Whilst researching a ‘Red Breast’ for the current seasons exhibition an exciting discovery has been made. This work and another 5 works were attributed to B. Fawcett. The database held little further information. However, online article published by Archives and Special Collections department, part of Hull University’s library showed a black and white image of the work ‘Red Breast’. Especially relevant are the details of the artist Benjamin Fawcett and specific details of the publication for which it was produced.

A History of British Birds written by The Reverend Francis Orpen Morris (1810-1893). The inspiration for which came from Benjamin Fawcett who approached Morris to write the text. The book took 7 years to complete from June 1850. It was produced in monthly parts costing 1 shilling, each with 24 pages and 4 hand coloured plates and was entirely printed and bound in Driffield, Yorkshire at Fawcett’s shop and home. It was then sent up to London in tea chests.

Benjamin Fawcett (1808-1893), one of the finest of the nineteenth century woodblock colour printers. The work appeared in volume 3 of Morris’s A History of British Birds (1853) and was engraved by Fawcett from his original drawing. Alexander Francis Lydon (1836-1917), was one of the principal engravers and contributed much to the technique and design.

Technique

Colour printing was a huge change from the much admired monochrome engravings of Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). At first wood engraving illustrations were coloured by hand, this later developed further and a system of multiple blocks was used with up to four colours.

Hand-coloured wood engraving started with an accurate painting of the subject. This picture was then carved on a wooden block, standing proud in order to pick up the ink. The block was then placed in a printing press to give a black-and-white print, which was then hand-coloured. The wooden print blocks were carved with great attention detail. Pear and boxwood were sufficiently hard and fine-grained, making them durable and capable of showing fine detail.

The book was a great success, measured by the fact that Fawcett had to increase production and change premises. The association of Fawcett and Morris had far reaching impact on British Ornithology.

Two coloured engravings: ‘Red Breast’ and ‘Martin’ by Benjamin Fawcett for A History of British Birds by The Reverend Francis Orpen Morris are currently on show in gallery 20 as part of the Seasons fine art hang