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J W North ARA RWS, The Dalziel Bothers, Victoriana

J W North: The Publishers’ Circular and Booksellers’ Record on 10/1/1925

The following is a transcript of an article by Gilbert Dalziel that appeared in the The Publishers’ Circular and Booksellers’ Record on 10/1/1925. “As a painter in watercolours, North’s sense of colour was simply superb. He saw in Nature hues and effects which to an ordinary pair of eyes would be unobservable; and that he had the gift of being able to represent on paper, with the utmost tenderness and delicacy, all that was conveyed to his brain, as his pictures will forever show. Many years ago an all-wise critic wrote of North’s work that it was “hard, solid and brown” – a censure that amused the painter enormously. Had the critic been blessed with the vision of J W North himself, he would never have written those words! Working in oils, North showed the same subtle and poetic appreciation of the beauties of Nature as evinced in his watercolours; but it is held that he was seen at his best in this latter branch of his work. But to return to North’s illustrative “black and white” much of which was drawn direct on the woodblock. Happily when photography-on- the-wood became more perfect; he made his drawings on card or paper, and these were photographed on to the wood block and then engraved. Several of these “originals” are still in existence to testify to the refinement of North’s work in black and white. In this connection it is incorrect to speak of his “pen-work”; for never in his life did he use a pen. It was mainly all brush work; but if need be, he would at times use a hard pencil for very fine lines and minute detail. Of all the great artists of the last century who made drawings for the wood engraver none excelled that wonderful quartet made up of Fred Walker, J W North, G J Pinwell and A B Houghton. All nearly of an age, as very young men, they did splendid work; and no greater calamity befell British art than when in the year 1875, Walker, Pinwell and Houghton, aged respectively thirty five, thirty three and thirty nine. North has survived his three friends by close upon half a century living to see the old arts of wood- drawing die out, and mechanical process take the place of the latter. North’s early black and white work started when he and Walker were with Whymper, the wood engraver, and they appear to have done a deal of book- illustration in those days for the “S.P.C.K.” Then, as far back as 1863, North was drawing for Alexander Strahan’s Good Words and Sunday Magazine, and other publications of that kind; but his finest work is unquestionably to be found in many of the guinea Gift Books produced by the brothers Dalziel during the sixties. Take for instance “Wayside Posies” published by Routledge in 1867 and on on page 30 look at North’s drawing to a poem entitled “Reaping”. Where could anything grander be found in black and white? Colour, execution, design with the very breath of Nature pervading the whole thing, make it a wonderful achievement. “the wild bee is fencing the sweets of his realm, and the mighty limbed reapers are reaping.” Again on page 62 of the same work , his illustration to the poem, “A Vagrant’s Song” is a masterpiece of refined delicacy. The general effect of sunlight in the distance is quite remarkeable: “The wandering bird will find a crumb, the wandering man a crust.” Dozens of similar examples could be quoted. His work in “A Round of Days” published by Routledge in 1866 is equally beautiful; while in “Jean Ingelow’s Poems” published by Longman in 1867, North seems to have surpassed himself

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