Experience an anarchic world in miniature, revealed through the delicate, painstaking skill of Thomas Bewick (17531828). Tale-pieces is an exhibition devoted entirely to the vignettes of the extraordinary artist-engraver and naturalist, Thomas Bewick.
Born at Cherryburn in Northumberland, Bewick spent his childhood on a small farm on the banks of the River Tyne. His surroundings instilled in him a life-long love of the countryside, rural life, and the natural world, that was to profoundly influence his work.
The artist spent his working life in Newcastle and became renowned for his mesmerisingly detailed woodcuts of animals and birds. He produced hundreds of illustrations for some of the greatest natural history encyclopaedias of his age, General History of Quadrupeds and History of British Birds, which remain truly remarkable in their beauty and accuracy.
Among the main illustrations appear Bewicks Tale-pieces (so called because they appeared at the bottom of a page or end of a chapter). These were used by the artist to playfully tell moral tales about human foibles, and to comment on our relationship with animals. Bewicks wit and humour are evident in these acerbic observations, often depicting an idyllic rural setting, filled with a dubious cast of fools, drunkards and scoundrels.
Bewicks engraved works were cut into the end-grain of blocks of box wood, an exceptionally close-grained hard wood that allowed a graphic fineness. Using this method dictated that the works be small in scale two to three inches however, the artist was far from restricted by this.
Tale-pieces features 140 of these miniature works. Due to the intricate detail, the illustrations are best viewed through magnifying glasses, available within the gallery. From a distance, due to their size, the engravings perhaps seem nothing more than a colourless smudge but draw closer and each piece will reveal its tiny scene; evocative, full of drama and breathtaking in detail.
Thomas Bewick: Tale-pieces is organised by Birminghams Ikon Gallery, and the exhibition runs at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery
from 10 July 16 October 2010.