Friday, 30 September 2016

Henry Wolf’s wood engravings

Henry Wolf (1852–1916)

“Landscape”, 1892, after Henry Wolf Ranger (1858–1916), wood engraving/photoxylograph (see the explanation of this process further below) on wove paper, published by “Century Magazine.”
Size: (sheet) 17 x 24.7 cm; (plate) 12.3 x 15.7 cm
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery offers a (brief) description of this print:

“'Tis Merry in Hall”, 1884, after Frederick Barnard (1846–96), wood engraving/photoxylograph (see the explanation of this process further below) on wove paper, signed and dated in the plate, published in “Harper's Monthly.”
Size: (sheet) 24.1 x 30.7; (plate) 12.4 x 19.6 cm
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, offers a (brief) description of this print: and has a large online gallery of 314 of Wolf’s engravings:

Condition: both prints are faultless impressions with full margins (as published). The upper print is in pristine condition. The lower print has a stain at the lower left corner and age toning towards the edges.

I am selling this pair of wood engravings/photoxylographs (see the explanation of this process further below) for AU$84 in total (currently US$63.91/EUR57.12/GBP49.32 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. If you are interested in purchasing these finely executed engravings, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

From a personal standpoint, this print is the real masterwork. I’m amazed that Wolf is able to represent such a wide spectrum of tones and subtle shifts in focal definition by variations in the size of each line and the complexity and variety in his groupings of marks.

The process of making this pair of wood engravings is fundamentally the same as that employed by the early masters of the craft in that each line is created by the hand of the artist cutting into the end-grain of a wood block. The major difference, however, is how Henry Wolf involves photography in the processing of the hand-engraved block to create what is termed a “photoxylograph”.

Richard Benson (2008) in his marvellous book outlining each of the printing processes, “The Printed Picture” (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), offers an excellent summary of the steps in this process of adapting wood-engravings for publication in the 1880s:
(I) … [A photograph was taken of the original artwork design]
(2) This negative was printed with a light-sensitive coating that had been applied to an end-grain wooden block.
(3) A carver laboriously engraved the block by hand, working with a burin and using the image printed on the wood as a guide.
(4) The finished block was locked up with type in a chase.
(5) This composite was used to generate a stereotype (a thin metal replica, shaped to fit a cylinder), and
(6) this plate, along with a group of others, was mounted on the cylinder of a rotary printing press, to be printed at high speed for use in the magazine …. (p. 214)

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