Feature May 2014

Colour in the Illustrated London News

George Cargill Leighton, an ex-apprentice of George Baxter, became a fierce rival. After leaving Baxter’s employ over, it seems, the meagre wages he was receiving, he opposed the extension of Baxter’s patent to no avail.

He was invited by the Illustrated London News to produce a couple of plates for one of their editions, thereby making it the first newspaper in the world to have colour illustrations.

Courtney Lewis had mixed comments on the quality of these pictures, saying that they were poor to start with, but became excellent later on.

Children Nut Gathering printed by George Leighton
Children Nut Gathering printed by George Leighton

Leighton had a few challenges to deal with. He had to print on ordinary newspaper paper, he had to keep the costs down to rock bottom and, as he was not a Licensee, he was prohibited from using the Baxter process (but he probably did anyway!)

His illustrations were usually full-page, occasionally double-page and, very occasionally, multi-page foldouts. Subjects vary from romantic and rustic scenes, to topical events. Although too late to cover the 1851 Great Exhibition, he did produce stunning views of subsequent ones. Those shown here are double-page or larger plates, the largest measuring 25 x 19 inches.

Leighton probably came closer than any other Victorian colour printer to George Baxter’s aim of producing ‘fine art for the masses.’