I am indebted to Geoffrey Beare of the Imaginative Book Illustration Society for permission to quote from Robin de Beaumont's article in the IBIS Journal. — Paul Goldman.

Life of Eleanor Vere Boyle

Decorated initial Eleanor Vere Boyle was born on the first of May 1825, the ninth and last child of Alexander Gordon and Albinia Cumberland, in a house near Ellon in the Aberdeen Hills of Scotland. The family relocated to Edinburgh when she was a baby and in 1833 the family moved to Hampton Wick, now in the outer London Borough of Richmond-on-Thames. Two of her siblings died in infancy. Eleanor, known also as Ella, began sketching and drawing at an early age and at the age of nineteen became engaged to the Hon. Richard Boyle, who at thirty five was the youngest son of Lord and Lady Cork. He had entered the Anglican Church and held the parish at Marston Bigot in Somerset. Eleanor was extremely happy in her marriage. In 1871 Richard Boyle retired from the ministry and the Boyles moved to Huntercombe Manor, a large manor house set between Eton and Windsor in Berkshire where she was to remain for the rest of her life. She died in 1916. Boyle illustrated a significant number of books for children and adults; she is identified by her initials, EVB.

A History of Editions and Modes of Printing

In December 1851 her first book, Child's Play, was published by Appels Anastatic Press (Addey and Company). The generally accepted date is 1852, but no date appears on the title-page. This consists of 17 drawings printed by a new method of transfer lithography termed Anastatic Printing, a process pioneered though not invented by Rudolph Appel. The text was made up of excerpts from popular nursery rhymes, and the soft appearance of the designs makes them charming, if naïve; all are of children in landscapes or in interiors. Today, like so many of her books in first edition, it is of extreme rarity and commands high prices in the antiquarian book market. The book also establishes her idiosyncratic idiom: stylistically she varied little in most of the works she illustrated or to which she contributed. In many of her other publications the subjects are young, idealized women, children, mythological creatures or fairies, some of which can appear mysterious or even frightening in a manner which recalls the fairy illustrations of Richard Doyle. She also favoured scenes with animals, birds and floral and nature imagery, especially in her later publications.

Two illustrations by EVB. Left: The title page for Child's Play. Right: Another design (plate 21) from the same book.

In 1853 came A Children's Summer, once more from Addey and Co but this time described as Eleven Etchings on Steel with texts in verse and prose by EVBs sister-in-law, Mary Louisa Boyle, and the local poet William Mark McCall, who was the curate to Eleanors husband. A few copies are known, hand-coloured, and possibly by EVB herself (de Beaumont 27). In 1854 Joseph Cundall published Thomas Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard for Sampson Low with designs engraved on wood after Myles Birket Foster, George Thomas and seven after A Lady, known to be the illustrator. This edition is also extremely scarce, but there were reissues in 1855, 1857 and in 1861, where Boyle is finally credited.

Waifs and Strays from a Scrap Book was published in 1856 by Cundall, apparently containing fifteen photographs by EVB. There was a second edition published late in 1861 but dated 1862 with twelve sepia photographs from Cundall, Downes and Co. Forrest Reid speaks of this second edition as containing 'very delicate drawings (which) are dated from 1859 to 1861 — it is really only a sketch-book, but it contains a most interesting and varied collection' (253).

In 1859 Sampson Low published Favourite English Poems of the Last Two Centuries. Chaucer to Pope. This contains over 200 wood-engraved designs after several artists. Seven are by EVB, and are unlikely to be reprints. A two volume edition appeared in 1863; the first volume is identical to the earlier issue, but it features just one of Boyles images, which is reprinted from one in the 1859 edition of Favourite English Poems. In 1869 but dated 1870 (again from Sampson Low Son and Marston) came a larger edition, this time entitled Favourite English Poems and Poets. 1859 also saw the second Sampson Low edition of Child's Play. This contains hand-coloured decorative capitals and a vignette, frontispiece and fifteen plates, all in colour and printed by William Dickes. There was a third edition in 1865 with the same fifteen coloured plates by Dickes and a black and white vignette, two decorative initials and a frontispiece. Sampson Low was the publisher and in 1861 the same company issued one of EVBs most distinguished books: The May Queen.

Two illustrations by EVB for The May Queen. Left: The opening view of the mother and doomed daughter in their idealized cottage, a symbolic representation of the narrator's happiness, a composition that Boyle deploys in several of her other paintings. Right: An example of this cross-over from book illustration to fine art in the form of Mermaids.

EVB's watercolour of Mermaids.

The May Queen contains 35 wood-engraved illustrations including a title-page design, several vignettes and some 26 larger designs. This book is important because in it EVB produces some uncharacteristic images, notably a Crucifixion with a lamenting figure at the base. There is also a ghostly hooded figure as well as the more usual angels and children. The adults she depicts are unusually strong and powerful. One of the images bears the name of the engraver Horace Harral, unfortunately not one of the most sensitive practitioners of the time, and it is likely that all the engravings in this book are his work. Datable to about 1875, Sampson, Low, Marston, Lowe and Searle published a reprint in their Choice Series, an edition more commonly found than the first edition, and decently printed.

Three illustrations by EVB for The May Queen. (a) A touching, folkloric, folksy representation of the May Queens innocent repose. (b) Her decline into illness. (c) Her final stages.

In 1864 Thomas Mclean published Mary Louisa Boyles Woodland Gossip. A very uncommon book, it apparently contains five laid down photographs, three of which were by EVB.

A third edition of Child's Play was published in 1865 (Sampson Low, Son and Marston), and there was a similar reissue in 1866 from the same publisher. Also made available in 1865 was A Leaflet from a German Christmas Tree, a folio with several small initials and other decorations. The frontispiece is a photograph from a drawing by EVB. The brief text is also by EVB and the book was published in paper wrappers by Cundall, Downes and Co.

In 1866 Macmillan and Co published In the Fir Wood which has eight sepia photographs of drawings by EVB. This seems to be the only edition and the text, also by the artist, is dated 6 October 1865. It seems likely, therefore, that the book actually appeared during the latter half of 1865. It was a common practice at this period for publishers to date books in the year following their appearance, which was frequently in time for the Christmas season. This meant that for the actual year of publication the book appeared to be entirely new. Another publication entitled What the Little Bird saw at the Frome Exhibition (1866) was apparently reprinted from a provincial magazine based in Frome, Somerset, close to the illustrator's home; but details of its contents are difficult to establish.

1867 saw the publication of Hubert Jerningham's Life in a French Chateau from Hurst and Blackett. The frontispiece was a wood-engraved design after EVB. The text ran to some 278 pages and at one point the author remarks that he lacked the talent of EVB, whom he terms '... that charming artist.'

In 1868 Samson Low, Son and Marston published Sarah Austin's version of a German text by Carov with a tinted wood-engraved frontispiece, printed title with vignette and fifteen wood metal relief-colour printed plates by the Leighton Brothers. There are in addition thirteen wood-engraved head and tail-pieces also by EVB. This is The Story Without an End. According to Robin de Beaumont, it is a complicated book bibliographically (30); the critic remarks on a number of variant bindings and mentions a large paper deluxe edition which he believed to have been limited to 250 copies. Forrest Reid, for once, is disparaging, suggesting that EVBs coloured illustrations are far less pleasing, (compared to those in black and white) and seem crude in the extreme when compared with the colour prints of Kate Greenaway or Randolph Caldecott(253). There was a second edition from Sampson Low, published in 1874 with fifteen colour plates and wood-engravings in the text, all from drawings by EVB. There was also apparently a third edition from the same publisher in 1879.

A Dream Bookappeared the next year under the usual imprint. This is a folio containing twelve autotype (carbon) process prints of drawings by EVB, executed by Cundall and Fleming. It features poetry and prose, some it by EVB herself. The Autotype Company was started in 1868 at an address in the Haymarket in London, and the inventors patented a photographic process for the reproduction of designs employing carbon.

In 1872 Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen was published by Sampson Low in an edition translated by H.L.D. Ward and Augusta Plesner. According to the English Catalogue of Books it was actually published in November 1871 and sold at the considerable price of 25 shillings. This contains eleven large colour plates and a frontispiece printed by Leighton Brothers from designs by EVB, as well as numerous decorations such as head and tail pieces and initials. De Beaumont quotes from a letter written by Andersen on 10 December 1871; having received a copy of the book, he offers only faint praise for EVB's contribution, noting that 'No book of mine has ever been so beautifully got up as this. The pictures are printed in colour that they may better impress themselves upon the childish vision; but I cannot ascribe any artistic importance to them. Their sumptuousness lies in the display of colour and the gilding' (de Beaumont 31].

Two illustrations by EVB for Andersen's Fairy Tales. (a) Tommelise (Thumbkinetta) surrounded by a gigantic world, and touching, and (b) her flight on a swift's back.

In 1875 the undated Beauty and the Beast. An Old Tale New-Told, with Pictures was published by Sampson. There were 10 colour plates printed by Leighton Brothers, apparently chromolithographs, with 16 wood-engravings in the text also designed by EVB. This book appeared in several variant bindings, one of which is a deluxe, or even presentation binding (de Beaumont 31).

Two illustrations by EVB for Beauty and the Beast. Left: The Beast wooing the Beauty. Right: True love when the Beast turns into a prince.

In 1877 A New Child's Play was issued by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington. The book contains 16 black and white drawings reproduced by the heliotype method, a photomechanical printing process. Some copies are known dating from 1878 in which there are again sixteen designs, but this time recorded as being printed in colours. There was a second edition in 1879, also with sixteen full page colour illustrations. The English Catalogue of Books dates the work to December 1878. It may be that these are the same designs as in the first edition, as seems likely, though de Beaumont suggests that they are different or perhaps even redrawn (32). Forrest Reid describes the first edition as one of the most delightful of all EVBs books (253) and it is logical that they should be re-used. The employment of heliotype for this book shows not only the rapid development of photomechanical methods for reproducing illustrations but also that EVB was open to have her drawings reproduced by such means. In practice, the edition of 1879 was made up of imagery from the first Child's Play of 1852 combines with 30 plates as well as 26 vignettes from other books including The May Queen and The Story Without and End. According to de Beaumont, there were probably others as well as some new work. He quotes from the Preface dated October 1880 from EVB herself, who states: 'Some of the pictures in this little book were drawn many years ago. By a wonderful process of electrotyping they have all been reduced to a much smaller size, and I am glad to see them in their new form. I have added a few little drawings from my sketch-books to fill up odd corners, and hope the present work will please the present generation of little ones' (de Beaumont 32).

Also in 1877 came a book by Eliza Keary entitled The Magic Valley or Patient Antoine. This was published by Macmillan and Co and contained twelve plates in sepia engraved by J. Quartley after EVB. Forrest Reid remarks that several of the designs are really lovely things in their own unpretentious fashion (253).

In 1884 Elliot Stock published Days and Hours in a Garden; it was reprinted in 1898, and it may have been reprinted between 1884 and 1898. This was EVBs first work in prose. In 1885, again published by Elliot Stock, came Ros Rosarum ex Horto Poetarum, Dew of the Ever-Living Rose. Gathered from the Poets Gardens of Many Lands. This was an anthology of verse dedicated to roses, with 11 full-page illustrations as well as ten pictorial head-pieces and one pictorial tail-piece. In addition there were 9 decorative head-pieces and 4 decorative tail-pieces. There were also 45 small floral text decorations and 395 decorative initials. The book was dedicated to Lady Eastlake and as a sign of Tennyson's regard for EVB he composed a short poem especially for it, 'The Rosebud.

The Hero Sacrificed: Stray Cuttings from the Portfolio of an Old Soldier 1844-1845 appeared in 1885 under the imprint of Swan Sonnenschein. It appeared in paper wrappers with eleven decorative head-pieces and 10 decorative tail-pieces, all wood-engraved; on the front cover is the image of a starry sky and a setting sun.

Again issued in 1885 wasA Lay Sermon for the Children of the Burnham Band of Mercy. This is a leaflet of just eight pages published by R. Ingalton Drake, the Bookseller to Eton College. A polemic about the protection of wildlife, it was written by Mary Boyle, EVBs sister-in-law. The cover bears a wood-engraving of a dormouse. In 1886 there was a privately published booklet of sixteen pages called An Address to the Children of the Band of Mercy, again written by Mary Boyle; though unillustrated, it present was a wood-engraving of EVBs dog on the front cover. Once more in 1886, again from Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, was a book written by EVB entitled A London Sparrow at the Colinderies. This was in paper wrappers, unillustrated, but with a wood-engraved sparrow to the front cover and another to the rear.

Between December 1885 and September 1886 in Harpers Young People Magazine were ten colour lithographed frontispieces after EVB taken from Beauty and the Beast and published originally as black and white wood-engravings in 1875. In 1887 the same magazine printed four colour lithographed frontispieces by EVB originally which were originally published in The Story Without an End(1868).

In 1891 Partridge in London and Wyllie and Son in Aberdeen produced Wee Willie Winkie, edited by Lady Marjorie Gordon which bore a cover design from Child's Play.

In 1893 Elliot Stock published A Book of Heavenly Birthdays, written and illustrated by EVB with a frontispiece and twenty black and white designs. Interestingly, it is not known by what method the images were printed. The front cover bore an image in gilt of a rising sun and stars over the sea with a sailing boat. There was a second edition in 1894, a third edition in 1896 and a fourth edition in 1906. This edition was published by Bickers and Son.

Also appearing in 1893 was Wood Magicby Richard Jefferies (Longman Green). The frontispiece and title vignette are by EVB, but there were no further illustrations. There was a reprint in 1894.

In 1895 Elliott Stock published A Garden of Pleasure, written and illustrated by EVB. The book deals with EVBs garden at Huntercombe Manor and is illustrated throughout with both full-page wood-engravings and smaller ones many in the text. There were three editions in 1895.

In 1900 Seven Gardens and a Palace by EVB was published by John Lane at The Bodley Head. There are eight full-page illustrations, but they are not by EVB; six are signed by Frederick L.M. Griggs (18761938), the illustrator and etcher who was one of Boyle's friends.

In the same year, again written by the artist, and published by Macmillan, came Sylvana's Letters to a an Unknown Friend. This is illustrated with photographs of gardens, presumably all by EVB herself.

In 1901 John Murray published Mary Boyle. Her Book which was edited by Sir Courtenay Boyle. This contains what seems likely to be a photogravure frontispiece after EVB and another photographic process plate with a peacock in the foreground, also by the artist. John Lane later published (1908) The Peacock's Pleasaunce, which contained a frontispiece and seven photographs of the aforesaid bird. This was EVB's final book as entirely her own work.

However, in 1911 Macmillan and Co published Tennyson and His Friends, edited by Hallam, Lord Tennyson. Of the twelve plates, one is a photographic plate of the Summer House at Farringford, drawn by EVB.

Critical Reflection

EVB was also a notable and prolific painter in watercolour, and made a number of drawings. In her lifetime she was admired by artists of the stature of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who remarked in a letter to William Allingham that her work (along with that of her friend, Lady Waterford), was great in design (60). In the entry on the British Museum website for a drawing of The Virgin and Child adored by Angels in pen and brown ink, John Christian (the previous owner) states that EVB's art was shaped by Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites and the angular forms show the influence of Dürer and early Netherlandish Art.

Certainly her illustrations possess charm, though her draughtsmanship often appears clumsy and even coarse. However, she can be seen as important as one of the few women artists of the period whose work was much reproduced in books by various methods, and she emerged a little earlier than other black and white women illustrators who followed her such as Jane Benham and Mary Ellen Edwards, with her first work Child's Play appearing in 1851. Several of her publications contained designs reproduced in colours, and it is true to say that her importance partly lies in the variety of reproduction methods that were employed in her books. Stylistically she can often produce imagery which possesses a dream-like quality, and is delightful and winning. In short, she is a highly significant figure in the development of work by female Victorian illustrators.


Christian, John. Eleanor Vere Boyle. The British Museum. www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG20608.

de Beaumont, Robin. 'EVB (The Hon. Eleanor Vere Boyle): an Account of her Life and Bibliography.' The Imaginative Book Illustration Society Journal: Singular Visions 2 (2002): 935.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the Sixties. London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover, 1975.

The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Allingham, 18541870. Ed. George Birbeck Hill. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897.

Additional Resource

Kosic, Corryn. 'Eleanor Vere Boyle.' The Norman Rockwell Museum. www.illustrationhistory.org/artists/Eleanor-vere-boyle

Created 13 June 2020