The researchers revealing the beauty of Victorian wood engraving

[This story was published on June 1 in the Brighton and Hove Independent. Read the original story at]

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[Image: Bethan Stevens and George Mind. Picture credit: mine]


Two researchers from the University of Sussex have been working to bring the beauty of Victorian illustration to a wider audience.

Brighton and Hove based duo Bethan Stevens and George Mind are the team behind the Dalziel project.

Together, they have been striving to make accessible the work of the Brothers Dalziel, who ran a wood engraving firm during the nineteenth century.

Bethan leads the project and is writing a book on the Dalziel family. Her catalogue of the archive is now viewable online, and she is curating the project’s virtual exhibition and museum display. George is curatorial assistant, web designer, and co-organiser of the workshops and educational events the pair have been hosting.

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[Image: Hatter in Prison. This was the first, rejected version of the illustration known as ‘Living Backwards’ or the ‘Hatter in Prison’. It appears in the album as a flap; if you lift the flap you see the final illustration. Dalziel after John Tenniel, illustration for ‘Wool and Water’, in Lewis Carroll Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (London: Macmillan, 1871). Picture credit: By Permission of the Trustees of The British Museum. All Rights Reserved © Sylph Editions, 2016]

This vast archive consists of 54,000 fine burnished proofs of illustrations, which were drawn onto woodblocks by various designers and then engraved by the Dalziel Brothers firm.

The versatile collection of engraving work includes natural history illustration, adverts for companies such as Cadbury’s, and pictures created for literary works, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s images for the Edward Moxon illustrated edition of Tennyson’s Poems.

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[Image: The tableau vivant: The severed heads are the front view of this tableau vivant. The back view is hidden from the audience. Dalziel, illustration for ‘Blue Beard Tableau’, in Laura Valentine (ed.), Warne’s Home Annual (London: Frederick Warne, 1868). Picture credit: By Permission of the Trustees of The British Museum. All Rights Reserved © Sylph Editions, 2016]

Bethan, whose research expertise includes book illustration and the history of printmaking, said: “Whilst working on the William Blake collection catalogue at the British Museum, Sheila O’Connell, the museum’s curator of British prints, told me about the Dalziel Archive.

“Although Alice in Wonderland scholars were accessing it for the illustrations used in Carroll’s books, the Dalziel Archive was not really being utilised. I thought it would be great to make the archive more accessible, and so I took on the huge task of cataloguing the 49 Dalziel albums!

“The initial plan was to spend about a day and a half on each volume – but sometimes, each book would take closer to four days.

“The outcome is a summary catalogue, highlighting everything that I thought was interesting. One thing that particularly strikes you is the variety – there’s illustrations for work by Trollope and Dickens, and engravings designed by Dalziel for Rossetti’s poetry, but there are also advertisement illustrations for products such as Hudson’s extract of soap.”

In producing the online catalogue of illustrations, the Dalziel project team have made the wood engraving work accessible to the public for the first time.

In addition to this, Bethan and George are expanding their project in order to encourage others to experience the artwork and learn something about the world of Victorian wood engraving.

The project team hosts creative workshops, encouraging the public to interact with the illustrations and the tools used to create them. An upcoming gallery display in the British Museum is also planned, an event which will be open to all.

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[Image: Full album page of scientific diagrams. Dalziel, album page with multiple illustrations for John Henry Pepper, Cyclopaedic Science Simplified (London: Frederick Warne, 1869). Picture credit: By Permission of the Trustees of The British Museum. All Rights Reserved © Sylph Editions, 2016]

The Dalziel project’s outreach work also includes an online exhibition entitled Alice to Alice: Dalziel 1865-1871, which examines key works produced by the brothers Dalziel between the publication of the two Alice in Wonderland books by Lewis Carroll.

Bethan feels that the Dalziel wood engravings can be credited with setting the style for Victorian book illustration.  

‘Not only are these two of the most famous books for which the firm engraved images, but the Alice illustrations also sit among the ranks of the most famous book illustrations of all time,’ she said.

The Dalziel project also has a website, ‘Woodpeckings’, which hosts the online exhibition, as well as showcasing the creative work contributed by those who have attended workshops.

George, who designed and built ‘Woodpeckings’, joined the project in July 2016.

She said: “Initially, I had no idea how to go about creating the website, as I’d never built one from scratch before. However, I starting going to free coding lessons with codebar in Brighton, which is an initiative to help those underrepresented in the technology sphere to learn programming. It’s a really cool, collaborative environment, where everyone is encouraged to keep moving, changing and learning. Bethan and I have been quite ambitious with our website, but we are really proud of our virtual gallery!’

The team behind the Dalziel project hopes to continue to make the catalogue accessible to a wider audience.

Bethan said: “We’re planning to take it out further, hopefully into schools – we’re really keen to work with young people and to make the Dalziel works better known and available for use.”

George added: “It’s not just an academic project – we want people from all walks of life to use the catalogue and enjoy the online exhibition!”

“We have held a creative writing workshop, in which we encouraged participants to generate creative responses to some of the materials held at the British Museum. We had tools and woodblocks out, and the participants responded to the objects. Some of this creative work is now on our website.

“We welcome any further contributions from anyone who would like to share their creative responses.”

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[Image: The repeated bodies. Dalziel after J T Nettleship for Arthur Shaughnessy, Epic of Women (London: John Camden Hotten, 1870). Picture credit: By Permission of the Trustees of The British Museum. All Rights Reserved © Sylph Editions, 2016]

The Dalziel project is set to host a workshop on ‘Victorian Trade Engraving and Contemporary Practice’ at the British Museum on April 8, where a conference is also set to be held on June 16 to 17. Registration for the ‘Woodpeckings: Victorian prints, book illustration and word-image narratives’ conference is now open.

Bethan and George are now collaborating with two colleagues in the University of Sussex School of English, Hannah Field and Lindsay Smith, developing a broader educational project on nineteenth-century illustration. They have plans to run a workshop with students on the ‘Stretch and Challenge’ programme at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in April and a workshop for KS3 teachers at the British Museum in July on how to use nineteenth-century illustration to support the National Curriculum.

The Dalziel project is AHRC funded and works with project partners the British Museum and Sylph Editions.

To see the online exhibition, access the Dalziel catalogue, contribute work and find out more about the project, visit the website at

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