King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

Zoological illustration

Hand-coloured plate showing a brightly coloured yellow fishHand-coloured plate showing a brightly coloured yellow fish found in the Indian OceanSkilful hand colouring could produce dazzling results, as this zoological illustration shows. Zoology is another discipline where accurate rendering of colour is an important adjunct to species description, and this example helps to convey to a British readership the exotic fauna of the Indian Ocean.

In this example the coloured plate has been finished with a coating of gum arabic, which gives it a vibrant sheen.

Little is known of the life of John Whitchurch Bennett, who had a chequered career as an army officer and colonial official in what is now Sri Lanka.  A member of the Literary and Agricultural Society of Ceylon, he proposed the publication of this work to the Society in 1825 and its members agreed to finance its production by subscription.

Bennett made the drawings and provided accompanying text, and the manuscript was then shipped with a payment of £73 to the leading London publisher of colour-plate books, Rudolph Ackermann. The plates were first published in parts between 1828 and 1830 and the work was successful enough for further editions to be published in 1834, 1841 and 1851.

The plate on display is a three-quarter size representation of the species now known as epinephelus flavocaeruleus, but which Bennett named perca flava-purpurea and which he describes as ‘splendid and graceful’.

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