Pieces of Art: a collection of engraved woodblocks

McGill’s woodblock collection, previously in storage, can now be studied at Rare Books and Special Collections.

This collection, acquired in 1932, includes beautiful examples of wood engraving from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries in the UK, with special attention to the work of Newcastle designer and engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).

From very crude early blocks to George Cruikshank’s refined caricatures, make your pick! The images represented on the woodblocks range from biblical scenes to animals, to early flying machines and household scenes, and they were used for a wide variety of publication types.


The Elephant by Thomas Bewick. Woodblock 314 used in p.186 of the 1791 Newcastle edition of the General History of Quadrupeds (Blacker Wood Collection, QL706 B57 1791).

This elephant, for example, was designed and engraved by Thomas Bewick for his General History of Quadrupeds, one of his most famous works. But most woodblocks were used to illustrate small chapbooks and popular children’s books such as Robinson Crusoe or Robin Hood.

A more complete description of the collection can be found on the Library website.

The “Art of Outline”

114A collection of 81 plates of cut-outs by the Italian artist Ugo Mochi (1889-1977) was recently brought to light from one of the library’s storage areas.

The collection is composed of silhouettes of animals, each one cut from a single piece of black paper.

Ugo Mochi studied art in Florence from the age of 10 before leaving to Berlin at 21 to attend the Art Academy. For a time sculptor, painter and musician all rolled into one, Mochi decided to focus on paper-cutting before coming to the United State in 1928. He then became a book illustrator, using his silhouettes.

He was passionate about wild animals and spent much time at the zoo, studying animal behaviour and movements. His tendency to create in series is very clear throughout the collection: dozens of giraffes, twelve elephants, numerous birds of every kind, and all sorts of goats, cattle and antelopes are represented.

The art of Ugo Mochi was exhibited at McGill Library in 1930, but he spent most of his career in New York. His work was greatly appreciated by the American Museum of Natural History, which still possesses some of Mochi’s most famous pieces.

The plates are now available for consultation in Rare Books and Special Collections.