William Blake’s visionary engravings, illustrating his famous works, are renowned, influencing how we imagine canonical poems such as “Tiger Tiger”.
But after Blake came another Victorian engraving firm, whose artistry is far less well-known, but has been just as potent in shaping our cultural imagination.
The Brothers Dalziel (pronounced dal-iel) produced a huge number of wood engravings for a huge variety of purposes – they did the pictures for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books. They also produced the images for Cadbury’s chocolate adverts. They illustrated Edward Lear’s nonsense poems, and their images appeared alongside words by Dickens.
Their images were in high demand. The nineteenth century saw a burgeoning print culture, and magazines and books became accessible at a rate previously unseen by British society. These wood engraved blocks, produced by the Dalziel brothers, were needed for the emerging mass market .Their wood engravings – known in slang as “woodpeckings” were the Victorian equivalent of the digital photograph. Just substantially harder and more time consuming to produce.
George and Edward Dalziel founded their wood engraving firm in 1839, working with many important Victorian artists to produce their illustrations, which were drawn onto woodblocks by designers and then engraved by the Dalziel Brothers firm. Their firm expanded, and their brothers John, Thomas and sister Margaret also joined the business.
Their engravings could be credited with setting the style for Victorian book illustration, according to one researcher, who is making the wood engraving work accessible to the public for the first time.
Brighton and Hove based duo Bethan Stevens and George Mind are the team behind the Dalziel project.
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 they have been hosting.
Bethan, whose research expertise includes book illustration and the history of printmaking, told i: “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.”
This vast archive consists of 54,000 fine burnished proofs of illustrations.
“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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
A conference is set to be held at the British Museum from June 16 to 17.
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.