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Wood Engraving

(Fr.: gravure sur bois debout)

A variant of WOODCUT, invented to avoid the inherent limitations of the original process. The development of this technique is usually attributed to the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Michel Papillon (1698-1775 or 1776?), although some historians record the discovery as being by Foy, of Lyons. From the collection of Papillon’s engravings executed from 1745 and 1767, and which are now in the British Museum, it appears that most of his work was produced with the burin on end-grained hard wood blocks. Papillon tried to popularize his new method, but was unsuccessful.  

In the second half of the 18th century, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), a plate engraver of Newcastle upon Tyne, re-discovered the process when he realized that if he used a piece of end wood he could engrave upon it just as the makers of metal cuts and copper plate engravings. Bewick was not the first to use this technique, but he used it consistently with excellent results, so that his name is often associated with popularizing wood engraving.

A woodcut, in general, is linear and strong in contrasts of black and white. With wood engraving a wider range of tones is available and in the 19th century, wood engraving was much used as a reproductive medium in connection with book illustration. Some artists, however, made original wood engravings, notably Gauguin. (Nadeau, Encyclopedia, p. xxx.).

Wood engraving by Alfred Mame et fils of Tours, France. 1881. 235x158 mm Wood engraving by Alfred Mame et fils of Tours, France. 1881. 235x158 mm

Wood engraving by Alfred Mame et fils of Tours, France. 1881. 235 x 158 mm.