Artist biography

English engraver. The son of a farmer and colliery worker, Bewick had a rural upbringing. In his youth Bewick learnt to engrave end-grain boxwood, a medium whose potential had still to be developed.

Bewick provided wood-engravings for several collections of fables and contributed to volumes of poetry. His best illustrations, however, are in his natural history books. The History of British Birds (2 vols, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1797–1804) reveals Bewick's gifts as a naturalist as well as an engraver (the artist was responsible for the text as well as the illustrations in the second volume). A notable feature of the Birds is the extensive use of narrative tailpieces: vignettes in which manifold aspects of north-country life are expressed with affection, humour and a genuine love of nature. In later years these miniature scenes came to be more highly regarded than the figures they accompany.

During the 1820s Bewick planned to conclude his series of natural histories with a History of British Fishes, but the project was not completed. Many of his later enterprises were joint ventures. Solomon Hodgson's Hive of Ancient and Modern Literature (Newcastle upon Tyne, 3rd edition, 1806) was completed by a former apprentice (Luke Clennell), and in The Fables of Aesop (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1818) the blocks were engraved by pupils after Bewick's drawings. Bewick's wood-engravings brought him fame in his lifetime and were widely imitated. Today he is regarded as a pioneer in the technical and artistic development of the medium.

S. Roscoe: Thomas Bewick: A Bibliography Raisonné (Oxford, 1953/R London, 1973)
I. Bain: Thomas Bewick: An Illustrated Record of his Life and Work (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1979)
——: The Watercolours and Drawings of Thomas Bewick and his Workshop Apprentices, 2 vols (London, 1981)


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