An Introduction to the History of Book Illustration & its Technologies

Course Organisers: Rowan Watson, Elizabeth James
26-30 June
Course Tutors: Brian Alderson, Amanda Jane Doran, Anthony Hamber, Julia Walworth, Catherine Yvard; Victoria and Albert Museum (Prints curators); London Print Studio

This course offers an introduction to the history of post-medieval Western book illustration, with an emphasis on developments in printing and in printmaking technology. Students will have the opportunity of seeing selected methods demonstrated, and will be encouraged to work towards an understanding and recognition of some of the main techniques through examining examples. However these are regarded in the context of wider social, economic and aesthetic themes.

The course is partly based at the Victoria and Albert Museum, drawing on the collections both of the National Art Library and of Prints.

The course is suitable for librarians, art-historians, collectors, dealers, museum curators, print enthusiasts and literary and cultural historians as well as bibliophiles.

Course Outline


1 Introduction (Course leaders); and, Selling through pictures: the case of emblem books, 16th - 18th centuries (Julia Walworth)
2 Early books illustrated with woodcuts (Rowan Watson)

Tuesday (V&A National Art Library)

3 The advent of printing in the 15th century: manuscripts in transition (Catherine Yvard)
4 Careers and texts: illustrators and illustration in 18th-century England and France (Rowan Watson)
5 Innovations, enterprise and the market, England and France 1780-1840 (Rowan Watson and Elizabeth James)

Wednesday (V&A National Art Library)

6 Image-led publishing in France and England: from the Charivari to Dickens, 1820-1860 (Rowan Watson)
7 Mystic, Medieval and Modern: German Book Illustration 1790-1860 (Amanda-Jane Doran)
8 Artists and Illustrators from Pre-Raphaelites to the modern artist’s book (Rowan Watson and Elizabeth James)


9-11 V&A Prints & Drawings Study Room (am) / London Print Studio (pm)

9.45am - 10.30am: Woodcut and wood engraving  (Katharine Martin)
10.30am  - 11.15am: Engraving and etching (Annemarie Bilcough)
11.45am - 12.30pm: Lithography
12.30pm - 1.30pm: Lunch
1.30pm – 2.30pm: Travel to London Print Studio

14.30-17.30: Workshop / practical demonstrations of etching and lithography (Darren Van Der Merwe)


12 Absorbing a new technology: photography and the book (Anthony Hamber)
13 The illustrator as interpreter: the case of children's books (Brian Alderson); and wrap-up discussion (course leaders) 

Outcomes for Students

  • An understanding of the functions of images with texts in the printed book, at different times in history.
  • An understanding of the techniques of printmaking as used in illustration, and experience in recognising different methods.
  • Approaches to illustration as a subject of study in its own right. 

Recommended Introductory Reading

G.N. Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914 (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; London: OUP, 1976. 
John Harthan, The History of the Illustrated Book: the Western Tradition (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981).
G.N. Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book 1700-1914 (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library and  Cornell University Press, 1982).
Michel Melot, L’Illustration, histoire d’un art (Geneva: Skira, 1984) / The Art of Illustration (New York: Skira-Rizzoli, 1984).
Bamber Gascoigne, How to Identify Prints : a Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Inkjet (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986).
J.I. Whalley and T.R. Chester, A History of Children’s Book Illustration (London, John Murray and Victoria and Albert Museum), 1988.
Keith A. Smith, Structure of the Visual Book (Rochester, NY: Keith A. Smith, 2003), 4th ed.
Rowan Watson, Elizabeth James and Julius Bryant, eds., Word & image : art, books and design from the National Art Library (London: V&A  Publishing, 2015).




Elizabeth James is head of National Art Library Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has an MA in Book History from the University of London, and her research interests include art publishing, especially at the V&A, and artists’ books. She has curated book displays at the V&A and co-curated ‘Inspiration By Design’, a  National Art Library exhibition in Australia, 2015. Her essay ‘John Lockwood Kipling and Book Illustration’ appears in the exhibition catalogue John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London (V&A, 2016).

Dr Rowan Watson was until 2015 Senior Curator in the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum. After completing a PhD thesis on Angoulême and the duchy of Aquitaine between the 11th and 13th centuries, he worked with manuscript collections in the Senate House Library, the Glamorgan Archive Service and the National Art Library. He has published studies of a number of illuminated manuscripts, on modern artists’ books and on the revival of interest in medieval art in the 19th and 20th centuries. He teaches on the MA in the History of the Book at University of London.