James Northcote, History Painting, and the Fables
. Yale Center for British Art: Yale University Press . New Haven, CT
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I have been aware of this book for several years and have wondered about it, but its price seemed beyond our reach. There is presently a copy on Ebay, for example, for about $125. I was happy to find this much less expensive copy. It was published in connection with an exhibit of Northcote's fables at the Yale Center for British Art. The book has some 166 colored illustrations. The final two chapters of this oversized book are given to the fables. Part of Mark Ledbury's point is that Northcote worked in a kind of presentation that has become very popular today, what we would probably called multimedia. Many of Northcote's pieces are described here by Ledbury as "pen and ink with hand-cut collaged engravings." Harvey did his wood engravings from these collaged works by Northcote himself. Even a cursory glimpse of the illustrations of Northcote and Harvey shows how much the latter relied on the former for his basic conception of many of the fables' scenes. As the flyleaf proclaims, "Idiosyncratic, personal, and visionary, the Fables serve as a lens through which to examine Northcote's long, complex, and fruitful artistic career." Northcote gives a sense of the collaboration that went into his illustrated first edition: "Of the Numerous embellishments of these fables I claim but a small part of the merit. Although the original invention and designs for the prints are my own, yet they have been most excellently drawn on blocks and prepared for the engraver by Mr William Harvey, one of the most distinguished Artists in his profession; and many of the designs even have been improved by his skill." This volume concerns itself particularly with the manuscript of Northcote's first volume, published in 1828, distinct from the second volume, published posthumously in 1833. This fascinating and beautiful book makes me want to do a project sometime soon on what Northcote did with the fable genre.