Monday, December 31, 2012

Roughly, eye shock 1800

[a] Victorian wood engravers at work.

Yesterday’s Papers. Today’s Views.
by Huib van Opstal

[1] strip search
We begin. In the semi-darkness of a small theatre a wall projection starts for a small international group of participants. There will be a show today of English strips of the 1800s. A forgotten type of strip on tabloid-sized pages, some already in colour, from London papers such as The Graphic, The Illustrated London News, The Illustrated Times, and more.

It’s January 2012. We’re in the Platinum matinée at the annual Angoulême Festival international de la bande dessinée, edition 39, near Bordeaux in France, with three presentations by Thierry Smolderen, Paul Karasik and Pete Maresca. Present also is Robert Beerbohm of the Platinum e-group (he’s its moderator, with Leonardo De Sá) — a group ‘discussing the earliest international origins of comic books and strips.’ The only reason our member Art Spiegelman isn’t present, is that he’s president of this year’s festival and needed elsewhere.

[b] The connecting bridge in la cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image, Angoulême 39, January 27, 2012.
Non-stop rapping in French and English with infectious enthusiasm, our host Thierry Smolderen presents page after page of these rare strips. Most from the ‘Victorian Age’ (as Great Britain named it after the long reign, 1837-1901, of its queen), an age the Platinum group has been studying since 1999. And now, this sudden watershed, this prime material. Strips from rarely mentioned pioneering papers, artists and engravers, many done via wood repro.

[c] Thierry Smolderen’s wondrous watershed, at the Angoulême 39 festival, January 28, 2012.
The excitement builds, viewers speak out loud. This is fun, drama, documentary — a tick — a tick — a tick by Smolderen’s hand — and impressive strips full of ideas and experiments roll by, and good eye shocks too. Blank pages of history never looked better.

In a flash it triggered a row of falling dominoes in my mind.

[2] restriction, revolution
Picture barrier — artist and patron — style dictates — labeling — drawn or painted — realist or humorous — print 1400-1900 — high-art low-art — artist and engraver — woodcut revival in the 1800s — technical revolutions — experiments in novel styles — picture rhyme — picturejournalism — photomechanics revolution.

The mixed blessings of the woodcut revival in the 1800s were well-known in Victorian times. An artist might draw his original art on paper, a repro man copied it onto woodblocks via tracing paper. Then other men did the actual cutting, engraving, proofing and printing.

[d] John Tenniel’s Alice illustration, 1865.
The luxuriously named ‘wood engraving’ was deemed to be in a different class than the ‘cheap cut’ in wood, but both could turn out simply brilliant or simply a dud; because both were all-dependent on manual skills. Especially towards the 1890s — on the eve of their craft’s demise — hand engravers proved they could reproduce anything in any style, via wood. 

Woodcutting or engraving could be done nigh invisibly (like most illustrations of John Tenniel for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, cut in 1865, his hand drawn lines and use of white space set the tone), or it could be done in the loudest engraved patterns (like the full-page illustrations of Gustave Doré for Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantès, cut in 1863, the halftone look of his engravers dominated). The art of Tenniel and Doré became famous via the works they illustrated. Both wanted to be painters first — but stayed illustrators for life, willy-nilly working together with their wood engravers.

[e] Gustave Doré’s Don Quichotte de la Manche illustration, 1863 (detail).
All changed and ended abruptly with the victory of the photomechanics revolution in the 1890s. The decisive decade, when wood repro methods and hand skills were finally superseded by a new photography-based, total printing process. Generally labelled ‘process printing’ or just ‘Process’ it was first used for line art as early as the 1880s and a little later for halftone art, in full-colour also.

The first skilled artists to taste the full freedom of working with photomechanics had a flying start in the 1890s. In England, illustrator Phil May (1864-1903) showed how lively and fresh a more simplified version of hatched pen-and-ink drawings could look in print.

In the US, photomechanics revitalized designers, illustrators, photographers and stripmakers, especially those working for newspapers that featured large colour pages since 1892. Finally their art could appear in print unchanged and within days — in a modern mass medium, in colour and poster-size too — with a direct control few visual creators had ever experienced before. A novel high; notably stimulating the stripmakers we discussed in the Platinum group.

[f] 2012 festival logo by Lewis Trondheim.
[3] a sense of wonder
So, back to our Saturday afternoon of 28 January 2012, at Angoulême 39. Today’s overall sensation is that Smolderen’s Victorian strip search catapults all this long lost proof back on radar again. Earlier glimpses I had were not so convincing. Today’s sense of wonder is: how could such joyful, skillful strips escape attention for so long? Why weren’t they noted in earlier histories?

Thierry Smolderen — ‘I scarcely believed my eyes when this material came to light’ — is a longtime strip historian from Belgium, who lives and teaches in the town of Angoulême in France, Europe’s center of strip and digital imagery study. He gathered a wide range of these strips after being tipped last year by an antiquarian in Hay-on-Wye in Wales — ‘world renowned for books and bookshops.’ His findings are inspirational and may help erase some bogus origin myths and smokescreens of earlier historians.

[4] wood repro trail
Doing research in printing history, only weeks after my stay in France, I compared the work of two British artist-writers, George du Maurier and his colleague Randolph Caldecott. It set me off on the wood repro trail. Both artists were lifelong captives of reproductional wood engraving. It made me find the original art for a Tom Noddy dream strip in Punch’s Almanack; a strip drawn in late 1891 by staff artist George du Maurier and reproduced via wood. And it made me republish the entire 4-page strip — titled Tom Noddy’s Christmas Nightmare, After Cold Mince-Pies for Supper.HERE.

On wood, photographically transferred artwork (a photo print of the art on the block) was available since the mid-1860s, lifting the 1/1 scale barrier. From then on original artwork on paper could be done in any size. Not that everybody started doing it right away; in isolated cases drawing directly on wood even continued till after the year 1900.

[g] Cuthbert Bede, B.A.’s The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman strip, 1851-52 (detail).
A masterclass in print comparison was given in America in 1943 in the largely visual How Prints Look by William M. Ivins, Jr. (1881-1961). See the book he built from 120 blown-up details of selected prints done via wood, metal and stone. In short texts, mostly captions, he pointed out ‘the basic simplicity of those processes.’ Ivins was the curator of prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and some of the blow-ups in his book looked like vintage Pop Art, long before it was labelled as such. The Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97) generation of artists might have used it as a manual, so close do many of Ivins Jr.’s blow-ups resemble later modern art.

Until the 1870s, making a block, plate or slab for printing, entailed that your art first had to be drawn onto a block of wood or a slab of stone, or engraved with sharp tools in a plate of copper or other metal. Metal engraving was the hardest to do, and the most expensive.

Woodcut or wood engraving remained the cheapest. It was a low-cost technique for use in large press runs; stigmatised because of its cheapish roots. Done by the right engravers and printers it could produce great results, although the artists themselves had mixed feelings about it. All original art drawn directly on wood was destroyed in the process, for instance, and the end results too often showed changed or damaged art. 

[h] Watts Phillips’ Plum-Pudding; A Dream of Christmas strip, 1852 (detail).
[5] line or halftone look
In the 1800s any style of drawing or painting could be reproduced via wood, in ‘line facsimile’ or in ‘tint’ manner, in line look or in halftone look.

When you wanted halftones in your drawing, you indicated the tone values, with a wash for instance. Your block-cutter then chose textures for them and engraved these in wood, in lines, fields, dots, stipples or scratches. Patterns of parallel hairlines were often used to suggest grey tones; when done with a ruling machine this resulted in a more mechanical look (a standard in scientific works and mail-order catalogues). While most lines of your original art were reproduced as exact as possible, new style elements might be added — any trick could be used. How the final product would look in print depended on the manner of production.

And that’s where the catch was: you had to find the right engravers.

You may compare it with finding the right inker for your pencilled originals, the right embellisher. But hand-engraving a pencilled or penned original on a woodblock was even more complicated than inking a pencilled original on drawing paper. To begin with, the complete cut had to be done in negative, in minute detail, in an even depth of line. For hatched or crosshatched original drawings, every tiny blank spot in between the many lines had to be chiseled away in exactly the right size, shape and direction. On a block so hard, you had to master special hand movements to push your tool. And in wood engraving any line was an avoided line, an uncut line. Your most perfect line was the never touched line.

[i] Charles H. Bennett’s Hob and Nobb strip, 1856 (detail).
The highly successful illustrations of French artist Gustave Doré (1832-83) were rendered by the best wood engravers, most often in halftone look. Doré produced caricature as well as realist work. Halftones and light-dark effects made much of his printed work resemble black-and-white photos. Especially when he did a full-page drawing, every corner of it was filled with tone. Like most of his 181 illustrations for London; a Pilgrimage, a long project of picturejournalism with London journalist Blanchard Jerrold, published as a monthly series in 1872, and then in book volume. Also doing strips, Doré became very popular in London, and worked there too. He died relatively early, at fifty-one, having been an illustrator for forty years; trained since he was eleven, he saw his first work published at the age of fifteen. Later, his printed work was widely sold by syndication and became synonymous with 1800s wood engraving.

However, engraving in halftone look is only half the story. ‘Line art’ artwork was done to perfection via wood repro too in the 1800s. Artwork in ‘line look’ was labelled ‘black line method’ by wood engravers, who sometimes mastered it to perfection. After 1890 the photomechanics revolution made line art the simplest repro method.

Trying to establish where ‘line’ becomes ‘halftone’ will land you in a twilight zone of substyles and sublabels. Hand drawn lines rarely have uniform thickness and are rarely straight. They show hand movements, and bend, curve, cross, swell, shrink or quiver.

In retrospect, the 1800s revival of the woodcut was still based on a medieval technique, and this showed. In 1800s wood engraving line art did not always result in exact copies of the originals. Beautiful or intoxicating as some of it was, a mass of Victorian line art looked like cut-up linework. Art in wrinkles, created by graving out the wood around it.

[6] eye shocks, phantom lines
Pull your head back, skip any microinspection, try looking at it as charmingly rough or crisp lines, and marvel at how good the printed artwork, in the pre-1900 Punch for instance, could be. Witness the guts and stamina of the illustrated press artists and their teams of wood repro men specialized in reproducing their art.

[j] London woodblock manufacturer Ed. Badoureau, self-promotion, 1886 (detail).
Sniffing the fragrance of boxwood, six days a week, and ever ready to do overtime, wood engravers in commercial workshops operated in utmost concentration in a virtual looking-glass world, because all their cuts would be printed mirrored. In endless repetition they were carving out minute details, their noses against the blocks, twisting and turning their blocks on leather sandbags, using shades, and magnifying glasses, card tricks and crystal balls that radiated light.

The crystal balls they used, were actually large water-filled flasks, placed in front of the engravers to magnify lamplight; there is one pictured in illustration [j].

Punch is the perfect example of what I label  ‘eye shock 1800.’ In early Punch pictures lines can be bluntly cut off or otherwise damaged. Distracting thin white grid lines of tiled woodblocks (first glued, later bolted) show through the drawings. Printing paper is near transparant. Black is wavery, and the paper’s text has been poorly typeset as well. Printwise the Victorian Punch was of bad quality, with ups and downs, depending on the year you look at.

For various reasons illustrator-writer George du Maurier was trapped in Punch and its Victorian wood repro restrictions for the length of his career. Whenever this one-eyed hypochondriac checked his latest Punch pages it could mean horror and delight in one. Delight that his drawing was cut and printed in such a short time span, looked so damned well and pleased almost everybody. Horror that his linework and hatchings — in pencil as well as in pen and ink — came back as a raw echo of the original, all because his lines had to be transformed into wooden ridges on the block, changing them into phantom lines. The cuts published as the official versions of his work would delight and haunt him at the same time.

While du Maurier’s work as artist-writer has been praised and politely criticized, his strips never received much attention, never made it into any ‘definitive history.’ Probably because he worked in several styles, and his Victorian type of strip did not sufficiently resemble later strip styles and never carried any ‘strip’ or other popular label.

[k] Charles Keene’s Private Gawky strip, 1863 (detail).
Fortunately, we have Leonee Ormond’s essential biography, titled George Du Maurier (1969, 547 pp.), but her book does not contain any mention of a du Maurier strip. It was only in 1990 that American strip historian David Kunzle drew attention to du Maurier’s Tom Tit family strip from 1866 and two later strips from 1869 — The Philosopher’s Revenge, about noisy neighbours (mostly done in split-screen images), and a weird animal tale, The Egg-Poacher. And there it stopped. Kunzle stated he had begun ‘to hate the 1880s and the ’90s’ and followed other preferences.

While cleverly marketed, the weekly paper Punch, and most of what’s in it, is more name-dropped than read. A mass of remarkable pictures and texts is now hidden in a mountain of bound volumes dating from 1841 to 2002, rarely leafed through or studied, rarely captioned with an author’s full name, and rarely shown. Reprinted Punch cartoons are always cut from their original page lay-outs, and nearly always in need of footnotes.

[7] strip format
The strip format was often disdained, not noticed as literature, not even filed or cared for. A two-headed freak of form and content that was mostly laughed at. For centuries it remained a stigmatized storytelling technique in search of a proper name. In the words of an English reviewer not identified by name in The Times Literary Supplement in 1953, American comic strips were labeled ‘A kind of literature to end literature … a kind of literature not to be read, only looked at.’ (The Times’ payment ledgers do identify the reviewer as George Mikes, b.1912, Hungarian-British journalist and humorous writer.)  

[l] Harry Furniss’ Old Evergreen and the Yule Log strip, 1877 (detail).
The rich history of the pre-1900 strip remains largely unmined for at least two reasons. First of all because of the rot caused by absurd restrictions set to its format — by historians and critics alike — and by labels like ‘funnies’ or ‘comic strip.’ Then also wood engraving details and large size strips aren’t easily reprinted either. The earlier pre-1900 strips, occasionally printed in extra-large or poster size, on weak paper, are now among the rarest collectible prints, as so many of them were thrashed after reading.

When I look at what has survived, I see great art, in realistic as well as humorous styles, no less in stature than other media in print. Unfortunately, art history is cut up into systems and segments, and likes or dislikes for the strip format cloud the issue.

Similarly as sensation fiction had been vilified before in the 1860s in the UK, and ‘dime novels’ in the 1880s in the US, a lot of flak was directed at the so-called ‘comics’ and ‘comic books’ of the twentieth century. American instances of this are a 1908 attack in the 4-page article Sounding the Doom of the “Comics” — read it HERE — and Fredric Wertham’s offensive in the 1940s and 50s.

In 1954, German-American psychiatrist Dr Wertham published a 13-page article under the title The curse of comic books, followed by a 424-page book titled Seduction of the Innocent; the influence of comic books on today’s youth. The subtitle for the 1955 British edition became ‘the influence of horror comics on today’s youth.’ What the Americans called ‘comic books’ the British labelled ‘horror comics.’ The US comic book format was not published as such in England, and the publishing of stories in strip format in the US and the UK had indeed taken different directions.

[m] George du Maurier’s The “Édition de Luxe” strip, 1882 (detail).
The labels for strip, and the building blocks of strip, still widely varied from country to country. As a native speaker of Dutch I was accustomed to plain labels like ‘stripverhaal’ or ‘beeldverhaal,’ similar to the German ‘Bildergeschichte’ (picture story) and ‘Bilderstreife’ (picture strip), our name for picture stories in the form of drawings in rows of strips. The French and Portuguese labels ‘bandes dessinées’ and ‘bandas desenhadas’ (drawn bands, drawn strips, also simply ‘BD’) did come close, but indicated drawings only. Other labels were ‘histórias aos uadradinhos’ in Portugal and ‘histórias em quadrinhos’ in Brazil (i.e. tales in little frames). In English, strip had the bad luck of being combined with the word comic into the dire ‘comic strip,’ shortened in its turn to ‘comics’ — a most confusing label.

Around the year 1900 the word ‘comic’ became used for any kind of strip. Other labels were ‘serials,’ ‘serial cartoons,’ ‘strip cartoons’ and ‘funnies.’ ‘Strip books,’ ’funny books’ or ‘comic books’ were magazines rather than books. Also found much later were wordplays like ‘illustories,’ ‘tragix,’ and ‘comix’ or ‘commix.’

It was different in the field of books for the children’s and young adults’ market. These books became better produced in the late 1800s, were printed on decent paper, bound in stiff covers, and simply labeled ‘picture book’ or ‘children’s book.’ These were proper books, quite unlike the so-called ‘strip book’ or ‘comic book,’ indicating a product printed on newspaper stock, not even bound but just cheaply stapled, and not a proper book by far.

Where strips were concerned, better paper and better binding began to be applied around 1900. This happened for instance from 1905 on in France with the Bécassine picture stories for children, by J.P. Pinchon and Caumery, a series of full-colour hardback books with its page layouts in strip design. The French simply called them albums. It set the later standard for French books with strips, called ‘albums de BD.’ 

Picture books for children are another story.

[n] A.C. Corbould’s A Midnigth Trip to Brighton strip, 1887 (detail).

[8] Caldecott magic
A famous Victorian strip is A Lovers’ Quarrel by Randolph Caldecott, a story that ran over four full-colour pages in the 1884 ‘Summer Number’ of The Graphic. Long ago I saw one page of it, reproduced not too well in the 1980 Penrose Annual, a showcase for the British printing industry, with no strip aspect mentioned whatsoever. This story by Randolph Caldecott (1846-86) was merely labeled a ‘series of colour plates.’ As far as I know, strip scholars ignored it. Thanks to historian Thierry Smolderen, in 2012 the complete A Lovers’ Quarrel was republished online HERE. In the years 1878 to 1885 Caldecott drew strips in stories of one, two or four pages for The Graphic’s Summer and Christmas specials. The fattest bestselling holiday numbers he was represented in were those of December 1881 and 1882, with press runs of more than 500,000 copies each.

For this type of coloured strip, in such high numbers, he had to send his artwork to the engravers of The Graphic six months in advance. Who printed them is unknown; the printing could have been done in Germany. Without having had the original printed issues in my hands I cannot say if they were printed in more than four colours, but Caldecott picture books were often done in much more than four colours or press runs, and all via wood.

[o] Randolph Caldecott’s A Lovers’ Quarrel strip, 1884. Reproduced via wood engraving and printed in multiple colours (detail).
Caldecott was good at drawing lively people and animals in motion, and seemed to publish anything he doodled and freely sketched, in loose seemingly carefree lines. He did a few cuts for Punch as well. In his self-written illustrated picture books for children — in colour, inspired by prints from Japan — he made great use of early full-colour possibilities via woodprint, on which his fame now largely rests. He traveled widely, and in a more realistic style excelled in picturejournalism, doing special reports for London periodicals. 

The older, less adventurous George du Maurier (1834-96), a Punch master of elegance in black-and-white art, praised Caldecott’s work; with his unfailing eye he correctly saw the more lively art of his twelve years younger colleague as ‘magic.’ Both men were fine draughtsmen who could do funny, as well as realistic art, and both pictured social and satirical aspects. Du Maurier’s most solid style harked back to the sturdy lines and full fields of cross-hatchings seen in late-medieval woodprints. A style he used to perfection to parody the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Caldecott’s style was more a quest for liveliness and a clean line, goals he often achieved. And he had no inhibitions whatsoever to publish his sketches done in pen and ink — ‘the fewer the lines, the less error committed.’ His varied artwork — largely done for weekly papers with an adult male and female audience — was reprinted in an extensive 1888 book set, but has rarely been seen since.

The marketing of his books — as ‘gift books’ and ‘picture books’ — produced steady sellers in a standardized format that earned him a good living. Coming from the banking business, Caldecott chose payment in royalties, with mixed feelings in the end. ‘I get a small royalty – a small, small royalty.’

[p] Reginald Cleaver’s An Unfortunate Huntress strip, 1899. Reproduced via photomechanics and printed in full-colour (detail).
Most of his books-with-pictures were tagged ‘picture book,’ a term mainly associated with children’s books, books that were a world apart from the cheap cuts in popular papers of the period. But whoever may have looked down upon such papers, not Caldecott himself. He loved them as much as he loved the high production values of The Graphic. Tragically, lifelong health problems limited his art career to a mere fourteen years. He had a wife, no children, and died young while staying in Florida, still only 39. His last drawings were made in 1886 — ‘Art is long: life isn’t.’

Although Randolph Caldecott was multi-talented, his work has long been exclusively claimed by ‘Children’s Literature’ campaigners who were not in the habit of using labels like ‘strip,’ ‘comic book’ or ‘journalism’. Read the still narrow criteria of the Caldecott Medal, since 1937-38 an award for American children’s book illustration, HERE.

Huib van Opstal

[ to be continued ]

Click up next paragraphs here:

[1-8] Roughly, eye shock 1800 

 [9] The text, the type, the visual

 [10] Cutting labels

[11] The Hogarth-Doyle Punch foundation

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Serendipitous Bookmarks — forgotten between the pages


[1a] An 1860 Southern Democratic electoral ballot.
by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra
During my many years of obsessively handling and collecting printed items from humanity’s chequered past, occasionally a little “extra” prize has turned up. People use the most amazing items as bookmarks, often cramming between the pages the first thing that comes to hand when the phone or doorbell rings. Librarians report finding paper money, condoms, tampons, candy bars and a wide range of other bizarre stuff inside returned volumes. The Victorian mania for pressing flowers and “skeletonized” leaves inside heavy books, particularly bound volumes of the Illustrated London News and other periodicals, is evident as well.

In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the twisted, Nazi-collaborating archeologist Bellocq dangles a cheap bazaar pocket watch before Indiana Jones and points out that the worthless timepiece merely needs to be buried for three thousand years and it becomes priceless! Thanks to today’s burgeoning “collectibles” market, three millennia are no longer required – a few decades will suffice.

Here, “submitted for your inspection” (as dear old Rod Serling used to say) are four specimens that survived over a century forgotten between the pages:

[1b] Code of Virginia.
This relic of the crucial four-way presidential race pitting Republican Abraham Lincoln against Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and Constitutional Union/Whig candidate John Bell, resided for over a century inside a copy of the 1860 Code of Virginia. 

The 1860 Code was the last antebellum edition of the state’s laws as codified in 1849, and the one in effect during the Civil War, when Virginia seceded from the Union and became part of the Confederate States of America. It includes a number of statutes pertaining to slavery: “General provisions as to slaves,” “Of dealing with slaves, and suffering them to go at large,” “Of runaway slaves,” “Of suits for freedom” and “Of free negroes.” (The next revision in 1873 would reflect the abolition of slavery.)

[2a] A group photo of the Seven Singing Sutherland Sisters and their amazing hair.
[2b] “Hair 7 Feet Long and 4 Inches Thick.”
This 1885 cabinet photo by Charles Eisenmann (1855-1927) of 229 Bowery, New York City, of Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora and Mary Sutherland and their father, Fletcher, with advertisements and testimonials for their hair care products, was used as a bookmark in a copy of Phineas Taylor Barnum’s Struggles and Triumphs; or, Fifty Years’ Recollections, published by the Courier Company in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1884. The sisters, two of whom were adopted, were a popular singing act with the Barnum and Bailey circus. Barnum’s autobiography was sold at performances, and it is likely that this volume and the photo were obtained together. Photographer Eisenmann specialized in cabinet images of circus performers and sideshow “freaks.” His work was showcased in Michael Mitchell’s Monsters of the Gilded Age; The Photographs of Charles Eisenmann (Toronto: Gage Pub., 1979).

[2c] P.T. Barnum’s recollections.
For a brief article on the sisters and their tragic careers see HERE.

For information on Charles Eisenmann’s Monsters of the Gilded Age, see HERE.

[3a] A measuring guide for men’s suits from the John Wanamaker Company, 1877.
This flyer from the new John C. Wanamaker Company (1876-1995) of Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, provides simple instructions about “How To Measure Any One.” A penciled notation dates it to January 13, 1877, less than a year after Wanamaker converted the old Pennsylvania Railroad terminal into a showpiece department store. It was found inside a copy of the February 10, 1877 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

[3b] Harper’s Weekly, February 10, 1877.
The final item was not preserved in a book or magazine, but instead served as wadding inside a book-like daguerreotype case.

[4a] Handbill advertising a ready-made clothing house in Newburyport, MA, 1847.
This unidentified quarter-plate daguerreotype of a lady attired in a black silk dress, lace collar and frilly cap with a bow at her throat came in an unusual homemade case, stuffed with padded patterned silk over the image. The case is constructed of pasteboard, meticulously covered in black velvet and hand stitched. Beneath the silvered plate, mat and glass a folded paper was used to cushion the image. This paper turned out to be a tattered advertisement for James F. Stuart’s merchant tailoring store on Market Square, Newburyport, Massachusetts. Besides ready-made coats, trousers and vests, Mr. Stuart also dealt in custom-made clothing, haberdashery and toilet articles.

[4b] Daguerreotype, Newburyport 1847.
Because even ready-made clothing was still handcrafted in the mid-nineteenth century, and everyone had to wear clothing, people of all classes knew much more about varieties of cloth than modern purchasers. Tailors and seamstresses were wretchedly ill-paid, so the bulk of a garment’s cost came from the materials used. There were no synthetics. A majority of households made at least some clothing at home, either from homespun or “store-bought” cloth. If one could not afford a tissue-paper pattern, an old suit or dress could be deconstructed and used as a guide. (“Sponging” in the ad referred to dampening woolens and worsteds, before cutting to measure, to prevent shrinkage. Fashions in 1847 were tight and form-fitting, so even moderate shrinkage rendered a coat or dress unwearable.) With the proliferation of various steam-powered looms and human-powered sewing machines, clothing prices fell during the 1840s and the ready-made garment industry took off. The Wanamaker measuring guide (#3 above) reflects the trade thirty years later, when department stores began to replace neighborhood tailor shops.

Besides being an interesting item in its own right, this ephemeral handbill serves to date and place the lady’s image. It is a pity that no one thought to pencil her name on the handbill. All we can say is that she had a pleasant, grandmotherly face, was well-dressed and was probably born in the late eighteenth century.

For a well-illustrated study of American clothing in the early industrial age, see Claudia B. Kidwell and Margaret C. Christman, Suiting Everyone; The Democratization of Clothing in America (Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of History and Technology, 1974).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tom Noddy’s Christmas Nightmare 1891 [2]

[1] 1877 — Nightmare!… Surreal caricature plus nonsense rhyme by George du Maurier, in Punch, 19 May. From his series: Vers Nonsensiques, à l’Usage des Familles Anglaises (Par Anatole de Lester-Scouère.)

Yesterday’s Papers. Today’s Views.
by Huib van Opstal

Never a photo in Punch. But before photography was ready for true reportage, illustrator-writer George du Maurier was a Punch reporter in near-realist pictures and words — ‘social pictorial satire’ he would call it later. He drew what he saw in London life and society, working either in pencil or in pen-and-ink, all of which was translated in print via wood.

The weekly satirical Punch paper in England used wood repro for more than fifty years, from 1841 until well into the 1890s, which was dangerously long.

[2] 1844Punch logo of sprouting wood (cover detail, the red was added later) by Richard Doyle.
George du Maurier drew his pictures in tonal renderings, with stronger outlines for central figures. For many of his illustrated stories, cartoons and strips, appearing in print since 1860, he penned captions that were comparable to stage instructions. Some in the form of what the French call a ‘fable express,’ a mini-fable. Some in the form of lengthy dialogues, romantic musings or satirical verse. In 1865 he wrote a series of complete mini-operas, brief textual spoofs, with some added illustration. He loved informal speech and joke spellings, quoted cockney French often, liked to be taken for a Frenchman, and always quipped in French himself. His targets were Victorian fashions, fears and follies. His titles ranged from What our Artist has to put up with, Chinamania and Aestheticism, to Things one would rather have left unsaid, Our Imbeciles and Nincompoopiana… 

[3] 1865L’Africaine, comic opera, in Punch, 20 May, by George du Maurier.
The pages of Punch contained more text than visuals. The arts, painting, literature and the theatre were highly valued. The humour we now see as mild and very cryptic; the satire in the early years was a little sharper. The staff was male and dressed like succesful gentlemen. Towards the 1860s a group of crack cartoonists — starting with Charles Keene, John Leech, George du Maurier and John Tenniel — perfected the visual part of the paper. And although wood repro had its side effects, much of the old Punch artwork did really look splendid.

His fellow cartoonist Charles Keene (1823-91) worked in a similar full-toned style but wasn’t as interested in drawing pretty women as was du Maurier. Keene’s Punch cuts resembled graphic translations of cinematographic principles well before 1890s cinema showed its first primitive signs of life. And Keene’s art still looks the liveliest; he knew where to stop and taught his fellow-artists a great deal. When Keene died in 1891, Punch hailed him as ‘…the greatest master of ‘Black-and-White’ technique who ever put pencil to wood-block…’

[4] 1876 — Last Match of the Season, in Punch, 11 March, by Charles Keene.
George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier, his father French, his mother English, was born in Paris in 1834 and died in London in 1896. He was raised bilingually, English and French, in Belgium, England and France (Laeken, London and Paris). He loved singing, drawing and reading. But in Paris he soon came to hate his schoolmates. In Paris journals he also began to notice funny pictures — in La Caricature (on the stands since 1830) and Le Charivari (s.1832) — and began to get ideas himself. 

Back in England, in 1851-56, he dabbled in the study of science (for which his father made the arrangements), opera singing, and drawing from classical sculpture. He already knew Punch then, an English satirical weekly subtitled ‘the London Charivari’ (s.1841). After his father’s burial in 1856 he swiftly took the boat back to the Continent to study art, in Paris, Antwerp and Düsseldorf. Financially he was supported by his mother.

[5] n.d. — Self-portrait in watercolour by George du Maurier, and 1891 photo (details).
It was in the Belgian town of Antwerp, in 1858, at twenty-four years of age, that he lost the sight of an eye, his left eye, which threw him into a depression. Yet, while revalidating in the ‘dreary, deserted, dismal little Flemish town of Malines’ and intensely scrutinizing a copy of Punch’s Almanack for 1858, his dream of drawing and writing for Punch began to take shape. (It wasn’t until his first Punch Table dinner that he learned that the successful Punch artist John Tenniel was single-eyed too; later they would joke about their shared handicap together. Picture-journalist Arthur Boyd-Houghton (1836-75) was another successful artist with one eye who began his career by giving up painting.)

In Germany — where in 1859-60 he stayed with his mother, in the town of Düsseldorf — his lust for life returned after his German eye doctor assured him that his right eye would stay OK for as long as he needed it. He then further developed his skills in highest gear, drew and painted (not his forte) and while doing so discovered how much he loved powerfully illustrated German books and papers, such as the well-known Fliegende Blätter (1844, ‘flying sheets,’ weekly since 1849).

[6] 1863 — Mokeanna, Or, The White Witness. A Tale of the Times, in Punch, 28 February, spoof text by Francis Cowley Burnand, drawing by George du Maurier.
In London again since May 1860, he learned to draw directly on wood. His goal was to become an artist-contributor to Punch, which became increasingly illustrated with large and small ‘cuts,’ pictures printed via handcut woodblocks.

But du Maurier’s first illustrations saw print in another title from the same printer-publisher, titled Once a Week, a paper filled with illustrated serial fiction only. Soon after, his first cut in Punch appeared in October 1860. ‘…So badly engraved that I hardly recognised my drawing, none of the likenesses are preserved…’ A similar sort of professional distress he kept experiencing in endless repetition for the full thirty-six years of his career.

In his Punch cuts, he illustrated the life of the English middle and upper classes, because that was the niche editor Mark Lemon (1809-70) had placed him in. A large double-page spread, or a decorated initial letter to liven up a column of text, he drew anything. Within years he came to be seen as one of Punch’s finest.

[7a] 1865 — Ladies’ Morning Costume for 1866
[7b] … and Ladies’ Evening Costume, in Punch’s Almanack for 1866, December 1865, double drawing by George du Maurier.
For du Maurier a change of engraver could mean a change of style in print. He knew what he asked from his blockmakers, yet, he nevertheless remained a merciless crosshatcher and recrosshatcher in pen and ink. He loved his shadings and details, especially in his characters’ outfits — the black-clad males in chimney-pot hats and evening dress, the females in voluminous gowns and hairdos.

Some of his early book illustrations were done by repro men from different companies; and when they couldn’t cope with his dense detailing, he saw his work back in the shape of disastrous cuts. But drawings in scratchy style could work very well too.

[8] 1876 — Bella and Dusover. Gone Wrong! A New Novel. By Miss Rhody Dendron, in Punch, 13 May, spoof written and drawn by George du Maurier.
The wood engraving firm that did most of George du Maurier’s work was run by Joseph Swain (1820-1909). Swain had worked for Punch from early 1843, when he had just started his own independent workshop, and was the perfect guardian of any style commissioned. His shop excelled in reproductional engraving in both line and halftone blocks, cut in ‘line facsimile’ or in ‘tint’ manner. From the mid-1860s he also offered the use of photographic transfer onto the blocks, because speed was imperative for the pictorial press. Wood engravers tended to dislike photo-transfer though, because, while cutting, they also had to glance to and fro from the original art on paper to the block. An extra strain on their eyes and concentration.

[9a] 1891 — Tom Noddy strip. Original drawing in pen, ink and wash.
[9b] 1891 — Woodcut. Tom Noddy strip drawing reproduced via wood-engraving.
Initially Swain, as master engraver, worked in a small studio with a team of about half a dozen men, sitting together around a large table; subsequently he moved to a room of his own and began to employ more and more engravers. His firm was eventually housed at number 6, Bouverie Street, close to the Punch office at numbers 10 and 11, just off Fleet Street, in London’s publishing district. In the production line each repro man did what he did best; master engravers did the detailed work, apprentices began by cutting out the white spaces. The sawing, handling and storage of blocks was done by printer or publisher. When, in his earliest Punch years, du Maurier still drew on wood himself, messengers brought him new blank blocks in his workplace, at home, and picked up the ones already drawn.

[10] 1869 — A Study from the Parlour-window, in Punch, 16 January, by George du Maurier.
Joseph Swain took pride in his work and was often allowed to sign a corner of the cuts with a loud ‘SWAIN SC’ signature — ‘sc’ standing for ‘sculpsit,’ carved it — but for his employees he preferred strict anonymity. The quantity of Swain’s work can hardly be verified anymore. What is certain, though, is that a legion of anonymous engravers were at work for him. Joseph Swain’s brother John Swain (b.1829) also had a printing and engraving business in London; they may have combined their efforts.

[11] 1876 — “O Wild West Wind !”, in Punch, 24 June, by George du Maurier.
From the beginning of his career, du Maurier only had the use of one eye; which was the reason he abstained from drinking coffee and did not start on a painting career. (At least, that is what he told us. The world of painting remained closed to him.) He was an early chain smoker — cigarettes and cigars — and lover of all alcohol. In endless repetition he slaved away over paper and woodblocks, making his ‘innumerable little pictures in black and white’ as he called them. Besides his regular work for Punch he did numerous assignments for other papers and publishers. He was always ready to put up a fight for his fees. His most used signatures were ‘DM’ and ‘du Maurier’ — many of them carefully lettered on objects in his drawings. Living in upper London since 1869 his daily inspiration started with a cigarette and a walk on Hampstead Heath, still wide and open then. His regrettably few energetic depictions of weird nightmarish dreams and science-fictionlike visions are part of his most exciting work. In any case the pages of Punch still contain a great deal of hidden work by him, in several styles.

[22] 1872 — “Sweet Girl-Graduates” … Afternoon Tea versus Wine, in Punch’s Almanack for 1873, 17 December 1872, by George du Maurier.
In his drawings he often pictured himself, his friends and family, including his giant dog — a St. Bernard named Chang (1876-83) — who thus became something of a celebrity.

[12] 1877 — Georges du Maurier and his St. Bernard dog Chang, in Punch, 9 June (detail).
He had several artist friends but professional envy was inevitable. He fell out with one of his earliest friends, Jimmy Whistler (the American James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903), who grew into a successful ‘high’ artist and feared critic, notorious for his book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. Not having become a painter himself was a lifelong frustration for George du Maurier, but he managed to remain on friendly terms with most painters. Such as John Millais (1829-96), who annually earned tenfold what he was paid as an illustrator in wood. Or Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), Pre-Raphaelite and ‘literary painter,’ who strongly disliked being lampooned by him.

Healthwise, what remained of his eyesight became problematic. As early as 1872 his eye doctor forced him to start making his original drawings twice as large. At times he even quit working altogether. He would have loved to become editor of Punch, but in 1880 saw Francis Burnand (1836-1917) become his new editor.

[13] 1867 — End of Mr. Titwillow in Paris, by George du Maurier, in Punch, 12 October.
George du Maurier was a married father-of-five — nicknamed ‘Kiki’ — who liked to picture his own life as being careless and free. See his Mr. and Mrs. Tom Tit, a strip from 1866 in family snap-shots, HERE.

[14] 1867 — Mr. Titwillow and Mr. Pip, aka George du Maurier and Oscar Deutsch. Decorated initial letter A with self-portrait.
A year later, in the hot summer of 1867, while his wife Emma stayed at the seaside in England with their children (two girls and one boy then), he went to see the large Paris exhibition in France, together with Oscar Deutsch, assistant librarian at the British Museum.

In a comic story about this event, du Maurier — formerly known as ‘Tom Tit’ — pictured himself as ‘Mr. Titwillow’ and Deutsch as ‘Mr. Pip’ (or ‘Uncle Pip’ or ‘U.P.’). It was published serially in Punch, largely under the title Mr. Titwillow in Paris. Oscar Deutsch (1829-73), who also was a Semitic scholar and writer, spent his time at the ‘Exposition Universelle 1867’ mostly on his own as du Maurier preferred wandering about the Paris of his youth.

[15] 1873 — ‘George du Maurier pelting Linley Sambourne for snoring,’ detail of a decorated initial letter, in Punch, 10 May, by Linley Sambourne.
Another bosom friend of du Maurier was Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), Punch artist since 1871, nicknamed ‘Sammy,’ who among other things shared his love for drawing beautiful women, especially young ladies in bizarre dresses and hats. As in his series titled Mr. Punch’s Dress Designs After Nature. 

[16] 1876 — Mr. Punch’s Dress Designs After Nature; Costume du Soir – Robe en Homard, in Punch, 11 March, by Linley Sambourne.
Writing about his work in 1890 du Maurier published a long article on the art of black-and-white illustration in The Magazine of Art, titled The Illustration of Books; from the serious artist’s point of view. For Harper’s magazine he wrote his first illustrated novel Peter Ibbetson in 1891. For Punch he made three Tom Noddy dream strips in 1891-93; in the same years he held lucrative lecture tours in England and Scotland talking about the work of his fellow-artists, texts published after his death as Social Pictorial Satire; Reminiscences and Appreciations of English Illustrators of the Past Generation. For these lectures he made use of lantern slides (called ‘limelight views’ by the press), and had his personal clue notes printed out by his agent in extra large type.

His profile of William Hogarth (1697-1764), combative British engraver, illustrator and painter, included the following observation about the realistic versus the comical:
‘Hogarth seems to have come nearer to [the] ideal pictorial satirist than any of his successors in Punch and elsewhere. For he was not merely a light humorist and a genial caricaturist; he dealt also in pathos and terror, in tragic passion and sorrow and crime; he often strikes chords of too deep a tone for the pages of a comic periodical.’

[17] 1869 — To Sufferers from Nervous Depression, in Punch, 1 May, by George du Maurier.
In the end, du Maurier lost most of his remaining eyesight, and on bad days drawing simply became impossible. In the final years of his life he frequently felt totally blind. Persistent migraines plagued him. When he was seen out in the streets he was wearing thick blue smoked glasses to make sketching bearable. Nervous and depressed, he made the huge mistake of giving up his beloved New Grove House in Hampstead in mid-1895 — his studio and family home since early 1874, and ‘a Kindergarten for all ages’ — for a lesser dwelling at 17, Oxford Square, in Paddington, near Hyde Park.

Writing saved him. In more than three decades as an illustrator he had analysed so many novels by so many literary authors, that he eventually produced them himself. To his surprise it made him a best-selling novelist of dreams, of the supernatural and science-fiction in the 1890s. First serially published, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, his three finished novels were Peter Ibbetson in 1891, Trilby in 1894, and The Martian in 1896. He used settings and memories for them from his own youth on the Continent and his life as an art student in the Quartier Latin of Paris. These three self-illustrated novels left visible traces in popular culture, notably in plays and movies.

In both the US and the UK his tale of Trilby — with its central character ‘Svengali,’ a sinister hypnotist who controls the young girl Trilby and molds her into a famous singer — caused sensation and admiration and grew into a bestseller, causing a true ‘Trilby craze.’ But du Maurier, shying away from all the attention, unexpectedly passed away, only sixty-two years of age. His unfinished fourth novel he had set in Malines (Mechelen) in Belgium where he stayed as a depressed art student.

He died a reasonably prosperous man but never changed his old lamps for new ones. Gerald du Maurier (1873-1934), his youngest son, became a most succesful actor. And Daphne du Maurier (1907-89), Gerald’s second daughter, with novels and stories like Rebecca and The Birds, became a world-famous writer.

[18] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 1.
The original pictures for Tom Noddy’s Christmas Nightmare (1891) were drawn in pen and ink on seperate sheets of drawing paper, with the images nearly twice as high as the printed result in The Christmas Number of Punch and Punch’s Almanack for 1892, the fat Christmas special. Such originals you rarely see because most originals for woodprint have been thrown away; but these photo-transferred Tom Noddy drawings have survived. That the Chris Beetles Gallery in London put most of them on display last year was a pleasant surprise. Staff researcher Dennis Wootton listed them as fourteen separate drawings but left out the strip and the wood engraving aspects. Neither is the full title mentioned. A welcome revelation is: ‘The original drawings are inscribed with ‘(To be continued in Punch’s Almanack for 1893) / A Dream’.’ — which proves that du Maurier had already planned next year’s Tom Noddy instalment. See most originals for the first pages HERE. Also my earlier notes on this dream strip HERE.

Comic papers in the 1800s, the London published Punch weekly included, are full of men in white nightshirts, nightmares and visualized dreams. In Winsor McCay’s dream strips, in Sigmund Freud’s 1900 book Die Traumdeutung (about the interpretation of dreams), and in the works of the Surrealists.

The label ‘nightmare’ was already used around the year 1300; the Dutch knew it as ‘nachtmaar’ or ‘nachtmerrie’ in 1437. It was seen as a frightful female monster that could ruin your sleep. Later it was also visualized as a mare, a female horse.

An often imitated nightmare-with-a-horse scene by German painter Johann Heinrich Füssli, titled Der Nachtmahr, in several versions from 1781 to 1810, depicted a devil crouching on top of a sleeping female in white, and a mare’s head looking in from between the background curtains. Füssli came to England — where his work was adored — and rebranded himself there as John Henry Fuseli. English students kept calling him ‘Fuzzle’ or ‘Fuzzly.’

In 1877 George du Maurier rendered his own nightmare-with-a-horse version in Vers Nonsensiques, his Punch series of surreal caricature and nonsense rhyme. Already with a realistic streak, see picture [1].

[19] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 2.
The first half of du Maurier’s 1891 Punch dream strip is rendered in lots of black and shows a barefooted Tom Noddy — apparently sleepwalking — in a white nightshirt on muddy, gaslit London streets. The second half is done in lots of white and is set in a shiny, well-lit London ballroom. Four pages in which Tom Noddy — watched by several London policemen — enters ‘Mrs. Bonamy’s Small and Early,’ where he is invited to a waltz by a giant princess, and brought to his knees in a noisy nightmarish finale, bringing tears to the eyes of his fiancée. 

[20] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 3.
Small built as George du Maurier was, he had a soft spot for giants of any type, beautiful lady giants in particular. Drawing tall, beautiful women is what he liked most. ‘…The better-looking they are, the more my pencil loves them…’ So, Tom Noddy in nightshirt waltzes with a giant princess who ‘gets bigger and bigger’ — as does her exotic name … Princess Fredegunda zu Donnerhausen von Blitzenstein — while telling him he’s ‘ze Iteal of her kirlish treams…’

The strip’s style was a blend of caricature and surrealism, in medium and long shots, in a realistic setting, done in a very sketchy style. All its drawings were done via woodblocks, cut in a no-holds-barred way by one of Joseph Swain’s teams. Every tool seems to have been used — with little coordination between engravers: eight of the fourteen drawings are signed with du Maurier’s signature, but his name is lost in all the scratchings in the cuts.

[21] 1891 — Tom Noddy page 4.
Even while being photo-transferred, the surviving drawings still show small differences with the printed cuts in Punch. Reduced from the larger-sized du Maurier pen-and-ink originals, they were hand-engraved on a 1/1 scale. Sadly, du Maurier’s regular illustrations had become quite lifeless at the time. But he obviously enjoyed this somewhat livelier Tom Noddy strip. A seminal work in my opinion, as it provides a unique insight into the ways of a Victorian author-illustrator and his wood engravers. Complete with an in-joke too: the face of the speedy hansom cab driver is the face of Mr. Joseph Swain, hovering over Tom Noddy, asking for money Tom forgot — ‘Row!’

In the dying days of wood reproduction for print, the skills and pleasure were still there. Enjoy for instance how well du Maurier’s bending trees and the stroboscopic effect of the galloping hansom cab horse turned into visualized speed. And how it was translated in print — via wood.

Huib van Opstal

[ to be continued ]
[23] 1867 — Chikkin Hazard, in Punch, 9 May, illustrated novel spoof by George du Maurier.