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Victorian Resources

An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Resources Available in Special Collections

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Art and Design

The Victorian era is renowned for its artistic strengths, encompassing a variety of movements from romanticism to impressionism and symbolism.  The fashions of the period are famous for their revival of historic styles, and the influence of, for example, the Gothic, Tudor and Elizabethan periods, is clear to see in much of Victorian design.  The notion of illustration was also very fashionable during the period; it became a popular trend to augment work with drawings or etchings, in order to increase both its beauty and potential popularity.

The Special Collections department holds art based material in almost all of its collections; however, there a few collections which are particularly strong in this field, including the Printed Art Archive, the Murray Collection, and the Caricatures Collection.  Also of particular note are the William Blake Prints, as well as the Whistler Archive, which contains over 7000 items of the personal correspondence of the artist James McNeill Whistler, together with over 200 books from his personal library. The department also houses very important holdings of early (i.e. mid nineteenth-century) Scottish photography in the Hill and Adamson Collection, while the other photographic collections contain examples of the work of leading Victorian photographers such as William Fox Talbot and Thomas Annan.

Below is a selection of items chosen as examples of the resources that are available from our collections in this subject area, concentrating on the following themes:

Please click on any of the pictures in the following page to see an enlarged version of the image, and click 'back' to return to the main page.


9 designs for doors (Plate 23)

A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Engineering

Sp Coll BD3-a.8

Published in 1836, this item was intended as a textbook for students of architecture, and as a reference manual to those already in the trade.  The large folio volume covers both historic architecture (selecting examples from history and presenting them in a modern (Victorian) light) and 'modern' architecture.  This latter section covers the vast majority of the book and ranges from the design of gates, doors and windows, to the construction of basements and attics, and their uses within the home.

Ornaments for pilasters and panels in two parts (Plate 11)

A Collection of Ornaments in the Antique Style

Sp Coll e9

This item, published in 1816, is comprised of 37 plates displaying ornamental design patterns in the antique style.  According to the title page, the plates were designed and engraved by G. Richardson. There is some debate about who this actually is; most likely it is George Richardson (1737/8 - c.1813), a renowned architectural draughtsman and decorative designer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, although the fact that he died three years before this item was published throws a little doubt on his authorship of the work.

Frontispiece from Volume 2

The Universal Decorator: A Complete Guide to Ornamental Design

Sp Coll RQ 1865-1866

Thought to have been published around 1862, this book is, according to the preface, a manual for the 'Manufacturing Classes' of Victorian Britain.  The two volumes contain design ideas for cabinet makers, wood carvers and metal workers, and of scrolls, panels, alphabets, initials, monograms and general ornaments.  Volume one acts very like an encyclopaedia of art, as it contains mainly text discussing the history and practicalities of design, whilst volume two contain a vast number of plates, intended to teach, inspire and motivate the reader.

"South East View of Jedburgh Abbey" (2nd plate following page 62)

The Border Antiquities of England and Scotland; Comprising Specimens of Architecture and Sculpture, and Other Vestiges of Former Ages, Accompanied by Descriptions

Sp Coll Hepburn q30-31

Published in 1814, this work was written by Sir Walter Scott (although at the time he had not yet been knighted) as a way of righting the deficiency in texts about the border regions between England and Scotland.  Scott himself was a famous border resident, living at Abbotsford, a house between Melrose and Selkirk; he had both the background knowledge and the vested interest to promote the history and antiquities of his home region.  The item comes in two volumes; these were originally published in eight parts each, and contain a wealth of information relating to the area.  Volume one begins with a long introductory essay that discusses the turbulent history of the region. Its large number of castles and fortified towers are a legacy of the area's many conflicts between Scotland and England, and descriptions of these constitute the main body of the work.  The item is augmented by many full page engravings, displaying castles, churches, stately homes, towers and bridges from all over the border regions.

The Queen's Presence Chamber at Windsor Castle (History of the Royal Residences, Page 90)

The Special Collections Department holds a number of items relating to the period of gothic revival during the early nineteenth century.  These include: Pyne's History of the Royal Residences (Sp Coll f327-329), which contains a series of beautiful colour plates of the Royal Houses; Pugin's Gothic Furniture in the Style of the 15th Century (Sp Coll P.A.A. f229), which looks at the design principles of furniture, ranging from simple chairs and tables to impressive bookcases and even beds; and also Pugin's enlarged and revised Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume (Sp Coll Mu6-x.17), which looks at early examples of gothic clothing and examines how such designs can be updated and revised.



'Un dernier coup d'oeil la France', ['A Last Glance at France'] (Sp Coll HX 133/1/55)

Caricatures Published in Paris on Political Events

Sp Coll HX 133

This collection contains a total of 3,188 political caricatures covering events during the 1870s, from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) to the two month rule of the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871.  Most of the cartoons are of French origin, although the collection does contain a variety of caricatures from other countries.

For more information on French cartoons, please visit the Caricatures Collection Page.

'Christ's Charge to St. Peter' (Plate 1)

The Seven Cartoons of Raphael (Photographed, by permission of Her Majesty, by C. Thurston Thompson)

Sp Coll RF 411

This book, published around 1883, was presented to William S. Shanks as a third grade prize at the Glasgow School of Art 'for success in the Advanced Section of the Course of Instruction in Art.' The item was later donated to Glasgow University by Shanks himself.  The work contains seven mounted photographic reproductions of Raphael's Cartoons and an introductory sheet providing a historical background to the Renaissance artist's work. 

'The Death of Lear' (Plate 3)

The Ten Prize Cartoons

Sp Coll RX 161

This work was published in 1843 to commemorate the ten cartoons that were exhibited in Westminster Hall that year.  A Royal Commission of the Fine Arts had been established in 1841 to promote 'the encouragement of the Fine Arts of this country', and one of its first acts was to initiate a competition whereby people had to design cartoons in chalk or charcoal; the winners would have their designs publicly displayed and would receive a monetary reward for their efforts.  This item contains the ten winning cartoons, together with an introduction outlining the aims of the Royal Commission and the rules of the competition.

Genesis: The Flood Covering the Earth (Plate 4)

Scripture Illustrated: or, A Series of Engravings, Taken from the Old and New Testament

Sp Coll Euing Db-a.1

Published in 1807, this work is in the longstanding tradition of illustrated biblical works. However, this book is unusual in consisting only of a series of images with captions an no actual scriptural text. It contains a total of 15 large and 79 small wood cut illustrations, designed by W. M. Craig, and engraved by such artists as Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) and William Austin (1721/1733-1820).  The item also contains a double page table of directions, highlighting the passages of the bible from which the designs were taken.

'Then the Lord answered Job out of the Whirlwind' (Plate 13)

Illustrations of the Book of Job

Sp Coll S.M. 1980

Published in 1825, this work contains 21 plates drawn and engraved by William Blake.  Perhaps the most magnificent (and certainly the most celebrated) example of scripture illustration from the Victorian era, each plate is itself adorned with an intricately designed border which should, in some way, compliment the picture held within.  Similarly, each plate is accompanied by a quotation from the Bible, intended by the author to explicate the action of the associated scene.

For more information on William Blake and his work, please visit the Blake Prints Collection Page.

The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles

The Rape of the Lock

Sp Coll q334

This edition of Alexander Pope's famous Heroic-comical poem was published in 1896, over 180 years after the original five canto version appeared. The text is accompanied by nine drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, one of the most controversial artists of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and grotesque images of erotica. Beardsley himself was a close friend of Oscar Wilde, for whom he illustrated his 1893 play, Salome.

Fracture of the Neck of the Thigh Bone (Plate 5)

Illustrations of some of the Injuries to which the Lower Limbs are Exposed

Sp Coll NG.3.9

An often overlooked example of Victorian art are the vast number of beautifully illustrated medical books which were produced at the time.  This item, written and illustrated by Charles Brandon Trye, a surgeon to the Gloucester Infirmary, was published in 1802.  It depicts, in a series of plates, possible injuries sustainable to the legs, such as infections, fractures and dislocations.  We are told at the start of the work that the illustrations are taken from two subjects, one who died after falling and dislocating his hip bone, and the other who died of dysentery shortly after breaking her leg.

Section from the Frontispiece Illustration

Illustrations of the Field Movements of Cavalry

Sp Coll H5-b.3

Written by Captain John Bamford, Adjutant to the Light Horse Volunteers, this work was published in 1824. It was intended for 'the use of yeomanry and volunteer cavalry; and also of noblemen and gentleman who, contemplating service in this force, may wish to acquire a knowledge of cavalry tactics.'  The text is accompanied by a series of engravings upon wood, some of which highlight complicated cavalry movements whilst others depict simple communication signals that can be used by individual cavalrymen.  The item also contains an introductory chapter in which cavalry regulations and idiosyncrasies are discussed.


'William Hogarth': Self Portrait, later engraved by William Edwards (Plate 2, opposite Page 54)

The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects

Sp Coll BG44-g.17-22

This series, published in 1830, was compiled by Allan Cunningham, an eminent Scottish poet and songwriter of the period.  The six volume work contains biographical and historical essays on such prominent men as William Hogarth (1697-1764), Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788).  However, the content of each volume does not appear in any particular order; the three seemingly unrelated artists listed above all appear in the first volume of the work.  The items also contain examples of the artists' work, together to with a series of plates depicting their portraits.

'The Proportions of the Members in a Human Body' (Plates 2 and 3)

A Treatise on the Art of Painting in all its Branches

Sp Coll BG44-b.14-15

This two volume work, published in 1817, explains the intricacies of painting and is exemplified by 'remarks on the paintings of the best masters, illustrating the subject by reference to their beauties and imperfections.'  With chapters ranging from such simple notions as how to handle a pencil, to more technical concepts such as the use of ground shades according to the difference in light, the work provides a complete guide which is useful to everyone; to the novice it is a starter kit from where they can begin their art, whilst to an expert it is a superb reference manual.

'Eavesdropping' by Charles C. Seton (Page 20)

The Glasgow Exhibition, 1888; Special Number of the Art Journal

Sp Coll Mu25-x.35

This issue of the Art Journal commemorates the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, an international fair which highlighted the culture of the city.  Such exhibitions were held in France from the 17th century onwards, whilst the first to be held in Britain was the 1851 event at Crystal Palace.  The item begins with 8 pages of advertisements which in themselves are of social and historical interest, ranging from advertising new books to a beautiful colour illustration promoting Pears' soap.  Further on the work provides articles relating to industrial art, fine art and sculpture, before concluding with an historical account of the Bishop's Castle (otherwise known as the Castle of Glasgow), which was destroyed in the late eighteenth century to make way for the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.  The whole item is beautifully illustrated throughout with sketches and photographs taken from the exhibition.

For more information on International Exhibitions, please visit the October 1999 Book of the Month article on The Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901.

'Gnat No. 1. - The Wind; which makes the selection of a Subject a difficulty'
(Plate 3)

Gnats; and Other Hindrances to the Successful Accomplishment of Landscape Painting

Sp Coll P.A.A. q1

This quirky book, published in 1884, tells the story of an artist who attempts to paint a landscape picture one day, but comes up against several hindrances, or 'gnats'.  Told through a series of alternate pages of dialogue and etchings, the artist comes up against such problems as wind, rain, losing his paints and actual gnats.  The work also contains an etched title page and a traditional apology, in which the author states that he hopes his book may "soothe some of my suffering brethren to feel that the world has an opportunity... of sympathising with and dropping a tear over their swift-following misfortunes."

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This page was created by Toby Hanning: March 2007.