Original Edward Calvert wood engraving.
Very good impression, as first issued in any formal edition for A Memoir of Edward Calvert, Artist; by his Third Son, in 1893.
The Ploughman was the first of Edward Calvert's visionary wood engravings (see Raymond Lister, Edward Calvert, p.66). One of the largest and arguably the most significant of Edward Calvert’s few engraved works, The Ploughman dates from 1827, the year of William Blake’s death; this was the period in which Edward Calvert produced his most inspired works, at the time when Blake’s influence was still fresh upon him. This influence stemmed from Calvert’s association with William Blake and Samuel Palmer as one of a group known as ‘The Ancients’. The members of this select gathering had revelled in the ecstatic discovery of an untainted countryside around the village of Shoreham, and it was there that Edward Calvert produced this beautiful and intricate wood engraving.
Sometimes known under the title Christian Ploughing the Last Furrow of Life, The Ploughman is the work which reveals the interwoven nature of Edward Calvert's pagan and Christian beliefs. In an ideal woodland setting, musicians dance naked as though celebrating a pagan rite, whilst a group of sheep are watched over by the Good Shepherd at the right of the image. The figure of Christian 'ploughing the last furrow of life' dominates the scene whilst Satan, lurking in serpent form at the lower corner of the image, is struck by a bolt of lightning held by a diving spiritual figure. Only six impressions of the first state of this wood engraving were printed in which Edward Calvert included the engraved inscription "Seen in the Kingdom of Heaven by vision through Jesus Christ our saviour". Raymond Lister states that Edward Calvert removed this inscription from the block as paganism "finally became ascendant in his mind".
George Richmond, a fellow member of ‘The Ancients’, echoed this view of the duality of Calvert’s beliefs; he noted that Edward Calvert was "a highly cultivated man" who had visited Greece at a time when it was "a perilous country"…"he was saturated in the Greek mythology and being a religious pagan, he sought to unite the teachings of Socrates and Christ". Edward Calvert’s visionary works of this nature are few in number; The Ploughman, being the earliest of his visionary wood engravings, shows the greatest influence of William Blake, with whom Calvert is known to have worked in the preparation of engraving plates and blocks. The figures in this work can be linked directly with figures in Blake’s images; however, the lush pastoral setting is distinctly Calvert’s own.
Edward Calvert was fortunate to have a private income throughout his life which enabled him to lead the life of a dilettante. A severe critic of his own work, Calvert destroyed all impressions that did not please him. Indeed, only a very few proofs were pulled during Edward Calvert’s lifetime, the blocks remaining in his studio until published by his son in this first formal edition in 1893. In the only subsequent printing, thirty impressions were issued in the Carfax Portfolio, printed in 1904. The block of this engraving is now preserved in the British Museum.
This impression is “printed on thick wove paper of brownish tint”, as were all of the wood engravings for the Memoir in 1893 (see Lister p.98). With full margins. Time toned within mat window area, otherwise generally very good original condition.