The Edwin James Hardcastle Collection of Book Illustrations

The Edwin James Hardcastle Collection of Book Illustrations, Towneley Hall and Art Gallery


S. B. De La Bete R.I, The Reaper, (dates unknown), watercolour and pencil on paper. Loaned by Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery. © Towneley Hall

28 April 2020
By Dr Cynthia Johnston, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London


Edwin Hardcastle (1876-1920) worked for his family’s successful umbrella making concern, the Crown Umbrella Works, based in Halifax. Little is known of Hardcastle’s life but he seems to have had been afforded enough leisure to pursue his passion for art. As well as building an outstanding collection of original work by contemporary book illustrators, in what is largely recognized as a golden age of English book illustration, Hardcastle also found time to research the life and work of eighteenth-century Halifax landscape and portrait painters John Horner and his son Joshua. Hardcastle donated his own collection of the work of Joshua Horner, which he had researched and reconstructed himself documenting Horner’s time spent in Italy during the early 1840’s, to the Bankfield Museum in Halifax. There is now no trace of his donations to the museum. Joshua Horner’s portrait of Anne Lister, featured in a recent BBC dramatization of her life as ‘Gentleman Jack’, has revived interest in Horner’s work.

Edwin Hardcastle pursued an active programme of displaying his collection of book illustrations across the region, including the Bankfield Museum and Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley. Towneley Hall eventually purchased the collection from his widow, Louisa, in 1927 for £350. Some of the illustrations that Hardcastle collected were historical such as work by renowned English wood engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), two drawings by William Blake (1757-1827) and a group of drawings by Dickens’ illustrators, George Cruikshank and ‘Phiz’ (Hablot Knight Browne) who were also favourites of James Dunn’s. Most of the collection is composed of work created during Hardcastle’s lifetime. Whether Hardcastle assembled his collections through personal connections with some of the painters, or whether he bought through dealers is unknown. The collection holds work of some of the most important figures in the new century of illustration including Cecil Aldin, H.M. Brock, Cyrus Cuneo, Arthur Rackham, Harry Rountree and Kate Greenaway.

Next time: Dr Cynthia Johnston takes a closer look at the The Edwin James Hardcastle Collection.

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