‘Walking was Bewick’s great escape, his own way of absorbing the history and life of his region.’
‘Everything he saw he tried to draw.’
Uglow, Jenny (2007). Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick
Bewick gathered information by walking and his work became a record of the people he saw everywhere he went. The fabulous illustrated books that he published pointed Bewick’s art towards the wider world and made his name known far beyond Northumberland but the heart of his subject matter was profoundly local.
Bewick drew as he walked, employing drawing as a means of recording and understanding the world he inhabited. I want to explore his use of drawing to record his immediate responses and how he used it later to reflect upon his observations. This tiny drawing of a dog on a stile must have been drawn from observation at the moment of seeing.
The Angry man is a detail that shows how Bewick was able to capture the movement of the man and the birds. The man’s right leg is depicted in two different positions and the line has mobility and fluidity throughout the image.
In comparison with the research on Bewick’s prints his drawings have been given much less attention. Seeing the drawings gives depth to one’s understanding of Bewick’s production: from the detailed still lives of specimens to the drawings with their notations and marks showing where they have been wrapped around the wooden block prior to the engraving.
I recently visited the Great North Museum: Hancock to look at the Bewick drawings in the Natural History Society of Northumbria collection. June Holmes the Archivist was extremely knowledgeable about the drawings and their history. Bewick used scraps of paper to draw on and his thumbnail, a recently discovered sketchbook is in private hands in the UK.
Bewick would colour the drawings sometimes to entertain his children.
This is possibly a drawing for the last vignette that Bewick made, depicting his own funeral.
All images courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, Great North Museum: Hancock
I recently visited the British Museum prints and drawings collection to look at the Bewick drawings that they have, including the field mouse above.
These portraits were made on Bewick’s five hundred mile walking tour around Scotland.
© The Trustees of the British Museum