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Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick Hardcover – June 12, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this perceptive biography, Uglow (A Little History of British Gardening), an editor at the British publisher Chatto & Windus, chronicles the life of the wood engraver acclaimed for exquisite little vignettes of the Northumbrian countryside and its people. Thomas Bewick (1753– 1828) remained most of his life in his beloved Northumberland, where he was much in demand for bookplates, trade cards, playbills, business cards, leaflets and broadsides decorated with charming images of farmers, fishermen, peddlers, barnyards, moors, trees and streams. A naturalist as well as an artist, he rose to national fame with illustrations for three books, A General History of Quadrupeds, A History of British Birds and an edition of Aesop's Fables. Despite his celebrity, Bewick was "a plain, no-nonsense man" who cherished his family, loved fishing and tramping about the countryside and occasionally dabbled in politics. Uglow fleshes out what might have been a prosaic biography with a wealth of fascinating information about the world in which Bewick lived and worked—including descriptions of Northumberland and its people, and accounts of contemporaneous politics and religious thought. Her charming book, copiously illustrated with Bewick's wood engravings, includes extensive notes and a list of Bewick's workshop apprentices. 2 maps. (June)
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From The New Yorker

In 1767, when fourteen-year-old Thomas Bewick became an engraver’s apprentice in Newcastle, woodcutting was commonly deemed a crude art that could never rival pricey copperplate in detail. But Bewick perfected the craft with realistic yet whimsical engravings that conveyed the vanishing rural world of his youth with a "miniature intensity." Uglow traces his rise: he became the head of a workshop (she is very knowledgeable about the material history of engraving and printing), and achieved sudden fame with the publication of "A General History of Quadrupeds," which was followed by two volumes on British birds. The appeal of these masterworks, Uglow shows, lay as much in their characterful portraits of imposing Newfoundlands, devilish cormorants, and shy wood ducks as in the intimate and affordable medium in which they were presented. She includes a generous selection of Bewick’s wood engravings, including many of his tiny "tailpieces," in their original sizes and with their original purpose, to fill space beneath text.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374112363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374112363
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,429,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Bewick was a hulking six foot tall, in the eighteenth century when such stature was remarkable. His realm of interest was the broad Tyne Valley, the region around Newcastle in England. His art, however, was of the miniature, woodcuts of astonishing detail about the size of a calling card. You might think that the life of such a rural artist in a medium that was dying out even when he was perfecting it could not hold much interest, but Jenny Uglow who has written biographies of others from that era has made Bewick's life, art, and world quite fascinating in _Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick_ (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). This is a beautifully produced book, with scores of Bewick's engravings, most reproduced at the same size as he originally made them, often humorous tailpieces that were to fill the blank of a page at the end of a chapter, as well as serious reference illustrations of quadrupeds and British birds. Get out your magnifying glass. Each tiny vignette, composed only of minuscule blobs of black ink, is more full of details than you would have thought possible.

Bewick was born in 1753, and drew compulsively as a child. He was apprenticed to an engraver, and took up woodcuts when engraving on copper was becoming more customary. After his children's books, he spent nine years studying animals, live (sometimes in traveling menageries) or as preserved specimens. _ A General History of Quadrupeds_ appeared in 1790. He thereupon took on the task of documenting all the birds of Britain in _A History of British Birds_.
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Format: Hardcover
I appreciate the years of hard work that authors put into their books. Their mountain of effort allows me to learn more about their subject through a few hours or days of careful reading. However, some books are greater gifts than others. Jenny Uglow has given me two of my very favorite reading experiences. Her "Hogarth" was a revelation to me. She opened up Hogarth's world and provided such a rich context for his life that my understanding of his time and context made his life and work much more meaningful.

With this book, on the life, work, and world of Thomas Bewick, I experienced that delight again. I took my time savoring this book and examining the beautiful reproductions of his work with a magnifying glass (since my eyes can no longer pick up all the detail). Frankly, I had never heard of Thomas Bewick and wanted to read the book because it is by such a wonderful author. He was an engraver who specialized in engraving in boxwood. Again, a subject I knew only in the barest outline.

Bewick was from an established but not wealthy family in the Tyne valley in northern England. He apprenticed as an engraver and demonstrated talent enough to found a shop with a partner. His work goes beyond the usual artisanship of wood engraving into a realm of artistry that sets him apart into a world that is still shocks in the effect and composition. This wonderful book provides a large number of his works in their actual size. Boxwood was used because of its hardness and ability to stand up to the number of prints commercial reproduction of the time required. However, the wood was small in diameter and the pieces tend to be small.

Yet, they demonstrate a full range of emotion. Bewick is able to capture the images of his time and the countryside he loved.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Acme Antiquarian on August 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very well written informative biography of the influential wood engraver Thomas Bewick. The author places Bewick and his artistic contribution in the context of his times describing the artist's rise to success at the beginning of England's industrial age and during it's wartime eras with France and America. Uglow is passionate about the artist and his work and the book is beautfully illustrated with well chosen examples of Bewick's phenomenal tiny woodcuts. His work has endured for 2 centuries and this book helps you understand why.
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