In 1831 and 1832 Turner made nine watercolours to be engraved for ‘Finden’s Landscape Illustrations to Mr Murray’s First Complete and Uniform Edition of The Life and Works of Lord Byron.’ The first part was issued alongside the first of Murray’s Life and Work in January 1832, and continued more-or-less monthly through twenty four parts to March 1834.
Edward and William Finden were brothers and among the leading engravers in London in the 1820s and 1830s. They established their reputation in the new medium of steel engraving, producing illustrations of high finish and tonal variety that were capable of yielding thousands of impressions without serious diminution of quality. This lent itself readily to an emerging middle-class market, and illustrated books began to proliferate from the mid-1820s. The Findens were John Murray’s engravers of choice to illustrate his new edition of Byron’s Life and Work, and keen to share in the profits of the illustrated book trade by producing a separate series of Landscape Illustrations.
The principal account of Turner’s illustrations to Byron is by David Blayney Brown in Turner and Byron (Tate, 1992). Rawlinson volume 2, 1912 lists the engravings (nos.406-431), and Wilton 1979 (nos.1210-1235) lists the watercolours, but Brown offers a much improved understanding of the publication history, separating out the two projects of the Life and Works and Landscape Illustrations. Jan Piggott adds further detail in Turner’s vignettes (Tate, 1993). The story of the project is reprised and extended, with facsimiles and transcripts of key documents, by Philip Farrugia Randon in ‘Turner’s Malta Watercolour’, HSBC Bank, Malta, 2000. The Life and Works is introduced separately here.
A prospectus for the Life and Works was issued in October 1831 and a notice appeared in the Literary Gazette for 8 October, p.653 that also announced the Landscape Illustrations.
Murray’s model for the Life and Works was Robert Cadell’s highly successful edition of Scott’s Waverley Novels, being a small format series, decently-bound and embellished with title vignettes and frontispieces to suit the library of new middle class bookbuyers. The trade had found tremendous profit in producing additional volumes of illustrations to accompany these volumes, and Finden saw the opportunity to produce something along those lines for Byron.
The Landscape Illustrations was originally intended, like the Life and Works to consist of fourteen parts, each containing four landscape subjects and one portrait, stitched in paper covers and printed at medium 4vo size (9 x 6 ½ ins), priced at 2/6 per issue.
Subjects were commissioned from most popular illustrators of the day. Turner was the lion amongst these, but the majority of the work was divided amongst the pride. Buyers of the first two parts might have thought that Clarkson Stanfield was to be the sole contributor, since all eight landscapes in those two issues were by him. Gradually others were allowed a turn. David Roberts, J.D.Harding, A W Callcott, J F Lewis, Samuel Prout and many others eventually appeared. Turner contributed his first subject to part 5, although three of the five plates in that issue were by Stanfield. Turner eventually managed to take a total of nine plates. The project must have been a success, for even after Murray’s Life and Work was completed, Finden’s Landscape Illustrations continued on to twenty-four parts. In all Landscape Illustrations featured one hundred and twenty plates, plus three title-page vignettes and three frontispieces (including one by Turner) as adjuncts to the three volumes in which it achieved its ultimate bound form.
Brown draws upon the documentation of John Murray’s ledgers and archive, now at the National Library of Scotland. He finds that work was already underway by October 1830. Edward and William Finden had solicited a list of subjects from Byron’s friend John Cam Hobhouse, and were charged by Murray with commissioning subjects from the artists, as well as engraving the plates. Brown also relates the difficulties caused when Hobhouse refused to contribute notes as the rationale of the subjects he had listed. Eventually this was resolved by William Brockedon who provided explanatory text for the plates when they appeared in volume form.
Most commentary, not least that given here, concentrates on Turner’s contributions alone. It would, however, be extremely fruitful to consider the project as a whole, and Turner’s work alongside that of his contemporaries. Turner was certainly the major artistic celebrity, but the other artists were equally if not more popular by the early 1830s. Stanfield was an especial success. A comparison of original works would no doubt prove Turner’s superiority, but under the engraving skills of the Findens, everyone’s work was brought up to the same high level. Over the previous two decades Turner had challenged his engravers to develop an especially subtle modulation of tone and atmosphere, and the Findens were expert in those effects. Most of Turner’s fellow-artists on the project were unashamed disciples of the great artist, and with the aid of Finden’s engraving the results were as Turnerian as their inspiration.
Together as a series, the illustrations establish a richly atmospheric, affective, and imaginative panorama of Europe, at just the time that the continent was opening up to mass travel and tourism. They exemplify, contribute to, and in many ways define, the Romantic notion of Europe for a generation or more.