COLOR PRINTING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Until the technological revolution in printing of the nineteenth century, color was added to
illustrations by hand. The outline of the design was printed in black using an engraved copper or
other metal plate and watercolor was used to add color. Depending on the skill of the artist, the
result could range from a crude wash of color to a delicately shaded work of art. Hand coloring
was particularly popular for natural history and botanical illustration because the limitless range of
paint colors allowed for the accurate representation of plants and animals. Even after color
printing was technologically feasible, the highest quality books continued to be hand done until
the middle of the nineteenth century. The disadvantages of this system are readily apparent--to
produce high quality illustrations took time and skill. Very few copies of books could be made,
resulting in a very high per book cost and very limited sales. Attempts were made to simplify the
painting process using stencils and cheap labor (primarily women and children), but quality
Copper plate engraving is primarily a linear process, as only the lines which are cut into the metal will hold the ink and be printed. Shading could be added by crosshatching lines of varying width, but the lines remain visible. The aquatint method was an attempt to produce gradations of tone in the printing process. Artists were attempting to imitate the effect of a watercolor was, particularly useful in producing landscapes. Aquatint is produced by dusting the copper plate with a resin and heating the plate. As the grains of resin melt, they produce an irregular pattern of a dark network surrounding small white patches of resin. When acid is applied to the plate, it will etch only the spaces around the resin, resulting in an overall textured pattern. Watercolor was then applied over the printing to achieve the colored image. Aquatint came into use in the mid-eighteenth century and was used extensively from the 1770s until the 1830s. The books most noted for aquatint engraving during the beginning of the nineteenth century were caricature or genre works and books of landscapes.
Several attempts were made to print color directly from copper plates. The most common, called a la poupee, involved applying the colored inks to the plate's surface and working the inks into the appropriate areas of the design with stubs of cotton fabric, called dollies or, in French, poupee. This allowed for color to be printed with a single impression. However, this was extremely time-consuming and required too much skill to be broadly used. Other methods attempted to print color directly by using tint plates, one for each color, which were printed over the outline or key plate. Again these were successful in the hands of a fine craftsman but were too complex to gain general acceptance.
Hand-Colored Copperplate Engraving
Barton, William P. C., 1786-1856.
Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States, or, Medical Botany: Containing a Botanical, General, and Medical History, of Medicinal Plants Indigenous to the United States: Illustrated by Coloured Engravings, Made after Original Drawings from Nature, Done by the Author. Philadelphia: M. Carey, 1817-1818.
A member of a distinguished Philadelphia family, William Barton was a surgeon and professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine for the U.S. Navy. He did the original drawings for this work and his wife colored the plates.
Founded in 1787 by William Curtis and still being published, The Botanical Magazine is the
oldest continuing scientific periodical of its kind. The early volumes contained colored engravings
of ornamental foreign plants grown in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Kew was seen during
the late eighteenth century as the world's storehouse of knowledge about horticulture and continued to be the collecting center for plants and seeds from the far reaches of the British Empire for more than a hundred years.
Catesby, Mark, 1679?-1749.
The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: Containing the Figures of Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Insects, and Plants... London: Printed for the author, 1731-43.
Mark Catesby, an English botanist, visited the southern American colonies and sent back seeds
and plants in addition to his illustrations.
Cruikshank, George, 1792-1878.
The Tailors and Their Cabbage; Being a Particular Account of the Cabbage Extraordinary, Made by Forty-five Tailors, in the Employ of Mr. John Maberley, Contractor for Army Clothing. London: John Fairburn, 1813.
This is a very early work by Cruikshank, done during the period of his first steady employment as an illustrator for magazines. The trial referred to in the pamphlet concerned seven members of the local guild of tailors who were convicted of stealing or "cabbaging."
Curtis, William, 1746-1799.
Flora Londinensis: or Plates and Descriptions of Such Plants as Grow Wild in the Environs of London: with Their Places of Growth, and Times of Flowering; Their Several Names According to Linnaeus and Other Authors... London: Printed for and sold by the author [etc.], 1777-98.
Curtis attempted to include life-sized illustrations all of the flowers growing within ten miles of London. The primary artists for the project were James Sowerby, a pupil of the marine artist Richard Wright, and Sydenham Edwards. The text contains a description of each plant, an account of its habitat, and a list of the localities where Curtis had seen it. The two volumes took ten years to produce, in a first edition of 300. The books were not a commercial success because customers who could afford to buy them were not interested in the common wild flowers featured in the book.
Jubinal, Achille, 1810-1875.
Les anciennes tapisseries histories, ou, Collection des monumens les plus remarquables, de ce genre, qui nous soient restes du moyen-age, a partir du Xie siecle au Xvie inclusivement. Texte par Archille Jubinal ... D'apres les dessins de Victor Sansonetti ... Paris: L'editeur de la Galerie d'armes de Madrid, 1838.
This important work on medieval art reproduces for the first time the Bayeux embroideries and
other famous French tapestries. Of the edition of 333 books, only a very few have all of the plates
colored by hand. By the late 1830s, the great era of hand-colored engravings was past, replaced
by lithographs; but this work remains one of the most beautiful of any era.
Pontey, William, fl. 1780-1831.
The Forest Pruner, Or, Timber Owner's Assistant: Being a Treatise on the Training or Management of British Timber Trees, Including an Explanation of the Causes of Their General Diseases and Defects, with the Means of Prevention, and Remedies... Huddersfield [England]: Printed for the author by T. Smart .
William Pontey, one of a family of Yorkshire nurserymen, worked as head gardener to the Grimston family at Kilnwick, near Beverley, England. Under the auspices of the sixth Duke of Bedford, he worked to encourage the replanting of trees and to improve the management of forests on the English estates. The plates are rather crudely colored by hand in only a few shades.
Shaw, who wrote the text for this twenty-four volume work, was a physician, a founder of the Linnean Society of London and Keeper of the Natural History Section of the British Museum. The artist and publisher was Frederick P. Nodder, a botanical painter and engraver, named "botanic painter to her Majesty." Nodder died around 1800 and the illustrations were continued by his son.
English Botany; or, Coloured Figures of British Plants, with Their Essential Characters, Synonyms, and Places of Growth ... London: Printed by R. Taylor and sold by the Proprietor, J. Sowerby, 1793-1813.
The multi-talented James Sowerby was a scientist, an artist and an engraver. In his early career, he was a portrait painter and teacher whose students included the author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. His drawings appear in the early volumes of The Botanical Magazine and in Flora Londinensis. For English Botany he drew, and probably also engraved, more than 2,500 illlustrations over a twenty-year period.
Hand-colored Aquatint Engraving
This is an imitation of The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson. The comic adventures of an old clergyman and schoolmaster visiting the sights became very popular, leading not only to further books, imitations, and parodies but also to Syntax hats, Syntax wigs, and Syntax coats.
The Art of Drawing Landscapes: Being Plain and Easy Directions for the Acquirement of the Useful and Elegant Accomplishment: Embellished with Ten Engravings in Aquatint by an Amateur. Baltimore: Fielding Lucas, Jr., 1820.
These plates were done by one of the earliest American engravers, John Hill (1770-1850) who came to the United States in 1816, after training in London.
Egan, Pierce, 1772-1849.
Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq, and his Elegant Friend Corinthia Tom... London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1821.
Originally published in twelve monthly parts, with illustrations by the brothers Robert and George Cruikshank, Life in London was an instant success, often pirated and leading to sequels, stage versions, and parodies. The story follows two young men through the taverns, theaters, coffee houses, police courts and cockfights of Regency London. Cruikshank's greatest skill was his ability to individualize each character in his drawing, giving a sense of spontaneity and humor.
Gilpin, William, 1724-1804.
A Practical Illustration of Gilpin's Day: Representing the Various Effects on Landscape Scenery from Morning till Night, in Thirty Designs from Nature; by the Rev. Wm. Gilpin. With Instructions In, and Explanation Of, the Improved Method of Colouring, and Painting in Water Colours; by John Heaviside Clark. London: Priestley and Weale, 1824.
Intended primarily as drawing instruction, the book succeeds brilliantly at approximating water color painting through the aquatint process. It contains thirty hand colored aquatints of landscapes from early dawn through bright sunlight to moonlit night. Various techniques were used by the skillful colorists to merge the colors as in a painting rather than just filling in the outlines of the underlying print.
The Complete Aquatinter: Being the Whole Process of Etching and Engraving in Aquatinta: the Method of Using the Aquafortis, with All the Necessary Tools Grounds, Varnishes, &C. ... London : Printed by J. Barfield for J.H. Green, 1804.
This artist's manual for printing in aquatint contains detailed descriptions of the process and materials. This copy contains extensive annotations on recipes and procedures.
Pyne, W. H., 1769-1843.
A Day's Journal of a Sponge by Peter Pasquin. London: Rowney and Forster, 1824.
Peter Pasquin was the pseudonym for William Henry Pyne, a watercolor painter and illlustrator, best known for paintings of country scenery and residences. This comic work, however, is similar to Cruikshank as it follows the life of a man-about-town, the "sponge" of the title.
Repton, Humphry, 1752-1818.
Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening: Including Some Remarks on Grecian and Gothic Architecture, Collected from Various Manuscripts... London: Printed by T. Bensley & Son, for J. Taylor, 1816.
Britain's most famous landscape gardener, Repton was a key figure in the development of a more natural style of landscaping. The aquatints in the book are based on his drawings of lawns and gardens done for individual landowners. Many of the plates have flaps which, when pulled back, show the proposed alterations to the scene.
Bigelow, Jacob, 1787-1879.
American Medical Botany: Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States: Containing Their Botanical History and Chemical Analysis, and Properties and Uses in Medicine, Diet and the Arts, with Coloured Engravings ... Boston: Hilliard and Metcalf, 1817-1820.
American Medical Botany is considered to be the first American book printed in color. Nearly fifty years after publication, Bigelow in his memoirs, described the process he used to print in color from a copperplate. The plates were engraved in aquatint to which different colors were applied in appropriate areas and then carefully wiped and printed. In this way simple images could be printed directly. Those images requiring small or isolated patches of color would have additional color added by hand. The process may actually have been related to lithography, since current research has shown that Bigelow engraved his images on stone rather than copperplate and wet the stone to repel ink not in the engraved lines, thus increasing the speed of the printing process.
Bulliard, Pierre, 1752-1793.
Herbier de la France, ou, Collection complette des plantes indigenes de ce royaume: Avec leurs details anatomiques, leur proprietes et leurs usages en medecine. Paris: Chez Garnery ..., 1780-1791.
In one of the earliest examples of true color printing, Bulliard drew, engraved, mixed the inks, and color-printed more than 600 plates of flowers and fungi growing in France. Bulliard line-etched the oulines, veins, and linear shading in black for each plate. He then superimposed three tint plates, each engraved with the individual tones necessary to print separately the green, red and yellow of each image. His accuracy in lining up the plates and the delicacy and accuracy of his color printing, make this an outstanding example of eighteenth century botanical illustration.
Chamberlaine, John, 1745-1812.
Portraits of Illustrious Personages of the Court of Henry VIII. Engraved in Imitation of the Original Drawings of Hans Holbein, in the Collection of His Majesty, with Biographical & Historical Memoirs by Edmund Lodge. London: Chamberlaine, 1812.
Attempting to produce illustrations that conform as closely as possible to Holbein's original drawings, Chamberlaine used a variety of techniques. The plates were both etched and engraved, using grey or sepia ink. Additional colored inks, in very pale tints, were applied to the plate's surface using the a la poupee technique. Pink, buff, or greyish paper was used, reflecting the original choices.
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Last modified: 12/21/10