With the spread of literacy in the 1830s and the invention of mechanical presses, a much greater proportion of the population had access to literature. To encourage these new readers, publishers adopted the practice of issuing novels in monthly parts and of including steel engraved illustrations in each part. By the 1860s a more sophisticated readership had evolved, and a number of books were published in which the illustrations were their raison d'être.
By the 1890s the development of photo-mechanical means of reproduction had led to the publication of a wide range of popular illustrated magazines together with an enormous expansion in the numbers of illustrated books, especially for children. The development in the early 1900s of cheap and effective means of colour reproduction reinforced this trend and, in the UK at least, the National Art Schools programme meant that there were large numbers of well trained artists to meet the developing demand. The period from 1900 to the first world war is generally regarded as a golden age of book illustration.
The end of the Great War brought a disastrous slump in the book trade, and whilst the production of children's books continued, during the interwar years it was mainly the private presses that kept fine book illustration alive. Many artists turned to magazine work and advertising to earn a living.
Since the Second World War advances in printing methods and a steady growth in the number of books published have provided increasing opportunities for illustrators, largely in the field of children's books, although this has been accompanied by a severe decline in magazine work.
There is now a growing public awareness of and interest in the illustrators' art, an interest which IBIS seeks to focus and enhance.
The Imaginative Book Illustration Society
IBIS was formed in 1995 by Geoffrey Beare, a collector, and Robin Greer, a dealer, each of whom have a wide-ranging interest in the art of imaginative book and magazine illustration.
They recognised that as an art form, illustration is not receiving the attention it deserves, either from our national museums and galleries or from the academic community. They therefore decided to see whether there were sufficient like-minded people to form a society to promote interest in and further study of this neglected art form.
A limited initial trawl elicited an enthusiastic response from potential members both in the UK and abroad and at a public meeting on 6th June 1995 the society was founded, its objectives agreed and an executive committee elected. The society currently has over 200 members. Institutional members include the British Museum and the National Art Library.