In 1903, the Bibliophile Society of Boston commissioned Howard Pyle (1853–1911) to create paintings of noted booklovers for inclusion in its deluxe edition of the English writer Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania as well as a limited-issue Portfolio of Etchings completed by William Harry Warren Bicknell (1860–1947). Pyle’s subjects built on his success with medieval themes while reflecting the Society’s aim to promote the arts of fine bookmaking and illustration. The etching “Friar” Bacon in His Study depicts the thirteenth-century English philosopher immersed in books and sundry instruments of learning. In the foreground, an alembic, or distilling apparatus, may symbolize Pyle’s creative power to transmute history into art. In Richard DeBury and the Young Edward III, the impressive scholar, bishop, and book collector tutors the willowy English heir, who reads from a lavishly illuminated codex. The remarque of a monastic scribe above Bicknell’s pencil signature reprises marginalia from medieval manuscripts and suggests an analogy with the work of the etcher, which also requires skillful copying.
William Harry Warren Bicknell (American 1860–1947), after Howard Pyle (American, 1853–1911), “Friar” Bacon in His Study and Richard DeBury and the Young Edward III, from Portfolio of Etchings, published 1903. Etchings, 25 3/4 x 18 11/16 in. and 22 x 13 3/8 in. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University acquisitions, 1971.