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Why Bewick Succeeded A Note in the History of Wood Engraving   By: (1909-2001)

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Jacob Kainen's "Why Bewick Succeeded: A Note in the History of Wood Engraving" is a remarkable exploration of the life and work of the renowned English wood engraver, Thomas Bewick. In this concise yet comprehensive book, Kainen delves into Bewick's artistic innovations, technical skills, and his lasting impact on the field of wood engraving.

Kainen's writing is both engaging and informative, capturing the essence of Bewick's life while shedding light on the intricacies of his craft. The author expertly navigates through the historical context of Bewick's time, highlighting the challenges faced by wood engravers during the Industrial Revolution. By doing so, Kainen effectively contextualizes Bewick's achievements and provides a clear understanding of his groundbreaking contributions.

One of the book's strengths lies in Kainen's meticulous analysis of Bewick's artistic style and techniques. Through a series of illustrations and detailed descriptions, the author unravels Bewick's mastery of rendering intricate details with precision and finesse. Kainen's enthusiasm for the subject matter is palpable, making even the technical aspects of wood engraving accessible to readers with varying degrees of familiarity.

Moreover, Kainen successfully presents Bewick as more than just an artist but a social commentator as well. By examining Bewick's choice of subjects and the thematic richness in his works, Kainen highlights the engraver's ability to impart moral and political messages through his art. This aspect adds depth and significance to Bewick's legacy, elevating him from being a mere technician to an artist of great substance.

The book, although relatively short, is well-organized and flows seamlessly from one chapter to another. Kainen's writing style is concise yet elegant, allowing the reader to absorb the information effortlessly. Additionally, the inclusion of numerous high-quality reproductions of Bewick's engravings enhances the reading experience, enabling the reader to appreciate the technical brilliance and artistic beauty of Bewick's work.

While Kainen's book primarily focuses on Bewick's successes, it would have been interesting to explore some of the artist's challenges and failures as well. A more comprehensive examination of Bewick's life and career, including his interactions with fellow artists and the reception of his work, would have provided a more well-rounded portrait of this influential figure.

Overall, "Why Bewick Succeeded: A Note in the History of Wood Engraving" is a captivating and informative read for art enthusiasts, historians, and anyone interested in the intricacies of wood engraving. Kainen's expertise and passion for the subject matter shine through, making this book an important addition to the literature on Thomas Bewick and the history of wood engraving.

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Contributions from The Museum of History and Technology:

Paper 11


A Note in the History of Wood Engraving








By Jacob Kainen

A Note in the History of Wood Engraving

Thomas Bewick has been acclaimed as the pioneer of modern wood engraving whose genius brought this popular medium to prominence. This study shows that certain technological developments prepared a path for Bewick and helped give his work its unique character.

The Author: Jacob Kainen is curator of graphic arts, Museum of History and Technology, in the Smithsonian Institution's United States National Museum.

No other artist has approached Thomas Bewick (1753 1828) as the chronicler of English rustic life. The little wood engravings which he turned out in such great number were records of typical scenes and episodes, but the artist could also give them social and moral overtones. Such an approach has attracted numerous admirers who have held him in esteem as an undoubted homespun genius. The fact that he had no formal training as a wood engraver, and actually never had a lesson in drawing, made his native inspiration seem all the more authentic... Continue reading book >>

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