[educatie] review History of Illustration

A review of History of Illustration (2019)

Edited by Susan Doyle, Jaleen Grove, Whitney Sherman

14 september 2021 door Emilie Sitzia

Cover of a History of Illustration

This long awaited volume is the first of its kind: a complete worldwide history of illustration.

There has been before it country specific histories (such as the very good De Verbeelders. Nederlandse Boekillustratie in de Twintigste Eeuw edited by Saskia de Bodt), many anthologies of all kinds (my favourites are by Rümann (1930), Simon (1942), Melot (1984) and Hillis Miller (1992)), but never before has such an ambitious volume been made.

The topics covered cross time – from pre-historical time (cave painting!) to the contemporary – and cross places – India, Japan, Latin America, China and the Muslim illustrative tradition for example are all represented. With such a range one could worry about the clarity and depth of information of this large volume. But the book follows mostly a chronological organisation, which makes it easy to use as a reference book. Furthermore an expert in the field writes each chapter. Indeed the international team of authors include illustration historians, practitioners, and educators. The chapters are well developed and pay particular attention to avoid all jargon and define all terms clearly. They also contain a bibliography to read further on the topics at hand. The book has easy to read Key Theme Boxes and Tech-Boxes that expand in a clear and easy to bite manner on core issues and technical innovations as they pop-up in the general chronology of the text. This makes it the perfect companion to students of illustrations, illustrators, novices in the field, illustration lovers, but also for specialists looking for specific references.

The volume’s introduction chapter defines illustration broadly. This wide definition is reflected in the content of the book that covers pre-print cultures worldwide as well as illustrated magazines, children’s picture books, fashion illustration, posters of all kinds, popular and pulp magazines, as well as comics, all the way to webcomics. The introduction also proposes an updated methodology to analyze illustrations that scholars (and students of illustration history) will find most useful. A handy timeline allows the reader to have an overview (and a preview) of the content of the book.

My favourite chapters (but you know I am biased) are Carter’s chapter on ‘British Fantasy and Children’s Book Illustration, 1650-1920’ and Lovejoy’s chapter on ‘Countercultures: Underground Comix, Rock posters, and Protest Art 1960-1990’. But these are just example of the very rich and fascinating content of the book.

Another notable elements of this book are the many coloured images (870!). This allows the reader to really understand the breadth of the visual culture at hand consider illustrations in theirs social, cultural, and technical contexts.

This comprehensive book is testament of the development of illustration as a discipline. With this authoritative yet accessible volume the field gains its main reference book for years to come.

As many illustration reference books, it is pricy but its broad appeal means that you certainly can ask your library to order it for you (or Santa). Otherwise the Ebook option is much more affordable.