The Sister Arts: Fashioning the Victorian Luxury Book

During the long nineteenth century (1789-1914), technologies proliferated to make books into beautiful objects that combined illustration with verse, uniting the 'sister arts' of painting and poetry. The Sister Arts: Fashioning the Victorian Luxury Book explores the ways that luxury book manufacture came to provide roles for women in the book arts, initiating a sisterhood of illustrators, illuminators, engravers, designers, compositors, and even publishers. The manufacture of these beautiful books provided women with the opportunity to adopt a range of professional roles in the book world.

Alongside masterpieces of the fine press, books made and designed by women are featured throughout the exhibition, including Victorian albums and annuals; publications by Emily Faithfull’s Victoria Press and the Yeats Sisters’ Cuala Press; an illuminated manuscript by Lady Louisa Strange; and books featuring women artists, including Phoebe Anna Traquair, Jessie M. King, Anne Lydia Bond, and HRH Princess Beatrice. Highlights of this exhibition include the 1857 Moxon Tennyson, with Pre Raphaelite wood engravings ; two manuscripts illuminated by Alberto Sangorski; the elephant folio edition of Henry Noel Humphreys’s guide to The Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages (1849); decadent Belles Lettres limited editions; and the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896), widely agreed to be the most beautiful book ever printed in English. Focused on British publications, the scope of the exhibition extends from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the onset of the First World War.

This exhibition is being curated by Holly Forsythe Paul, former Hilary Nicholls Fellow at the Fisher Library.