# 40423

BOYDELL, John and Josiah

[COOK; WEBBER] An alphabetical catalogue of plates, engraved by the most esteemed artists, after the finest pictures and drawings of the Italian, Flemish, German, French, English, and other schools, which compose the stock of John and Josiah Boydell, engravers and printsellers,

$8,750.00 AUD

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No. 90, Cheapside, and at the Shakespeare Gallery, Pall Mall; preceded by an account of various works, sets of prints, galleries, &c. forming part of the same stock. London : Printed by W. Bulmer and Co., 1803. Quarto, contemporary blind-tooled red half-roan over marbled boards (edges rubbed), rebacked in crushed morocco with gilt rule, gilt-lettered morocco title to upper board; pp. xxix, [1], 60, presentation inscription from Boydell & Co. to front free-endpaper; a few manuscript corrections in ink, some later pencilled marginalia (in Swedish); a fine copy. [TOGETHER WITH] Just published by Boydell and Co., a 16-page publisher’s catalogue dated London, April 1812, printed by Bulmer on blue paper, tipped on to the front free-endpaper, a few pencil annotations by the same later Swedish collector.

The original prospectus – in both the separately issued and bound formats – for Webber’s Views in the South Seas, the only contemporary publication with colour plates from Cook’s voyages. 

This is the first alphabetically arranged advertisement catalogue of the stock of printsellers and engravers John and Josiah Boydell. John Boydell (1720-1804) founded his business in 1751, with the initial intention to supply the commercial demand for foreign prints. Through rapid expansion, the firm came to prominence in the late 1760s, with Boydell emerging as the foremost employer of engravers in late eighteenth-century London. He continued to list himself as an importer of prints up to the early 1760s, but by 1770 he was exporting to the Continent, marking the maturation of the British school and the end of the dominance of the French market.

Although Boydell’s print production was predominantly comprised of landscapes and reproductions of old masters, his most significant contribution to British art can be considered the patriotic Shakespeare Gallery project conceived in 1786. The gallery opened in May 1789 with 34 paintings by 18 artists on show – 20,000 people visited, 6600 catalogues were sold, and 100 subscribers were found for Boydell’s proposed series of engravings, which had been the initial motivation for the endeavour. Boydell employed more than forty different engravers to produce the gallery prints, which would remain a prominent part of his stock throughout the firm’s operation alongside the backbone of his empire A Collection Of Prints Engraved After The Most Capital Paintings In England (1769-72); the descriptions for the latest editions of both dominate the present catalogue.

Despite the Boydells’ meteoric early success, a series of poor commercial decisions and rising expenses led to financial hardship: by November 1803 the firm was about £40,000 in debt. A high-risk decision was made to conduct a lottery to raise money by disposing of the Shakespeare Gallery and its contents. This ultimately raised £78,000, though John Boydell died before it could be drawn. After his death, Boydell’s nephew and business partner, Josiah Boydell (1752-1817), continued the business at their Cheapside premises, but in 1818 the firm was sold by Jane Boydell, and the assets purchased by Hurst, Robinson, and Co..

John Webber RA (1751-1793) served as official artist on Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific aboard HMS Resolution in 1776-1780. Between 1 August 1788 and 1 August 1792, he published twenty separately issued views from the voyage, which were sold without any accompanying descriptive text,. Sixteen of these are listed in the 1803 Boydell catalogue at the price of 10 shillings and sixpence each. Notably, the prints are listed as coloured, with what are often considered the more readily available sepia prints not listed for sale at all. The title reads: ‘The following 16 beautifully coloured prints, in imitation of Mr. Webber’s original drawings, are printed on a paper uniform with the volume of prints to Captain Cook’s last voyage, which they are calculated to illustrate’.

In 1809, many years after the artist’s death, the publisher Boydell reissued the plates in folio format, with the title-page bearing the date of 1808, and the views accompanied by descriptive text quoting the official account of the third voyage, probably written by James Burney (Hill). The book was sold by Boydell and their successors Hurst and Robinson up into the 1820s, the expensive plates being struck in batches to order, a fact which explains why most copies bear later watermarks. The published format is listed in the 1812 catalogue as follows: ‘Sixteen views in the SOUTH SEAS, in imitation of and after drawings by, the late James Webber, in possession of the Board of Admiralty, with descriptions; the same size as those engraved for Cook’s last voyage, to which they are intended as a continuation. I vol. boards, price 8l. 8s.’ (The attribution to James rather than John Webber is an error by the publisher).

The 1803 catalogue is rare, the 1812 catalogue even rarer still. Together they provide a fascinating insight into the complex publication history of a great Cook rarity.