William James Linton (1812-?)

W. J. Linton

The leading wood engraver W. J. Linton was born in London, and showing a degree of artistic talent, was apprenticed to the wood engraver G. W. Bonner in 1828 at the age of 16. His first major work was a series of excellent engravings in Pictorial Illustrations of the Bible (1833). In the following year, at the end of his apprenticeship, he worked with Powis, then for Thompson, and in 1842 went into partnership with John Orrin Smith, a noted engraver of animals and landscapes. The partnership was called Messrs. Smith and Linton, and their first big commission was for the new Illustrated London News which was launched in 1842. However Orrin Smith died in 1843, and Linton was left as sole partner. He continued to work for some years for the Illustrated London News, including engraving the highly regarded papers on Wood Engraving: Its History and Practice by Chatto in 1844.

Linton became one of the more prolific Victorian engravers, and among his large output might be mentioned Dickens's Christmas Carol (1843), many drawings by John Leech, and The New Forest (1863) with early drawings by Walter Crane (a student of Linton's). Linton was a strong advocate of the use of the white line, and considered himself as the principal reviver of the School of Bewick. He also favoured horizontal engraved lines, with the tone difference being achieved by line thickness.

In 1849 Linton visited Cumberland, and afterwards lived in the Lake District at Brantwood, later the home of John Ruskin. From the late 1850s he began to do more and more of his own drawings, notably for The English Lakes (1858) and The Lake Country, with text by his second wife, E. Lynn Linton.

In 1867 he moved again, this time to America, where he settled in Hamden, near New Haven. He continued to engrave, at first sending his blocks to New York for printing, but later buying his own press. As the most esteemed wood engraver to come from England, Linton made a great stir in America, especially through his engraving classes at the Cooper Institute, New York, where he was described as 'the centre and soul of whatever was progressive in wood engraving'.

As well as practicing his art, Linton also wrote, publishing several books, including the History of Wood Engraving in America (1882) and his chief d'oeuvre, The Masters of Wood Engraving (1889). He was involved in politics, and edited magazines and a newspaper, The Cause of the People. He also composed poetry.

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