Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Some Victorian Steel Engraving

Victorian printing technology steadily advanced through the 19th. century towards the ultimate goal of mass production of photographic imagery.  Along the way the process of printing from engraved imagery on steel plates was constantly refined and improved.  Engraving specialists were kept busy by the demands of mass circulation magazines (The Graphic, Illustrated London News, The Sketch, Punch) for new material to entertain the readers. Pictorial representations of current events, portraits of the great and the good, celebrity portraits and cartoons were especially in demand. Another army of engravers were preparing print versions of critically approved paintings  as shown in Royal Academy exhibitions to enable the rising middle classes to display their taste for the visual arts on the walls of their own homes.  Even more were engaged on topographical subjects - scarcely a manor house, ruined abbey or castle, riverbank, forest, lake, moorland or mountain went unrecorded. There was an affordable prospect for every affluent customer.  The finest of these practitioners achieved spectacular effects in terms of describing detail and creating subtle and dramatic tonal effects through the precision of their mark making.  Reproducing engineering drawings was a highly specialist skill requiring perfect clarity of visual description - this is a section of examples taken from the plates of various encyclopaedias.  They offer impressively analytical images of new applications of steam power and increasingly complex machine technology. Starting with the printing industry, the application of steam in shipping and railways, the selection is completed with a variety of mechanical wood saws. Admire the delicate subtleties of tone, the impersonal drawing and the complete absence of visual rhetoric. 


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