Winner of the National Arts Writers Award, Nature’s Engravers: A Life of Thomas Bewick is Jenny Uglow’s beautifully illustrated biography of the man whose wildlife illustrations shaped the way we view the natural world.
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Thomas Bewick wrote A History of British Birds at the end of the eighteenth century, just as Britain fell in love with nature. This was one of the wildlife books that marked the moment, the first ‘field-guide’ for ordinary people, illustrated by woodcuts of astonishing accuracy and beauty. But it was far more than that, for in the vivid vignettes scattered through the book Bewick drew the life of the country people of the North East – a world already vanishing under the threat of enclosures.
In this superbly illustrated biography, Jenny Uglow tells the story of the farmer’s son from Tyneside who revolutionised wood-engraving and influenced book illustration for a century to come. It is a story of violent change, radical politics, lost ways of life and the beauty of the wild – a journey to the beginning of our lasting obsession with the natural world.
Nature’s Engraver won the National Arts Writers Award in 2007. Jenny Uglow is the author of, among others, A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Samuel Johnson Prize, Lunar Men and In These Times.
‘The most perfect historian imaginable’ Peter Ackroyd
Bewick, Hogarth's heir in his passion for drawing from life, was the greatest engraver Britain had produced. Jenny Uglow's earlier study of Hogarth is the blueprint for its natural successor, a book that is as delightful to look at as to read. Hogarth's life enabled this marvellous biographer to evoke the teeming, rackety world of London in the early 18th century. Bewick, born in 1753, nine years before Hogarth's death, offers different opportunities. ... Uglow's gorgeous book does rich justice both to the man and his art.
Perhaps future biographies (of requisite quality) celebrating a certain kind of unshowy Georgian figure could be called 'Uglow's Lives' after the woman who has made the genre her own. ... Jenny Uglow has captured her own man with just such skill. This is a lovely book, not just in the quality and sympathy of the writing but in the care of its design and illustration. She has turned a rich but undramatic life into a vignette as full of interest and detail as one of Bewick's own woodcuts.
Jenny Uglow's gift is to help us read (Bewick's) dramatic vignettes, and to see how they grew out of his experience of the countryside. She writes beautifully and sympathetically of his life.
Biographies rarely afford a glimpse behind the office door, and it is the image of Bewick at work that is so valuable here, earning Nature's Engraver a place next to two of this year's award-winning books, James Shapiro's 1599 and Hilary Spurling's Matisse, both of which excelled in their depictions of the artist scribbling away at his desk. ... It is hard to imagine a better biographer for this subject than Uglow, with her background in publishing and her knowledge of the North of England and the eighteenth century. It is also hard to imagine a more beautifully and produced book: scores of Bewick's frameless vignettes float frame-free and captionless throughout, appearing as they would have done in his own time, tale pieces every one.
A vivid depiction of the life of the 18th-century illustrator Thomas Bewick
Uglow's biography is as poignant, shapely and incisive as Bewick's woodcuts. Grounded in the countryside he came from, this marvellous book takes its structure from the River Tyne and explores the patterns of its subject's life organically, working outwards from within, tracing the inner play of force and feeling so that the outlines stand out crisply as each tiny detail falls into place.
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