Dances, Death Rites and Dedications: The Art of Dying

  • by Adam Barham, Art Library, Leeds Central Library

Throughout history, death has inspired artists to create stirring and thought-provoking work. As death affects us all and invokes a whole range of emotions, there are myriad examples of death-inspired art. These include explorations of the nature of death, depictions of deaths and funerals, as well as dedications and monuments for the dead. Artwork of this kind provides an illuminating insight into different attitudes towards our mortality. It also provides a useful starting point for conversations about dying, death and bereavement. To mark the upcoming Dying Matters Awareness Week (8-14 May 2017) we have delved into our Art Library archives in order to showcase some death-related art books.

Plate XLII from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Old Man

Plate XLII from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Old Man

Our first item is the wonderfully titled ‘The Dances of death, through the various stages of human life: wherein the capriciousness of that tyrant is exhibited: in forty-six copper-plates’. A Dance of Death, also known as a Danse Macabre, is a representation of a dance in which people are summoned to die by spectral personifications of Death. In each scene, Death enters to claim his victim and we see the nature of their death. Some deaths seem calm and dignified, others less so. Several versions of the Dance of Death have been produced. This particular version, published in 1803, includes etchings produced by an eighteenth-century printmaker called David Deuchar. The etchings are based on woodcuts produced by the sixteenth-century German artist Hans Holbein, although Deuchar made some alterations to Holbein’s work.

Plate XXIX from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Judge

Plate XXIX from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Judge

Most versions of the Dance of Death show the dying moments of people from all walks of life, ranging from the most powerful to the most unfortunate. The intention is to remind us that death is the great leveller: everyone will die, regardless of their station in life. Our 1803 version follows this tradition, showing the deaths of kings, emperors, clergyman, farmers and beggars. This version also incorporates criticisms of those at the top of the social scale. In the depiction of a judge’s death, for instance, the judge appears to spend his final moments taking a bribe (see above). Criticisms are also levelled at those with dubious morals. The illustration of a gambler’s death, for instance, suggests that the gambler’s lifestyle has caused him to be claimed by the Devil as well as Death (see below).

Plate XL from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Gamesters

Plate XL from ‘The Dances of Death…’ – The Gamesters

Our second item comes from the world of painting. ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Gallery’ explores a variety of paintings held by our close neighbours, Leeds Art Gallery. One particularly relevant painting is Frank Knoll’s ‘The Village Funeral’ (below). Knoll’s painting shows a grieving Victorian family about to bury their mother in a country graveyard. The family includes young children, who have obviously lost their mother far too early. According to the guide, Knoll chose this subject to highlight the hardships of country life to his rich city-dwelling patrons.

Frank Knoll’s ‘The Village Funeral’, pictured in ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Gallery’

Frank Knoll’s ‘The Village Funeral’, pictured in ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Gallery’

Our next item represents funerary art. Practised in most cultures of the world, funerary art includes any creative work produced in connection to repositories for the dead, such as graves or sepulchres. It can also include memorials and dedications to the dead. Some striking examples of funerary art can be found in ‘The Oxford Portfolio of Monumental Brasses’, published 1898-1901. Monumental brasses are brass sheets engraved with depictions or dedications to the dead; they are often found covering tombs in churches. ‘The Oxford Portfolio…’ contains rubbings of these brass engravings, all beautifully presented on large folio-size sheets.

Brass rubbing from ‘The Oxford Portfolio of Monumental Brasses’

Brass rubbing from ‘The Oxford Portfolio of Monumental Brasses’

Brass rubbing from ‘The Oxford Portfolio of Monumental Brasses’

Brass rubbing from ‘The Oxford Portfolio of Monumental Brasses’

We stay with funerary art for our last item. ‘Ancient Sepulchral Monuments’ contains over 600 illustrations of stone tomb monuments from various centuries, including obelisks, headstones and incised slabs (stone slabs with designs engraved into their surface). The illustrations are rendered in a delightfully painstaking fashion; besides their value as an archaeological record, they are quite stunning to look at in their own right.

Illustration from ‘Ancient Sepulchral Monuments’

Illustration from ‘Ancient Sepulchral Monuments’

Illustration from ‘Ancient Sepulchral Monuments’

Illustration from ‘Ancient Sepulchral Monuments’

Further examples of death-inspired artwork will be on display in the Art Library throughout May 2017. The display will feature books and images relating to artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo, Lady Butler and John Everett Millais.

In Memory of David Strachan, a Yorkshire Scot

  • Guest blogger Val Hewson, from the Reading Sheffield project, tells the story of David Strachan, a Leeds librarian who died in the First World War. Val came across him by chance, in a 1923 article in the Library Association Record about plans for a memorial to librarians lost in the war.

One hundred years ago today, on 29 December 1916, Captain David Livingstone Strachan of the West Yorkshire Regiment died, a casualty of the First World War. He was one of around 670,000 British army personnel, and one of 10,000 people from Leeds, to die on war service.  He is unique in being the only Leeds librarian to lose his life.  He was 27 years old.


In 1914 David Strachan was an assistant librarian in the Central Library in Calverley Street. He worked in the Reference Library, then located in the 2nd floor room now occupied by Local History.  The tables there today are apparently the original furniture, and Strachan presumably worked at them.  Much of the research for this post was done at those tables.

An image of the room where David Strachan worked, as it is now and how it would have looked when he was here

An image of the room where David Strachan worked, a merged view of how it is now and how it would have looked when he was here

Strachan was born on 24 March 1889 in Sheepscar, the second youngest of eight children. His parents, John and Annie, were Scottish and had settled in a part of Leeds where many Scots lived.  On official forms John described himself as a bookseller or bookseller’s assistant.  It’s tempting to think that books were valued in his family and led to his son’s profession.

David Strachan became one of the earliest Scouts in Leeds. In 1908 Baden-Powell published Scouting for Boys, advocating woodcraft and the like to train boys for adulthood, and patrols started up everywhere.  Strachan established the 4th North East Leeds Caledonians[1] in Harehills.  The name reflects his and the community’s part-Scottish identity, as does wearing the kilt for uniform.  ‘Scoutmaster Strachan’ was sometimes quoted in the Leeds Mercury, for example for instituting a domestic cookery test for his troop.


When Baden-Powell visited Leeds in June 1914 for a rally of 3,000 Scouts before the Town Hall, David Strachan and his troop were surely on parade. In his speech, the Chief Scout described the movement as ‘insurance for the country’, a way to ‘prevent human and inhuman waste’ and, he hoped, a ‘stepping-stone towards universal peace’.[2]


Programme for the visit of the Chief Scout to Leeds in 1914. From the Local and Family History collection

But war came just months later, and Strachan joined the West Yorkshire Regiment (1/6th  battalion) – an act recorded in Leeds Libraries’ 1914 report. [IMAGE OF 1914 REPORT] He was commissioned in June 1915 and promoted to captain in July 1916.  The battalion travelled to France that year, to the Battle of the Somme, which left over a million dead and wounded on all sides.  We have no record of Strachan’s role, but his battalion took its turn in the front line:

… On the left the 146th Brigade…did not do so well: most of the 1/6th West Yorkshire, being enfiladed by machine-gun fire … failed to force an entry into the German front trench… (Official History, 3 September 1916)

… casualties for the day were: officers wounded – 3, officers missing – 3, other ranks killed – 30, other ranks wounded – 172, other ranks missing – 33.   (1/6th battalion war diary, 3 September 1916)

According to the Yorkshire Evening Post,[3] Strachan was invalided home in late 1916 ‘as a result of his strenuous efforts at the front’.  He came to the 2nd Northern General Hospital at Beckett Park, Leeds, where ‘his illness unfortunately developed’ and he died just after Christmas 1916.  He was one of 226 reported deaths out of 57,000 patients.  What killed him was meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.  Meningitis can be fatal today, and was more likely to be so in 1916 when treatment was difficult.  The Official History of the Great War[4] records 393 cases, with a death rate of 35% for 1916.   Meningitis could mean: delirium, photophobia, muscular rigidity, incontinence, sepsis, hydrocephalus and gangrene.  The Official History clinically notes ‘agonising pain’.  It was a miserable death.


On 2 January 1917, there was a military funeral at Lawnswood. Mourners included the Strachan family, brother officers, Leeds Chief Librarian T W Hand and, said the Leeds Mercury, ‘a large number of Boy Scouts [including] the 4th North Leeds Caledonians’.  The grave, with its Celtic cross marker, is next to the War Graves enclosure where Strachan’s name is carved on the memorial.



David Strachan’s death was noted in the Leeds Libraries’ report for 1916. He is formally  remembered by Clan Strachan and on the Leeds and Scouts Rolls of Honour, the Scottish National War Memorial and the Library Association memorial at the British Library in London.



But more touching are the annual memorials his family put in the Leeds Mercury and his Scouts’ decision to change their name to Strachan’s Caledonians.

cutting-in-memoriam-mercury-291220 cutting-strachans-caledonians-mercury-270317

If any member of the Strachan family reads this, please get in touch.

Thanks to Antony Ramm of the Leeds Local History Library and Richard Wilcocks, who wrote Stories from the War Hospital about Beckett Park, for their help; and to the staff of the British Library for letting Val see the Library Association memorial.

Leeds Local History Library has a wealth of material about the city’s First World War experience including newspapers, photographs, official records, books and maps. A research guide listing highlights from the collection is available on this site. 

[1] Sometimes called the 4th North Leeds Caledonians.

[2] Yorkshire Post, 8 June 1914.

[3] Yorkshire Evening Post, 30 December 1916.

[4] History of the Great War Based on Official Documents, Medical History of the War: Diseases of the War, Vol I.

‘Half a cup of cream which nobody else seemed to want’: The American Diary of a Leeds Librarian

  • Guest blogger Val Hewson is a researcher for Reading Sheffield, an oral history project about popular reading in the mid-20th century.  This has led her to research library services in Sheffield and elsewhere.  In the Leeds Local and Family History Library, she read a diary belonging to F.G.B. Hutchings, Chief Librarian of Leeds between 1946 and 1963. Val has kindly agreed to write an article based on what she read in the Hutchings diary. You can find out more about other books, documents, manuscripts and ephemera relating to the history of the Leeds Library Service by browsing our research guide.

‘I managed to drink half a cup of cream which nobody else seemed to want.’  So said Fred Hutchings – gleefully – in the diary he kept during a business trip to the USA in October 1951.  As well as impressions of American libraries, the diary includes trenchant observations on: noisy department stores; the ‘strange’ music at church services; and, to Hutchings’ dismay, the threat of war, with many Americans ‘held in the grip of the idea of Communist aggression’.  But the diary also reveals a particular concern for American hospitality and cuisine, which is unusual in a man of evident moderation.

There are in fact good explanations for his interest.  International travel was less common in 1951 than now and people were just less familiar with foreign food.  (When Ian Fleming wanted to signal James Bond’s sophistication in Casino Royale, he had him eat the then exotic, but now commonplace, avocado.)  More importantly, there was still rationing in the UK.  Confectionery, sugar, butter and meat were all restricted.  In the USA, with its almost unlimited resources, rationing stopped in 1946.  Hence Hutchings’ enjoyment of that cream.

As an important visitor, Hutchings went to various official functions.  In Philadelphia, he was a guest of honour at a lunch for 300 people. ‘…we had good talk and good food.  The soup was very good as American soup can be.  The chicken was done to fastidious succulence.  Not a lot to eat, but very good.’

hutchingsHutchings found that many Americans were personally kind and hospitable.  ‘Miss MacPherson threw a very good party tonight,’ he notes.  And there was lunch at the home of Luther Evans, the Librarian of Congress: ‘…quite excellent.  Mrs. Evans knows how to cook according to the best American standards, and they are very good.  Soup, liver done to a turn with rice, French fries.  Chocolate blancmange and whipped cream.  Does not sound much, but the quality of the food, its cooking and flavour made it one of the best meals I have had in years.’  And another home-cooked dinner was a feast: ‘Chicken, rice, French fries, peaches in rum, followed by custard pasty with whipped cream.  Before the meal we had Burgoynes (American whisky in water with ice – v.g.)  After the meal we had brandy and coffee.’

When on occasion he returned the hospitality, Hutchings was conscious that prices were ‘haywire’. ‘[He] had got a room for me at $2 a night without food.  This is very cheap and feeding should not exceed (with care) $3 a day.  It is as well.  I gave lunch yesterday to two people who had been specially good to me: cost $8 or £2 16s* – Can’t keep that up!’  He winced when he  bought food for a parcel to send home – a common transatlantic practice at the time.  It was ‘a lengthy and expensive process.’

Outside the professional sphere, the highlight of the visit for Hutchings was probably his weekend in Clifton, Virginia, at the home of an old-school Southerner, Colonel Willard Webb, who was Chief of the Stack and Reader Division at the Library of Congress.  ‘It was hospitality on the grand scale’ and a ‘kind of wonderland existence’.  Hutchings was charmed by the ‘wooden house [in] five acres of wooded, undulating country.’  (The property is now a nature reserve.)  A trip to Manassas reveals a town ‘rather like a more up to date version of Kirby Lonsdale [sic]’ and ‘so quiet and unexciting, yet warm and soothing.’


webb-2Willard Webbs’ house and grounds. By permission of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Hutchings finishes his diary travelling from London to Leeds, without much reflection on the trip. However, despite the diary’s last words – ‘How anxiety to get home presses me.’ – we can be pretty sure that he relished his experience.  He certainly enjoyed a greater range of food, although he patriotically said that, for all their resources, Americans didn’t ‘eat as well as we do as a rule’.  But the home cooking he encountered was simple and very good.  And, more importantly than any particular food, Hutchings appreciated the warmth and kindness shown to him by so many Americans.

You can read more about Hutchings’ visit, including his views on American libraries, in an article by Alistair Black, University of Illinois here.

Photo of Mr Hutchings from the Local and Family History newscuttings collection. The caption below this image reads: “Colonel Willard Webb, leader of the American delegation to the Film Festival, held a reception last night. Among those who attended were Mr Fred Hutchings, the Leeds City Librarian, and Mr Marcus Milne, Aberdeen’s City Librarian, who was accompanied by his ten-year-old son, David.”

*  $2 in 1951 = approx. $19 in 2016.  $3 in 1951 = approx. $29 in 2016. $8 in 1951 = approx. $74 in 2016. £2 16s in 1951 = approx. £87 in 2016.

Stories, Songs and Proclamations

By Karen Downham, Local & Family History Library

This week in the blog we will be looking at Broadsides, and exploring some of those in the Local & Family History Collection.

A broadside, in its simplest definition, is a sheet of paper printed only on one side. They were often posters announcing events, proclamations, and advertisements, sometimes with a song, rhyme, or news.


They may sometimes have had woodcut illustrations, but were mostly textual, and were printed to be read unfolded or posted in public places, although they could also be cut in half lengthways, making a ‘broadslip’, or folded to make  something called a ‘chapbook’.

For early, primitive printing presses, it was easiest and cheapest to print a single sheet of paper, and these could be sold for as little as a penny. They were designed to be a temporary document for a particular purpose, and intended to be thrown away after use. These broadsides were one of the most common forms of printed material in Britain & Ireland.

Huge numbers of broadsides were produced in England & Ireland, particularly with the mechanisation of the printing industry at the start of the 19th century, and many were sold by travelling chapmen (traders or itinerant pedlars) or balladeers in the streets and at fairs. The balladeers would sing the songs printed on their broadsides, hoping to attract customers.

In the times before newspapers, and before the internet and 24 hour news channels, the public had to look to street literature to find out what was happening.  For some 300 years, the broadsides were the most popular form of street literature – in a way the tabloid newspapers of their day. They were sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses.  In later years they were used for political agitation, and also for scaffold speeches.  Broadside were often sold at public executions, and would feature a crude image of the crime or criminal, an account of the crime and trial, and sometimes a confession of guilt. There was often some sort of verse warning others not to follow the same course  and suffer the same fate!

By the middle of the 19th century the broadside began to be taken over by the cheap newspapers and by sensational novels known as ‘penny dreadfuls’, and by 1850 the penny used to buy a broadside ballad could buy part of a novel, or a cheap newspaper or magazine.

Examples of collections of Broadsides are those held by the National Library of Scotland and by the Bodleian Library in Oxford

In the collections here at Local & Family History we have a small amount of broadside material, the main item being the collection of Leeds Printed Broadsides, collected by the Leeds song collector, historian & author Frank Kidson. They contain a selection of sheets, printed in Leeds, and covering items of local and national interest, and are held in a volume fully indexed by title and first line. There are news reports, poems, and songs, some of which are still well known today. A selection of them have been highlighted here:


A New Song on the Queen’s Visit To Leeds, describes the visit of Queen Victoria to Leeds on 7th September 1858 to open the new Leeds Town Hall. The competition to win the commission to design & build the Town Hall was won by Hull architect Cuthbert Broderick.


“A New Song on the Leeds Election; Vote For Barran” concerns the Leeds North by-election on 29th July 1902, caused by the sitting MP William Jackson  being elevated to the peerage.  Jackson had held the seat since 1885. The candidates were Sir Arthur Lawson, businessman and President of Leeds Conservative Association, and Rowland Hirst Barran, prominent in a local clothing manufacturing firm, and son of Sir John Barran, former MP for Leeds. Barran won the by-election, turning a Tory majority of 2,517 to a Liberal majority of 758. He held the seat until 1918 when he stood down from Parliament.


The broadside titled Terrible Accident at Bradford is bringing news of the Newlands Mill Disaster on 28th December 1882, when a chimney of one of the large factories owned by the late Sir Henry William Ripley, fell without any warning, killing and injuring many. In total 54 workpeople were killed, 26 of them being below the age of 16, and the youngest only 8 years old.


Another disaster broadcast by broadside, but further afield this time, was the Abergele Rail Disaster, on the coast of North Wales, and at the time the worst railway disaster in Britain. On the 20th August 1868, The Irish Mail train, bound for Holyhead, and also pulling passenger carriages, crashed into runaway goods wagons carrying wooden barrels of paraffin oil, and derailed the engine, tended and guard’s van. The resulting  fire from some of the barrels breaking up in the collision prevented any attempts to rescue people in the carriages and added further to the death toll.


Death of the Prince Imperial – Prince Louis Napoleon was killed in the Anglo-Zulu War, on 1st June 1879. After taking charge of a scouting party, without full escort or lookouts, the Prince was charged and fired at by a group of Zulus. He was trampled beneath his horse, and suffered eighteen wounds from assegais (Zulu spears), one of which burst his eye. His death caused something of an international sensation with a variety of rumours abounding as to the cause of his death.


The Soldiers Prayer Book is a song concerning a soldier playing cards in church, and popularised in Country and Popular music in the 1940s. It first became a hit in the U.S. with the recording The Deck of Cards by T.Texas Tyler. The story is in fact much older than that, the earliest known reference being in a book belonging to Mary Bacon, a British farmer’s wife in 1762, and later recorded in a the 19th century British publication The Soldier’s Almanack, Bible and Prayer Book.

The two broadsides below contain two songs which are well known today – Oh Susannah, and The Wild Rover. The song sheets show how the broadsides may have been folded lengthways down the middle, to make a Chapbook with a different song on each side.

broadside-image-7             broadside-image-8

 We also hold copies of Broadsides printed at Jacobs printers of Halifax, in a book of notes from Bankfield Museum, Halifax, in the chapter War Ballads and Broadsides of Previous Wars, 1779 – 1795. A few examples are shown below.

address-to-pitt      against-address

The two proclamations show support for, and feeling against, William Pitt the Younger, during the period of constitutional crisis when King George III was suffering a temporary but incapacitating mental disorder , requiring Parliament to appoint a regent to rule in his place.


The third broadside here would seem to be announcing a meeting concerned with raising a local fund to help families affected by war.


Linking in with this topic, the Leeds-based Commoners Choir will be performing in Leeds Central Library on Sunday 13th November in an event titled “Literacy, Books and the Print Revolution”. There will be a free concert and exhibition with a hand-printed souvenir for all who attend. More details and ticket booking are available on  the Leeds Inspired website.



  • Roth, Henry Ling, 1855-1925. . – Bankfield museum notes ;, second series, no. 1-11 . – Halifax : Bankfield Museum, 1912
  • Kidson, Frank – Leeds Printed Broadsides – collection of Leeds Street Literature
  • Henderson, William, writer on ballads . – Victorian street ballads : a selection of popular ballads sold in the street . – London : Country Life, 1937



Shakespeare and the Art world

by Adam Barham, Central Library

Many artists have felt compelled to depict the plays of Shakespeare. Some are attracted to Shakespeare’s universal themes and complex characters, which inspire them to produce stirring representations of the plays’ inner meanings. Others appreciate his combination of exotic locations and sparse scene descriptions, which leave them free to create their own vivid and unique interpretations. Leeds Central Library houses some fascinating books with artists’ interpretations of Shakespeare’s work. To mark this year’s Shakespeare anniversary, we would like to showcase our best examples.

Our first item is an illustrated version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The illustrations were painted by Arthur Rackham, one of the leading artists in the early 1900s ‘golden age’ of British book illustration. We are fortunate to have a 1908 first edition of this book, available for reference use from our Information and Research department. A 1977 reissue of the book is available for loan from our Music and Performing Arts Library.

Our 1906 edition of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Our 1908 edition of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Rackham received great acclaim as soon as his book was published. Contemporary novelist William de Morgan, for instance, claimed he had produced “the most splendid illustrated work of the century so far”. Even today Rackham’s illustrations are renowned. New editions of his book are still popular, with the demand stretching to e-book versions. Rackham’s continued popularity is also shown by his influence on modern artists, such as Sandman illustrator Charles Vess.

Bottom, pictured in the illustrated ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Bottom, pictured in the illustrated ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Rackham undoubtedly deserves the respect. His watercolour illustrations from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are incredibly detailed and striking, bringing Shakespeare’s surreal characters to life in a truly magical fashion. The depictions of Bottom and Titania’s fairy entourage are especially evocative.

Titania’s fairy entourage, pictured in the illustrated ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Titania’s fairy entourage, pictured in the illustrated ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Our next item is ‘Shakespeare in Art’. This book provides a fascinating retrospective of the different artists who have depicted Shakespeare’s work over the years. Concentrating mainly on paintings, it incorporates beautiful artwork reproductions showing a multitude of Shakespearean scenes and characters. It also includes insightful essays detailing the background story to each piece of artwork.

Ferdinand Lured by Ariel (The Tempest) by John Everett Millais, from the cover of ‘Shakespeare in Art’

Ferdinand Lured by Ariel (The Tempest) by John Everett Millais, from the cover of ‘Shakespeare in Art’

The artists covered in ‘Shakespeare in Art’ include the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, who created vivid paintings of scenes set in natural environments, and Henry Fuseli, whose intense paintings often emphasised the supernatural or tragic side of Shakespeare’s work.

Titania Embracing Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Henry Fuseli, pictured in ‘Shakespeare in Art’

Titania Embracing Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Henry Fuseli, pictured in ‘Shakespeare in Art’

‘Shakespeare in Art’ also features William Hogarth, the eighteenth-century painter and pictorial satirist. Hogarth produced one of the earliest known paintings of an actual Shakespearean stage performance, which can be seen below. ‘Shakespeare in Art’ is available from our Art Library.

Falstaff Examining His Troops (Henry IV) by William Hogarth, pictured in ‘Shakespeare in Art’

Falstaff Examining His Troops (Henry IV) by William Hogarth, pictured in ‘Shakespeare in Art’

Our archives also include rare pamphlets and exhibition catalogues relating to Shakespeare and art. One of the most interesting is named ‘O Sweet Mr. Shakespeare, I’ll Have his Picture’. As the title suggests, this pamphlet is concerned with Shakespeare himself rather than his plays. The author traces different depictions of Shakespeare over the years, giving fascinating background details about different portraits and statues. Our pamphlets and catalogues are available for reference use in the Art Library.

Some Shakespeare in Art pamphlets

Some Shakespeare in Art pamphlets

Our next item is the intriguingly titled ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden: A Posy From the Plays’, illustrated by Walter Crane.  Our collection includes two copies of this title. One copy is a 1906 first edition, which is available for reference use from our Information and Research department. The other copy is a 1980s reissue, which is available for loan from the Art Library.

Our two copies of ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden’

Our two copies of ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden’

Walter Crane was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and another key figure in Britain’s golden age of book illustration. The concept behind his book is both charming and unusual. Rather than illustrating existing scenes or characters, Crane chose to portray human personifications of the flowers or plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. The flowers he portrayed come from a variety of plays, including ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’,  and ‘Henry V’. Our favourites include the bizarre lady who sprouts horizontally from a Hawthorne bush, taken from King Henry’s lines in Henry VI.

Illustrations from Walter Crane’s ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden’

Illustrations from Walter Crane’s ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden’

Our final item is a last minute addition to the blog, only recently discovered in the depths of our archives. The title of this discovery is ‘A Collection of Prints, From Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare, by the Artists of Great-Britain‘. The details and background of this item will be the subject of a future blog entry. For now, all we can reveal is that the item is very old, very striking and very, very large……

Collection of prints 1c

‘A Collection of Prints…’ pictured with an everyday object to illustrate its size


Collection of prints 2

Introduction from ‘A Collection of Prints…’

Collection of prints 3

Scene from ‘As You Like It’, pictured in ‘A Collection of Prints…’

If you would like more detailed information about Shakespeare in Art, the best place to come is of course the Art Library. The Art Library stocks many books about the artists who depicted Shakespeare’s work over the years, including Richard Dadd, John Everett Millais, Gustave Moreau, William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Romney and William Hogarth. These books are on display in the Art Library throughout April 2016.