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March 2009 || 1

The Hartley Collection of Victorian Illustration

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Harold T. Hartley (1851-1943) amassed one of the most significant and comprehensive private collections of British Victorian wood engraved illustration. By the 1920s the collection was well known by fellow collectors and scholars, and selections from the collection were exhibited in London, Glasgow, and other locations. In 1925 the art writer and critic Walter Shaw Sparrow was invited to speak at the opening for an exhibition of works at the Glasgow Art Gallery from the Hartley collection. Sparrow’s remarks on the exhibition provide an introduction to the collection as a whole: 'It shows beautifully, in prints, drawings, and artist’s proofs, how mid-Victorian books and magazines were illustrated, and how the fine art of English wood engraving culminated, between 1855 and the beginning of the ’eighties….How fortunate we are, when we pass through the prints and drawings in this collection, to be able to study at our ease the many years of selective research which Mr. Hartley has given to a very fine hobby.'1 

The collection, acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1955, is comprised of more than 1,000 wood engravings, approximately 300 preparatory drawings, 83 wood blocks, and nearly 500 bound volumes by a wide range of artists and engravers, mainly dating from 1855 to 1875 (the so-called 'golden decades' of publishing and illustration).2  The major artists/illustrators of the era are all found within the collection – including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Ford Maddox Brown, Frederick Sandys, Simeon Solomon, George du Maurier, John Tenniel, George John Pinwell, Frederick Walker, and Frederic Leighton as well as many lesser known artists. The leading commercial wood engraving firms such as the Dalziel Brothers, Joseph Swain, and Edward Whymper are well represented. Imagery in the collection ranges from the stylized Pre-Raphaelite illustrations for the 1857 Moxon Tennyson (figure 1)
1. D. G. Rossetti, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (1857)
, to the satiric and humorous cartoons for Punch magazine, to the more traditional illustrations for contemporary serialized Victorian literature by authors such as Anthony Trollope and George Eliot that were published in Once a Week and Cornhill Magazine.

The wide scope of the collection allows us to view a complete range of quality and style as well as study the influence individual artists had on one another. In addition to the size and range of the collection, one of its strengths is the ability to examine the various stages of the wood engraving process and study the often complex relationship between the artist responsible for the original design and the wood engraver who translated this drawn design into a carved wood block for printing. An illustration began with the artist’s preparatory sketch on paper, which was then transferred (often with tracing paper) onto a block of boxwood coated with white watercolor (to make the drawn lines more visible). The engraver then began cutting the block, leaving the actual lines drawn by the artist in relief to be printed in black. The surface of the block was then printed as a proof, or trial printing, which was delivered to the artist for approval. These proofs were usually printed by hand or with a small press on delicate India paper. It is these artist’s proofs that often reveal detailed comments and corrections in pencil and/or white watercolor by the artist regarding the engraver’s work. The proof was then returned to the engraver who had the challenging task of correcting the block as indicated by the artist. After the block was finally approved by the artist, the final printing of the publication began. There are numerous instances in which a series of steps toward one illustration can be assembled within the Hartley collection.
2. J. E. Millais, ‘Irené’, proof (1862)

3. J. E. Millais, ‘Irené’, woodblock (1862)
John Everett Millais’s Irené was engraved by Joseph Swain and published in Cornhill Magazine (illustrating a poem by Rosa Mulholland). The block as well as numerous proofs and the bound volume of the magazine are contained in the collection (figures 2 and 3). One proof contains numerous pencil notations by Millais to Swain, indicating, for example, that the shading on the figure’s hand should be lighter, the top of her head slightly rounder, and the moonbeams softened. An inscription along the bottom margin of the sheet reads: ‘Please send me another proof after touche [...] it must be done most carefully.’ Proofs from Millais’s illustrations for Anthony Trollope’s novel Orley Farm (London: Chapman and Hall, 1862) show comparable comments and requests for corrected proofs (figures 4, 5, and 6).
4. J. E. Millais, ‘And then [sic] they all marched out of the room, each with his own glass’, proof (1861)

5. J. E. Millais, ‘Over their Wine’, preliminary sketch (1861)

6. J. E. Millais, ‘Over their Wine’, proof (1861)
Millais was one of the most prolific illustrators of the period and clearly favoured by Hartley. Similarly, Frederick Sandy’s The Little Mourner was engraved by the Dalziel firm and published as an illustration to Henry Alford’s poem of the same title in English Sacred Poetry (London: Routledge & Co., 1862). The collection contains a pencil sketch of snow-covered evergreen boughs that appear in the background of the image, an artist’s proof with detailed annotations by Sandys, the final proof, as well as the published volume of poetry (figures 7, 8, and 9).
7. F. Sandys, ‘The Little Mourner’, preliminary sketch

8. F. Sandys, ‘The Little Mourner’, proof with notes from artist

9. F. Sandys, ‘The Little Mourner’, proof

Harold T. Hartley devoted much of his life to the study and development of his collection of Victorian illustration. In his 1939 autobiography Eighty-eight Not Out, Hartley described how his collecting began as a child with shells and coins. Literature and book illustration attracted him early on as his mother was a reader of the weekly serial, The London Journal, and in his youth Hartley began clipping the illustrations by Sir John Gilbert and pasting them into scrapbooks. As an adult, Hartley went on to have a distinguished career as a producer of ‘expositions’ in London inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 but smaller in scale ­– Hartley’s autobiography elaborates on many of these projects in lively detail including the ‘Universal Exhibition’, the ‘Imperial Austrian Exhibition’, and the ‘Greater Britain Exhibition’.3  His collecting of wood engravings, drawings, and books continued as a serious hobby in the 1880s and 90s, and through his collecting he met and corresponded with many of the artists and engravers of the period.

Hartley was regarded as an authority on illustration, and in 1901 he was asked by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be on the executive committee for an exhibition of illustrations. He wrote in his autobiography that ‘this was the first time that the period known as the “sixties” was brought into any prominence’.4  One of the earliest books on the subject, Forrest Reid’s Illustrators of the Sixties, published in 1928, acknowledges the use of Hartley’s collection and his expert knowledge of the subject.5  In the 1920s, the collection was exhibited at several galleries in Great Britain, beginning with the Tate Gallery in 1923 and including the Royal Academy, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Birmingham Art Galleries, Manchester, and Glasgow.6  Sections of the collection were also loaned to exhibitions in Rome, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna.

In addition to his autobiography, Hartley authored a number of essays and articles relating to his collection. In 1924 he published an article on the artist George Pinwell in The Print-Collector’s Quarterly.7  Pinwell’s illustrations for the serials Once a Week and Good Words as well as the illustrated books published by the Dalziel brothers such as Dalziel’s Illustrated Arabian Knights (1863) and Dalziel’s Illustrated Goldsmith (1865) had become favorites of Hartley, as evidenced by the large number of proofs in his collection. In addition to biographical information on the artist, Hartley’s article also provided a detailed checklist of all known illustrations by Pinwell, contributing to the early scholarship on this artist. Hartley also wrote an essay entitled ‘Lewis Carroll and his Artists and Engravers’, which was published in a catalogue for the Lewis Carroll Centenary exhibition in London in 1932.8  Carroll’s illustrators were of special interest to Hartley. However he sold nearly all of the Carroll-related works from his collection before his death. What remains, however, is a remarkable pencil drawing by Henry Holiday for The Hunting of the Snark.

Following Hartley’s death in 1943, the collection was given by bequest to Hartley’s son, Sir Harold Hartley (1878-1972), who soon wished to find a buyer for his father’s collection (and wisely stipulated that the collection should remain whole instead of works being sold individually). The collection was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1955 under the curatorship of Henry P. Rossiter, Curator of Prints and Drawings. Rossiter purchased the collection for the Museum while in London.9 

Hartley wrote of his collection: ‘The desire to acquire things brought me into touch with many interesting people whom I should not otherwise have known. Besides this, the knowledge and experience gained has often provided to be of practical value. There are, after all, few pleasures in life greater than to know and to love beautiful things of man’s making and being able to get others to share the enjoyment of them. In this I have been very fortunate and owe a debt of gratitude in many quarters where I have been enabled to display some of my treasures.’10 

The Hartley collection beautifully depicts the range of Victorian illustration, the relationships between artists and engravers, and the technical aspects of wood engraving processes. Formed as the ‘hobby’ of one enthusiastic collector, it is also representative of Victorian taste and collecting. Additionally, it shows the complex interrelationship between Victorian literature and art, and will certainly be a source for continuing studies on Victorian illustration.


1 Walter Shaw Sparrow, ‘Book Illustration of the ‘Sixties: The Hartley Collection and Its Artistic Patriotism’, a paper read at the Glasgow Art Gallery on the evening of 10 February 1925. Published in Harold T. Hartley, Eighty-eight Not Out (London: Muller, 1939), p. 310.

2 For additional information on the Hartley collection, see: Sarah Hamilton Phelps, ‘The Hartley Collection of Victorian Illustration’, Bulletin: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 71 (1973), 52-67; and Susan P. Casteras, Pocket Cathedrals: Pre-Raphaelite Book Illustration (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 1991).

3 Harold T. Hartley, Eighty-eight Not Out (London: Muller, 1939).

4 Hartley, Eighty-eight Not Out, p222.

5 Forrest Reid, Illustrators of the Sixties (London: Fabar and Gwyer, 1928), foreword.

6 National Gallery, Millbank, Book Illustration of the Sixties (exhibition catalogue) (London: National Gallery, Millbank (now Tate Britain), 1923).

7 Harold T. Hartley, ‘George John Pinwell’, The Print-Collector’s Quarterly, 2 (1924), 162-189.

8 The Lewis Carroll Centenary in London, 1932 / Including a catalogue of the exhibition, with notes; an essay on Dodgson’s illustrators by Harold Hartley; and additional literary pieces, ed. by Falconer Madan (London: J. & E. Bumpus, Ltd., 1932).

9 Rossiter was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for over forty years and widely respected for his connoisseurship. Perry T. Rathbone, ‘Henry Preston Rossiter: Retiring Curator of the Department of Prints and Drawings’, Bulletin: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 65 (1967), 93-95.

10 Harold T. Hartley, Eighty-eight Not Out, p221.



Citing this article:
“The Hartley Collection of Victorian Illustration.” Journal of Illustration Studies (March 2009). 18 Mar 2019. <>