Extending the Book: The Art of Extra-Illustration

By January 21, 2010 No Comments

On Exhibit January 28–May 25, 2010

Washington, DC – On the pages of some books, voices of past owners speak out alongside the words of the author. Margin notes might reveal study habits, frayed bindings an indication of heavy use, and food stains—like Samuel Johnson’s famous crumbs in the pages of his copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio—could indicate a casual attitude towards reading, or perhaps simply a hearty appetite. In some instances, owners added their own pages, with letters, memorabilia, maps, or artwork in a practice known as “extra-illustration.” Shakespeare’s works were particularly popular among extra-illustrators, and this unique blend of art and book history is the focus of a new exhibition, Extending the Book: The Art of Extra-Illustration, at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“Short of talking to the person who owned the book, extra-illustration offers one of the best ways to discover how such a person approached Shakespeare’s plays or other works of literature and what she or he found important in them,” said exhibition co-curator Stuart Sillars.

Book owners from almost all walks of life practiced extra-illustration. James Granger, an English country vicar with a penchant for collecting prints, is credited with launching the trend with the publication of his Biographical History of England in 1769. Granger’s un-illustrated book listed portraits of famous figures and a new term, “grangerizing,” was coined when people began supplementing their copies with actual examples of the portraits. Adding extra-illustrations—which might include images, but weren’t limited to such items—was an important way for book owners to personally interpret the text. “Some extra-illustrators were serious bibliophiles, starting with a deluxe copy of a text, adding fine prints and drawings to it, then commissioning an exquisite binding for the new creation. Others just enjoyed the relaxing hobby of collecting prints, drawings, letters, photographs, etc. using a book’s text as the framework. They would underline the specific words they wanted to ‘illustrate’ while reading the book, then start collecting material based on that list,” explains co-curator Erin C. Blake.

Exhibition Highlights

 The exhibition includes editions of the plays of Shakespeare, theatrical biographies, historical works, and other volumes drawn from the Folger collection that have been extended by the addition of prints, letters, and original drawings and watercolors:

A letter by Mark Twain. Correspondence was often mounted and carefully inserted into the pages of extra-illustrated books, and this letter by Samuel Clemens includes a tongue-in-cheek apology for his sobriety to an actress.

A “grangerized” edition of The Life of David Garrick. A two-volume biography of noted Shakespearean actor David Garrick was extended to a remarkable seventeen volumes; the books were professionally rebound to accommodate the added materials.

Victorian costume design. A watercolor costume design for a 1891 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost at Daly’s Theatre in New York City reflects Elizabethan rather than contemporary fashions.

A Eugène Delacroix watercolor. French artist Eugène Delacroix painted tragic heroine Ophelia several times; this delicate sketch was found bound into a French edition of Shakespeare’s works.

Source: Folger press release

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