Scene Through Wood: A Century of Wood Engraving

By Anne Desmet - Rating: 9/10

While wood engraving was the method of illustrating books for at least a century, there doesn’t seem to be many books about the great works of the media. With the help of Ebay and Amazon’s long-tail I have slowly been collecting whatever books on the topic that I could find. Scene Through Wood is the accompanying catalog for a large Ashmolean Museum exhibition of (mostly) British wood engravings. The exhibition was derailed by the 2020 pandemic but I think it eventually was open to the public by the end of the year. I saw the catalogue hyped by many of the printmaking artists I follow on the Insta-G (Insta-G is what us cool dudes call Instagram), so, of course, I had to buy it.

As one would expect, it is filled with many excellent reproductions of the various wood engravings featured in the exhibition. Even the abstract stuff, which I normally don’t cotton to, is lovely. Of course there are several stinkers, but overall it’s a very good collection of art with lots of variety. The author, Anne Desmet, includes several of her works throughout the book. I can’t decide of this is bold or douchey.

Each piece includes a few paragraphs about the artist. These mostly are just a laundry list of societies and titles which I’m sure is meaningful in Britain’s lingering class-based society, but here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we just do the patriotic thing and skim over them. I did like the introduction by Simon Brett which does provide some context but, overall, this more of an overview of the variety styles and themes of 20th Century wood engraving rather than a straight-up art history lesson.

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