Illustrative wood engraving – from a newspaper illustration to a museum piece
The second half of the 19th century in Warsaw was a time of great popularity of illustrated press, in which the dominant technique used to produce illustrations was wood engraving. The most frequent subjects of wood engravings in Warsaw periodicals, such as “Tygodnik Ilustrowany” or “Kłosy,” included reproductions of paintings. One of the objectives of “Kłosy,” founded in 1865, was to promote the works of Polish artists. Reproductions of paintings were included not only in weekly issues of newspapers, but they also reached readers in larger-format special editions. These reproductions were influential in popularizing the paintings and shaping the taste particularly of readers living in the provinces, namely people who did not have direct contact with paintings presented in Warsaw. This vast material poses certain important questions. What is interesting, first of all, is the opinion of the painters themselves on these reproductions of their paintings, opinion that – according to some sources – could be critical at times. There is also the question of artistic criticism that sometimes tackled reproductive wood engravings. Another interesting point concerns the contracts that would often give various periodicals or graphic artists exclusive rights to reproduce particular works. What is also important from the point of view of a museum specialist is the later functioning of reproductive wood engravings which – collected in museums and libraries – are often treated as equivalents of their lost or unavailable painting originals.