'A Jay venturing into a yard where Peacocks used to walk, found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the Peacocks when they were moulting. He tied them all to his tail and strutted down towards the Peacocks.
When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes. So the Jay could do no better than go back to the other Jays, who had watched his behaviour from a distance; but they were equally annoyed with him, and told him:
"It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds."'
John Vernon Lord, 'The Vain Jackdaw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
John Vernon Lord
'The Vain Jackdaw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
Illustration from wood-engravings
From 'Aesop's Fables', retold in verse by James Mitchie
Published by Jonathan Cape, London
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.HH.46
John Vernon Lord (born 1939) used the area around his home in Ditchling, Sussex, as setting for his Aesop's Fables illustrations. His pen and ink drawings are painstaking in their detail and resemble wood engravings. Lord used mapping and Rotring pens and sometimes a blunted ruler for parallel lines. Wax was sometimes added to the paper to resist the ink, giving a luminescence to some of the backgrounds. In an essay on 'Hatching', Lord wrote; "The editing and selection of gap-making is fundamental to drawing… A picture is made up of a balancing between the making, the removing, and the not-making of marks."
Lord has been a prolific illustrator for nearly fifty years as well as teaching illustration at Brighton Art College. His past work includes an album cover for Deep Purple's 'The Book of Taliesyn' in 1968 and book illustrations to 'The Giant Jam Sandwich' in 1972 and 'The Nonsense Verse' by Edward Lear in 1984, both published by Jonathan Cape. He still illustrates, working now with the Inky Parrott Press on Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Helen Ward, 'All Dressed Up: in which a jackdaw "borrows" some feathers' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
'All Dressed Up: in which a jackdaw "borrows" some feathers' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
Ink, watercolour and gouache illustration
From 'Unwitting Wisdom: an Anthology of Aesop's animal fables'
Published by Templar, London
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.MM.57
Helen Ward is known for her vibrant and dynamic picture books featuring birds or animals. She paints in watercolour and gouache, sometimes removing colour to achieve more tonal variety, and uses a Rapidograph pen for detail. She designs the whole page layout in her picture books, which she says can take about six months to make. Sometimes drawing from life, she also makes use of wildlife films to observe movement.
A major influence was the Ashmolean's Impey collection of Indian 18th century natural history paintings, which impressed her for the "crispness of the execution, and the fact that the drawing, though objective, is not entirely realistic".
Ward studied at Brighton Art School in the 1980s with ambitions to become a natural history illustrator. On graduating, she was approached by publisher Templar and has made illustrated books for them ever since. Recent work includes a contribution to Templar's 'Ologies' series, a picture book 'Wonderful Life' about a rodent who studies wildlife on another planet, and 'Varmints', soon to be an animated film about noise pollution.
Thomas Bewick, 'The Vain Jack-daw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
'The Vain Jack-daw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
From 'Fables of Aesop and others'
Printed by E. Walker for Thomas Bewick, Newcastle
National Art Library Pressmark: G.28.Y.1b
Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is famous for his wood-engraved illustrations. He used a method called 'white-line' engraving, a dark-to-light technique where the lines to remain white are cut out of the woodblock. Transfer drawings show that he followed just general outlines, creating the extraordinary detail directly on the block.
Boxwood cut across the end-grain is hard enough for engraving, allowing greater detail than woodcutting. Wood engraving was used since 1600 for simple ornaments in books but Bewick fully exploited it by lowering areas of the block, creating more depth of light and tone.
With his partner Ralph Beilby in Newcastle, Bewick published ambitious illustrated books of animals like 'General History of Quadrupeds' (1790) and 'History of British Birds' (1797-1804).
André Hellé, 'Le Geai Pare des Plumes du Paon' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
'Le Geai Pare des Plumes du Paon' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
Line block printed and pochoir illustration
From 'Fables de La Fontaine' by Jean de La Fontaine
Published by Berger-Levrault.
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.AA.214
The illustrations in this book have been hand-coloured using 'pochoir'. This ancient technique uses cut-out stencils to add colour to either drawn or printed line. The colours are applied one at a time using brushes of various sizes. Watercolour paints are used but a more opaque form in the early 20th century produced a thicker, richer layer of flat colour.
The book here is of fables by French writer Jean de La Fontaine (d. 1695). His fables included 240 poems and stories, which he derived from Greek mythology and familiar animal fables from Aesop. They were translated and imitated for the next two hundred years.
Walter Crane and Edmund Evans, 'The Vain Jackdaw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacock)
Walter Crane (illustration) and Edmund Evans (colour wood engraving)
'The Vain Jackdaw' (The Jackdaw and the Peacock)
From 'The baby's own Aesop: being the fables condensed in rhyme', adapted from William James Linton
Published by Frederick Warne, London
National Art Library Pressmark: 60.C.108
This image comes from a toy-book designed by Walter Crane (1845-1915) and printed by Edmund Evans (1826-1905) using colour wood-engraving. Crane imitated the highly developed methods of Japanese colour woodblock printing, recently discovered by Europeans, which Evans reproduced.
Edmund Evans (1826-1905) is one of the best-known European colour wood-engravers of the 19th century. The care he took with colours attracted well-known illustrators like Crane to work with him, including Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott. He used a new invention, photography, to transfer illustrators' work onto the woodblocks, making reproduction easier than copying.
'Of the Jay and Peacocks' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks), etching from The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse by John Ogilby
'Of the Jay and Peacocks' (The Jackdaw and the Peacocks)
From The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse by John Ogilby
Printed by Thomas Roycroft for John Ogilby in London
National Art Library Pressmark: CLE.W.10
Although his reputation lies mainly in his topographical and architectural etchings, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) is considered the first artist working in England to view book illustration as an independent art form, and this effect can be seen in his Aesop illustrations, which show a fresh approach to interpreting the story. Publisher John Ogilby (1600-1676) employed Hollar to provide new illustrations for his second edition of The Fables of Aesop , published in 1665.
Václav (Wenceslaus or Wenzel) Hollar was an etcher-engraver from Prague who worked for booksellers in London from 1652. Along with Francis Barlow, he was one of the pre-eminent etchers working in Britain in the 17th century. An enormous number of Hollar's plates - around 2700 - survive.