1824: Portfolio introduces a series of cuts by "Mr. Bewick".
Death attacks the soldier with a large arrow instead of a bone.
The genuine John Bewick's woodcuts were destroyed by fire in 1803.
Nevertheless, 7th August 1824 the magazine "The Portfolio" featured an octagonal woodcut,
which was a copy of the frontispiece created by John Bewick:
Death leading all citizens out of town to the open grave
(picture to the left). The woodcut was followed by this blurp:
»WE have the pleasure of presenting our readers with three beautiful engravings by the first
Wood Engraver that ever this Country produced — Bewick.
We may venture to add,
that our present Number will testify that expence is an object
which is never regarded in supporting the character of the Portfolio, as the most attractive Periodical of the day«.
In the following issues, several of these octagonal woodcuts were featured, two and two.
Above each pair of woodcuts was the title
»The cuts by the celebrated Bewick«.
At a first glance these woodcuts are so special that it's hard to tell
whom they are supposed to copy,
but when Death attacks the soldier with an arrow instead of a bone (picture to the right),
we know it isn't a copy of Bewick, but rather of Birckmann, Hollar or Deuchar.
And verily: All the woodcuts that were brought were among those 30
dancers that Hollar had engraved. And under each picture was
the same letter-press that had been used
in the 1816-edition of Hollar.
After having produced copies of 28 of Hollar's 30 etchings (Death's Escutcheon and the soldier was still missing),
the editor needed letter-press for the rest of the dance (i.e. those dancers not in the 1816-edition of Hollar).
Since the letter-press for the 1816-edition of Hollar
was taken from earlier editions of Deuchar
(who in turn took them from Mechel),
the logical step would have been to get hold of an edition of Deuchar
to get the rest of the letter-press.
But instead the editor chose to accompany all the following woodcuts
with the stilted verses from
the genuine Bewick's book.
The 1825 edition: Engravings on Wood by Mr. Bewick
When you don't bother to read the text you're stealing, the result can become rather bizarre.
According to the caption for this picture of two skeletons,
"the two figures […] represent the dress of the Swiss Nobility of the sixteenth century."
When then 50th woodcut was published 23rd October 1824, the magazine ended with an announcement:
»Announcements. Charlton Wright Has just Published […]
The celebrated Holbein's Dance of Death, with 52 spirited Engravings by the celebrated Bewick, beautifully printed«
— and verily,
in 1825 William Charlton Wright published
»The Dance of Death of the celebrated Hans Holbein,
in a Series of Fifty-two Engravings on Wood by Mr. Bewick«
(pictures left and right).
The octagonal woodcuts are those from The Portfolio with the same mixture of stolen texts and stolen verses.
Now Death's Escutcheon had been added and was adorned by a description from the 1816-edition of Hollar.
This one description was written by Douce,
and the result was rather bizarre (see picture to the right).
The title doesn't specify, which "Mr. Bewick" it refers to.
John Bewick's woodcuts had perished back in 1803, and he had been dead for 30 years.
It wasn't his famous brother,
»the celebrated Bewick«, either.
Thomas Bewick called the book a »barefaced falshood« in a letter:
»PS, the Publisher of Holbein must be certain of my death or he would not openly put forth so barefaced a falshood
as that of my having done any Cuts for the 'Dance of Death«.(1)
The woodcuts received an extremely favourable review in The Literary Magnet:
»MR. WRIGHT has here presented us with the best edition we have yet seen of Holbein's
Dance of Death. The work was much wanted; for the former ones were
sadly imperfect; and the character of the wood-cuts, which alone lends popularity to
the book, were defaced and worn down by the continual demands for them. Of Mr.
Bewick, the artist of the present wood-engravings, we need say nothing ; his name is
well known to the admirers of the Fine Arts; but let us add, — that if any thing is
likely to give permanency to his well-earned reputation, it is the masterly way in
which he has here illustrated Holbein's Dance of Death. The characters throughout
may almost vie with those of Hogarth in vivid and startling reality, as any one who
will refer to the engravings XXVIII. and XL. may perceive. Add to this, that the
whole series form a fine moral tale of the mock-sublime nature; similar, and indeed
in no respect inferior, to the celebrated Love-a-la-Mode of Hogarth. On the whole,
we wish our publisher all the success that his spirited speculation merits.«
" for purposes of caricature"
Notice that in the last sentence it says, "our publisher". Independent art experts
were less impressed — in fact, the indignation over this edition spread all over the world:
In England, Douce(2)
doubted that the cuts were made by Bewick,
»… the cuts, if Bewick's, [are] very inferior to those in his other works«
and he called them
in Germany, Massmann(3) wrote
»arg modernisirt«; and in France,
Brunet(4) characterized them as
»Copie médiocre et infidèle« and
»ridiculement modernisées et d'une exécution médiocre«.
The American Warthin(6)
summed it up: »The cuts with several exceptions are imitations of the original Holbein,
but are absurdly modernized; both the costumes and the properties are represented in the contemporary style …
[they] have somewhat the quality of caricature in them […]
If these cuts are Bewick's, which Douce seems to doubt, they are far inferior to his other work, and executed in a different style.
They represent a far departure from the old medieval conceptions and treatment,
and betray the tendency of the early nineteenth century to use the Dance of Death motive for purposes of caricature«.
The woodcuts were also printed on broadsheets with the title
»Printed from Original Woodcuts, Engraved by Thomas and John Bewick«.
Curiously enough, a former owner has struck out the words "Thomas and" — as if it was more
probable that the woodcuts were made by John, who had been dead for 30 years.
One must agree with the critics: The woodcuts are
"for purposes of caricature" and "ridiculously modernised",
and there's no way they were
made by the brothers Bewick.
But they are rather amusing, and a nice change of pace compared to John Bewick's more indifferent
copies and the stilted text.