Some French Illustrations

THE undertaking of the French publisher who, in issuing the first of a series of bulky volumes under the general title of Le Monde Pittoresque et Monumental, announces that it is but the beginning of a collection “ qui comprendra le monde entier ” can be fitly called stupendous. It shows that French readers are interesting themselves now in foreign countries more than they have been reputed to do, and, if we may judge fairly from the text and pictures in the first book1 of the set, which treats of England, Scotland, and Ireland, their interest in the physical or outward aspects, at least, of other lands and peoples than their own is sure to be stimulated by the lively, picturesque, intelligent, and comprehensive records made by authors and artists alike. It is hardly to be expected that a French writer, in analyzing the social life and institutions of England, should be able wholly to divest himself of national prejudices which have been nourished by centuries of mutual hostility, but we must do Mr. Villars the justice to say that he appears to be thoroughly acquainted with his subject, and that he uniformly tries to be fair and candid, although, as he admits, “ between the English and French tempers there is a vast gulf, which may not always be crossed even by those who best know the character of the two races.” He gives a very animated account of the multifarious life of London and its suburbs, to which one third of the space in the work is devoted. There is a particularly readable and discriminating passage about the great newspapers, their history, policy, and the general character of their contents. Perhaps Londoners may be surprised when they are told that their “ cabbies ” purposely run over pedestrians, and laugh at the victims (vide page 8) ; but, as if in compensation for the few harmless exaggerations of which this is an example, the author’s exhaustive description of a typical London home is a model of scrupulous and vivid realism. There is something wellnigh encyclopædic in the scope of Mr. Villars’ work ; almost nothing is left to the imagination. It is not otherwise when, leaving London, he begins to “ do ” the provinces : with the utmost system and an indefatigable vivacity he tells us all about the mills and the mines, the universities and the castles, the scenery of the coasts, of the lakes, of the Scotch highlands, and of the Green Isle, with every visible detail of commercial and social existence. All this is interesting, not because it is written from the point of view of the moralist, historian, or critic, but simply because it comes from a close observer whose own interest in his theme never flags.

That prolific artist, the sun, sending his rays through a camera, is responsible primarily for a great majority of the six hundred illustrations, and the same agent has been freely employed in the engraving of the plates. We hasten to add that photography has seldom been more artistically applied to the purposes of book illustration. Many of the subjects seem to have been photographed first, then redrawn with pen and ink or crayon, and the photogravures are made from these drawings. They have been selected with much taste, and the execution is generally satisfactory, in some instances even better than that of most wood-engravers. Marked improvements have been made everywhere lately in mechanical processes of engraving, but nowhere has such approximate perfection been attained as in France, where the production of exact fac-similes of the original drawings is a result upon which all illustrators are to be congratulated. In a large proportion of the pictures in question, clear and delicate flat tints of all shades of gray have been got by the use of drawing-paper, on which such tints have been printed, and from which the lights are scraped out by the artist. This is a common device, but it is sometimes abused, and is seldom so skillfully applied as in this case, where (as in Mr. Deroy’s drawing of the Tower, from the Thames, page 21) several tints of gray, shading from the lightest to the darkest, are laid on with apparent freedom and give a great deal of color. On the very next page the process is more clearly revealed, in the cut of St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, where the line intersecting lines which originally covered the whole surface of the drawing-paper have been entirely scraped out for the white clouds in the sky, and for the highest lights on the chimneys, parapet, salient parts of the rough wall, and other places where pure white is required ; while in still other places the same network of lines has been partially erased, as in the darker portions of the sky. The lower righthand corner of the plate represents the value which at first covered the draughtsman’s paper, and from which he has worked up to his lights by the use of the scraper, and down to his darks by the use of pen and ink. This is very neatly and knowingly done. It would be easy to point out many clever applications of this method, but we need only to mention the illustrations of St. Paul from Ludgate Hill (page 77), The Albert. Embankment (page 139), The Thames at Woolwich (page 205), Hunting in Scotland (page 239), The Bridge and Cathedral of Hereford (page 276), and Penzance (page 508). It is true that examples of the same sort of work which are less successful might be cited, — examples which have the unpleasant mealy textures of lithography, and in which softness has been carried to excess ; but as a rule the contrivance works well, especially in the reproduction of architectural compositions. The four admirable blocks in the first chapter on the provinces are from drawings by an American artist, Mr. C. S. Reinhart, cut by American engravers. All the illustrations have had the inestimable advantage of intelligent printing on good paper.

The Vicar of Wakefield has been newly translated into French by Mr. B. H. Gausseron, and appears in a gay Gallic version,2 with many colored illustrations by Mr. V. A. Poirson. We are sorry that we cannot inform our readers exactly how a picture is produced by chromotypographie, — for this is seemingly one of the latest Parisian inventions in the way of book illustrations, — but we can speak only of its result, which is a perfect fac-simile of a water-color drawing. It may well be fancied that such pictures give an uncommonly bright and cheerful appearance to the pages of a book. Mr. Poirson is an accomplished draughtsman, and his diminutive figures are full of life and expression ; but his coloring is rather too violent, and his love of vermilion is excessive. The dainty initial at the beginning of each chapter, and the highly decorative conceits (consisting of flowers, plants, fruits, birds, etc.) with which he has adorned the borders of his drawings, are very pretty and graceful. It may be said in praise of his illustrations that they present the English character of the people, costumes, architecture, and landscape with invariable fidelity.

  1. Le Monde Pittoresque et Monumental. L’Angleterre, l’Ecosse, et l’Irlande. Par P. VILLARS. 4 cartes et 600 gravures. Paris : A. Quantin. 1885.
  2. Oliver Goldsmith. Le Vicaire de Wakefield. Traduction nouvelle et complète. Par B. H. GAUSSERON. Paris: A. Quantin. 1885.