Old Book Illustrations was born of the desire to share illustrations from a modest collection of books, which we set out to scan and publish. With the wealth of resources available online, it became increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to explore other collections and include these images along with our own. Although it would have been possible to considerably broaden the time-frame of our pursuit, we chose to keep our focus on the original period in which we started for reasons pertaining to taste, consistency, and practicality: due to obvious legal restrictions, we had to stay within the limits of the public domain. This explains why there won’t be on this site illustrations first published prior to the 18th century or later than the first quarter of the 20th century.
We are not the only image collection on the web, neither will we ever be the largest one. We hope however to be a destination of choice for visitors more particularly interested in Victorian and French Romantic illustrations—we understand French Romanticism in its broadest sense and draw its final line, at least in the realm of book illustration, at the death of Gustave Doré.
We also focused our efforts on offering as many different paths and avenues as possible to help you find your way to an illustration, whether you are looking for something specific or browsing randomly. The many links organizing content by artist, language, publisher, date of birth, and more are designed to make searching easier and indecision rewarding.
We have made the choice not to present our pictures as time handed them to us, but to restore them and make them as close as possible to the perfect print the artist probably had in mind when at work. It can be seen as a debatable decision and we provide an unprocessed scan to those of our visitors who would rather experience the imperfections of printing technologies of old or the ravages of time unaltered.
In addition to illustrations, we shall endeavor to regularly add articles, either biographies or short pieces about books and the cultural context in which they were published. We’ll choose these texts as close in time to their subject as possible, in order to retain what we can of the flavor and sensitivity of an era. We are also committed to making available in the English language relevant texts about French Romanticism which might be difficult to find elsewhere.
If you’re not sure how to use the site, feel free to take look at the short navigation how-to.
- The raw scan files are not totally unprocessed: they have usually been straightened in an image editor. But nothing more.
- When an illustration comes with a caption, this latter is usually quoted verbatim. When it doesn’t, we try to find a short excerpt in the surrounding text which can be used as one. When even that is missing, we make one up.
- If the “engraver” of an etching isn’t specified, it usually means the artist did the etching work.
- The year given as “published date” is the year of publication of that particular edition of the book from which the illustration was taken. It is not necessarily the year the book was first published, or the year the illustration was created. The same thing is true of the tags indicating the decades the books were published. Thus, it is possible to have an illustration created in the 1850s tagged “1880s” because it was taken from an edition of the book published in the 1880s. This is the case, for instance, for Doré’s illustrations of Droll Stories.
- If you select two subjects in the advanced search, the results will only show the illustrations that belong to both those subject categories. If you checked, for instance, “Animals” and “Humor,” the search will return only humorous pictures of animals, i.e. only pictures which are at the same time in the category “Animals” and in the category “Humor.”
Whereas if you select two techniques, for instance, “Etching” and “Lithograph,” the search will return all etchings and all lithographs. So if you choose to search for “Animals,” “Etching,” and “Lithograph,” the results will show you all lithographs and all etchings featuring animals. Whereas, if you choose to search for “Animals,” “Humor,” and “Lithograph,” the search will return only humorous lithographs of animals.