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IRISH ARTISTS & ILLUSTRATION 1830-1930

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Illustrated literature view gallery

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During the 19th century, the illustration of literary works became much more common. Earlier popular texts were republished, enhanced by contemporary illustrations to engage new generations of readers. New novels were increasingly expected to contain illustrations and many volumes of poems were similarly embellished.  

Images could be provided by professional illustrators such as Richard Doyle or by established artists such as Daniel Maclise and William Mulready. In the best examples, the literary and visual elements harmonised so closely that the text and the image became inseparable.  

Illustrations were often commissioned by publishers to appear in special editions of novels or collections of poems known as gift books or Christmas books. ‘The chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In’ (1844) was one of Charles Dickens’s ‘Christmas books’, works published specially for the seasonal market, and the first of three with which Maclise was involved.  

The edition of Tennyson’s Poems published by Moxon in 1857 is a fine example of the sympathetic alliance of text and image. It remains a justly famous specimen of literary illustration. Its designs were provided by a team of artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, representatives of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art and a new style of illustration, alongside long-established illustrators such as Maclise and Ennis-born Mulready.  

In 1881, the Dalziel brothers George, Edward and John, published Dalziels’ ‘Bible Gallery’ which was described at the time as the “first place among the gift books of the year”. The Irish-born artist F.S. Walker was among the artists engaged as an illustrator, his work appeared alongside leading figures of English art such as Frederick Leighton, E. J. Poynter, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, and G. F. Watts.

At the turn of the century, Irish artists continued to produce designs for literary publications. The artist John Butler Yeats, provided illustrations for a number of authors including his son William's book 'The Secret Rose' in 1897.

Harry Clarke established an international reputation as an illustrator of fantasy literature including his illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen's ‘The Fairy Tales’, published in 1916 by Harrap & Co. in London.

During the professed Celtic Revival, a number of Irish-themed illuminated books were published including Violet Russell’s ‘Heroes of the Dawn’ (1913) which tells the story of the ancient Irish warriors, the Fianna. Illustrated by Beatrice Elvery, the artist remained faithful to the author’s text whilst including decorative designs sourced from pre-Christian sources.  

By the 1920s, a number of artists created illustrations that reflected the modernist concerns of the authors.  A more interpretative, expressive approach emerges as seen in E. M. O’Rorke Dickey’s original woodcuts to accompany the poetry of Richard Rowley.   
  
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