Linton- Life in the Collections
11) One Hundred Fables, Original and Selected. Embellished with Two Hundred and Eighty Engravings on Wood.
This late illustration work of the underrated painter and art critic James Northcote was published in the same year in which Linton began his apprenticeship. As an academic painter who originated from a low social rank, Northcote had been quite an exceptional case in the artistic field of the time. The peer of Goya had belonged to the circle of the proto-anarchist William Godwin and had made his mark with a historical painting, which dealt with the English Peasants’ Revolt. By writing in the style of the enfranchised slave Aesop, Northcote also in his late years had continued to work in a radical tradition, which sought to challenge injust power relations using a fable-like disguise.
Northcote’s designs for the headpieces were drawn on wood and prepared for the engravers by William Harvey, who was known as Bewick’s favorite pupil.He had engraved a substantial number of blocks for Bewick’s second version of Aesop’s Fables, and in Northcote’s version he was also the author of the minuscule ornamental letters at the beginning of the text, as well as of the pictorial tailpieces. When Linton became friends with him in the early forties, Harvey had already abandoned the engraving practice and had become a popular book designer and illustrator.
In Linton’s view, Northcote’s Fables display some of the finest engravings of Charlton Nesbit and John Jackson, both members of the Bewick School, as well as of Robert Branston and of Linton’s teacher George Wilmont Bonner. John Jackson would later play a crucial role in the development of xylography, as a pioneering art director of the first illustrated weekly Penny Magazine and as the author of A Treatise on Wood Engraving, the first history of the medium.