laurence Housman (1865–1959), writer and artist.

“Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti; Illustrated by Laurence Housman.” Armstrong Browning Library: 19th Century Women Poets Collection, Baylor University Libraries.
Digitized Original:

This digitized 1893 edition of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market is an exemplary work showcasing the style and influence of Housman’s aesthetic book illustrations. It was the first of Housman’s works in book illustration and is considered his masterpiece. Housman was already established as a writer and promoter of the women’s suffrage movement by the time he turned to illustration.