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The Art of Thomas Bewick

The Art of Thomas Bewick is the first book to interpret the art of the wood engraver Thomas Bewick (1753–1828) and set it in the context of history, revealing the connections between Bewick’s political and religious views—reflections of the late eighteenth-century Enlightenment—and the character of his images.
Bewick was both an important contributor to the history of British ornithology and a highly original artist and printmaker. His depictions of the natural world, particularly of British birds, set new standards of realism and authenticity, while his graphic scenes of country life were unparalleled in their thoughtfulness, mingling humor and tragedy. His lively depictions of dogs, horses and other animals can also be seen as the expression of a new insight and sensibility: part of the growing movement for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
Allowing Bewick’s art to be viewed in a broad context of the artistic and scientific culture of his age, this lavishly illustrated book will appeal to naturalists, especially ornithologists and birdwatchers; historians of science, art and country life; those interested in the history of animal rights and protection; and students of painting and print media. 

328 pages | 60 color plates, 150 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 4/5 | © 2013

Art: British Art

History: British and Irish History

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“We no longer nowadays salute ‘Nature’ with the unhesitating confidence invested in the concept by Audubon or by writers such as William Wordsworth, another of Bewick’s numerous admirers. And yet Diana Donald’s impressive recent study, The Art of Thomas Bewick, demonstrates the surprising resilience of the American visitor’s assessment. At the end of her scrupulous inquiry into the political, religious, and cultural circumstances in which Bewick’s work was undertaken, the Northumbrian natural historian still stands, however we interpret him, as an innovator rather than an imitator, and as an artist who worked, as much as any artist can, from freshly won experience rather than by cleaving to cultural precedent.”

New York Review of Books

“One of the great delights of this volume is the number and quality of the pictures Donald reproduces: the illustrations alone are worth the price. In her fascinating new study, Donald looks again at Bewick’s rich contribution to natural history and visual art and asks what his illustrated volumes meant. . . . Like ‘knowing your Bible,’ knowing Bewick was a mark of both sound education and sensitive humanity. This book enables one to know Bewick differently, to look more closely—as his engravings invite us to do—at the habits and habitat of a rara avis who possessed the common touch.” 

Weekly Standard

“Donald sets out to analyze Bewick’s art in its artistic, cultural, and political context. In doing so, she illuminates the complexities of the man and the ambivalence expressed towards him even by those who professed to be among his greatest admirers. . . . Throughout this stimulating and wide-ranging book, the Bewick that emerges is a more complex and conflicted man than we have come to expect.” 

Burlington Magazine

“In The Art of Thomas Bewick, Donald reviews his art in a broad context of the artistic and scientific culture of his age—a fascinating approach. The work of Bewick is examined alongside that of other contemporary illustrators in this beautifully illustrated book that will be of interest to historians of science, art and country life, as well as ornithologists and birdwatchers.” 

BTO News

“This is a first-rate study on Bewick and on his impact in the nineteenth century both as a naturalist and as a wood engraver. Diana Donald is well known for her major contributions to the history of graphic art and to the interrelation between the visual arts and scientific enquiry in the nineteenth century. She draws on both these strengths here to produce a study of major importance that will surely help to reestablish Bewick as a figure of central cultural importance.”

William Vaughan, University of London

“Throughout her carefully researched book Donald emphasizes the complexities in Bewick’s thinking about the natural world and how this was expressed in his art. The ‘spread chords’ of her chapters show how densely woven were the scientific, artistic, and moral dimensions of Bewick’s work, while her engaging style simultaneously unpicks these elements for us as far as possible. I particularly enjoyed Donald’s use of Bewick’s daughter Jane’s testimony to tease out the meanings of the vignettes. The layout of the book is exemplary.” 

Archives of Natural History

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Man Behind the Books

1: ‘Truth is to bend to nothing, but all to her’:

Bewick as a Naturalist

2: ‘Endless conjectures’:

Bewick’s Tail-pieces

3: A Mind ‘impressed with the feelings of humanity’:

Bewick’s Scenes of Animal Life

4: ‘Know your Bewick’:

The Victorian Inheritance

Appendix 1: A Commentary on Bewick’s Representation of Species in A History of British Birds

Appendix 2: Bewick’s Workshop, and the Role of the Apprentices

Sources Cited



Photographic Acknowledgements


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