Yesterday’s Guardian has a review of Jenny Uglow’s biography of the engraver Thomas Bewick. A reminder that the paper version has its advantages: that one was illustrated with one of Bewick’s engravings, the Leicestershire Improved Breed from A general history of quadrupeds.
Bewick’s interests ranged far beyond portraits of prize livestock (as you can see in the History of Quadrupeds); but the genre was much in vogue from the late 18th century onwards and well into the 19th century, until prints and paintings were superseded by photography – matching, of course, the rise of livestock improvement and new breeds.
Fashions of the time dictated that size (no doubt contrasting with the general run of small, skinny, scrubby mongrels) was everything. Vast cattle, fat sheep and long pigs, all perfectly groomed and set against a backdrop of idyllic pastures, sometimes tended by equally well-groomed, smug yokels. No real sheep ever looked quite like this: the animal portrait was intended to advertise a breeder’s wares, and to romanticise too.
I love them.
UPDATE (15 Oct): Jenny Uglow on Bewick at the Guardian.