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Francis S. Walker

Tramore Strand

in Ireland, Painted by Francis S. Walker, R.H.A.; Described by Frank Mathew

(London: Adam and Charles Black, 1905), facing page 96

Tramore Strand is the nearest point to Tory Island, which can be seen on the horizon nine miles off. Some time ago the inhabitants of this island were unable to pay rent, so a gunboat was sent to remove them to the work-house on the mainland. It was, however, wrecked on the rocks, and as no further attempt has been made to remove the inhabitants, it is said that they still pay no rent.

so reads the caption to accompany the image Tramore Strand, which was one of seventy-nine works used to illustrate a 1905 volume titled Ireland. Somewhat unusually, the artist provided short textual descriptions alongside many of the pictures. Throughout the book, the artist, Francis S. Walker, was keen to communicate to the reader that he worked from life, that the landscapes, seascapes, and people depicted were “real.” All of Walker’s scenes were based on observations made directly from nature; his remit was to relate the beauty, drama, and color of the Irish countryside and its culture.

Ireland, published in London, was part of the popular A. & C. Black’s Books Illustrated in Colour series. The collection, which first began in 1901 and continued until the 1930s, comprised visual and textual descriptions of British and international regions. Priced at twenty shillings, the books were aimed at an upper-middle-class market. In 1900 twenty shillings or one pound sterling was a significant sum. Typical middle-class incomes ranged from £150 to £200 [End Page 156] per annum; the average wage of a skilled laborer was one pound per week, with domestic servants earning less than ten shillings a week.1

The rise of the middle classes in British society throughout the 1800s saw increasing levels of education and literacy, along with growing disposable incomes and leisure time. Publishers looking to exploit this market created new book genres; key among them was the illustrated travel guide. The period also saw the development of railway and steamboat networks, resulting in an exponential growth in travel throughout the British Isles and Europe, with increasing numbers journeying farther afield. These developments were paralleled by the publication of illustrated volumes that reflected back the travelers’ (or aspirational travelers’) perspectives on their destinations, both textually and visually.2 Travel also increased across the British colonies, including between Ireland and “the mainland,” for administrative, military, and leisure purposes, and with that the travel book became an agent of integration across the United Kingdom.3

Reflecting popular aesthetic tastes of the day, travel books educated and entertained readers, and they also steered nationalistic attitudes while moderating political and economic realities. Images were designed to attract viewers, to be enjoyable, to enlighten, and to inform. In the A. & C. Black series, the images were of primary importance: the artist was listed first, as the lead “author” ahead of the writer. The collection’s content echoed the British travelers’ (including the armchair travelers’) self-conceptions and their place in the empire, both textually and visually. Images such as those created by Walker in Ireland, in terms of their form, content, and style, would have directed British and—given that A. & C. Black books were distributed globally—international opinions of Irish culture and society at the time.

As Michael Twyman has argued, readers at the turn of the last century demanded a level of “truthfulness” or verisimilitude in their imagery.4 For centuries, image reproduction had been a technical and economic challenge for printers, and a creative test for artists. Directed by consumer demand for illustrations, as emerging technologies allowed for more efficient and effective [End Page 157] forms of reproduction, publishers adopted these methods in an effort to build and retain their market share. By the early 1900s A. & C. Black led the field in terms of color illustration, using a technique known as three-plate color printing, a process developed by Carl Hentschel. Hentschel’s system photographically layered the colors cyan, yellow...