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Houghton Exhibition Explores Artistic Evolution

london exhibition

"St. Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate Hill" Houghton Library TypDr 805.B231.42p (23)

November 30, 2009 – A new exhibition at Houghton Library offers visitors insight into the creative process of Thomas Shotter Boys – the 19th-century artist best known for the publication of London As It Is, a book of lithographs showing common street scenes of the era.

Named for Boys’ book, the exhibition gives visitors a unique, step-by-step view of the way he produced his images through the inclusion of rare original sketches of scenes used in the book, as well as intermediate material and a dozen hand-colored plates. When viewed together, exhibition curator and Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library William Stoneman said, visitors can clearly see how Boys refined the images through various “drafts.”

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“This type of material gives visitors a chance to see the artist at work,” Stoneman said. “It’s like reading a manuscript draft of a written work – you can see where the creator was sketching out changes, and then you can see the finished product.”

In the case of the book’s frontispiece, Stoneman said, visitors will see that Boys created several variations of a single scene before settling on the final image. “You can see him making notes to himself,” he said. “You can see, from the original drawings, he produced several variations of that image as he tried to work out how he wanted it to look.”

The images in the book began as sketches produced by Boys using a “graphic telescope.” Essentially a series of mirrors which projected a scene onto a piece of paper, the device was used by Boys to trace outlines of the various scenes, Stoneman said. Those early tracings were later refined in the studio into sketches with the addition of perspective and other details before being transferred to lithographic stones to create the final image. While the final images in the book were black and white, many were hand-colored and sold as sets of prints to meet the demand for decorative art.

First published in 1842, London As It Is was produced by Boys after the success three years earlier of his Picturesque Architecture, which included Parisian street scenes. Both were hugely popular, particularly among the new English middle class, many of whom bought such books to commemorate trips to the city.

London As It Is,” will be on display in the Edison and Newman Room of Houghton Library from December 1 through April 24, 2010. Hours, Directions