Richard Doyle was primarily an illustrator in black and white whose work was engraved on wood and etched on steel, with a few of his series being reproduced lithographically. At the same time some of his books appeared in colour, a reflection of his parallel career as a painter with a strong sense of decorative values. Two of his posthumous publications, Scenes from English History (1886) and Jack the Giant Killer [1888] were chromolithographic versions of early manuscript designs executed in watercolour and ink when he was only 16 years of age and are clearly juvenilia. Others, issued during his lifetime, took the form of wood-engravings or lithographs which were issued in a plain format or coloured by hand. A Grand Historical Allegorical Classical and Comical Procession (1842), Rebecca and Rowena (1850), Jack and the Giants (1850) and An Overland Journey to the Great Exhibition (1851) were all issued in black and white and in a jaunty palette of bright inks applied by workers (usually women, paid piecemeal), who toiled to fill in the outlines.

Richard Doyle,Edward I presenting his son to the Welsh. The chromolithograph was created by T. Sadler and printed in colours by Hanhart and Co.

Richard Doyle, King Henry the Eight and a Member of Parliament.

The duality was purely a means of generating interest in the books by appealing to different pockets: for example, Jack and the Giants (1851) was sold at 2 shillings and sixpence in its plain format (half a crown), and 4 shillings and 6 pence when it was coloured. An Overland Journey to the Great Exhibition was similarly issued at 3 shillings plain and 5 shillings in resplendent tints, recreating some of the visual splendour of the event it accompanied. Conscious of appealing to as many consumers as possible, publishers therein made the books available in what were essentially de-luxe and standard versions, a practice also applied to the works of Doyle’s rivals John Leech, Alfred Crowquill and George Cruikshank.

Richard Doyle, three coloured scenes. (a) Doyle’s mock-heroic treatment of medievalism in Rebecca and Rowena; (b) Another scene from the same book; and (c), another, which combines toy-town aesthetics with the imagery of the illuminated manuscript.

Doyle’s greatest piece in colour was In Fairyland. Published just before Christmas in 1869 and post-dated to 1870, Fairyland is widely regarded as one of the Victorian masterworks of polychromatic book-design. The technique this time did not involve hand-colouring but a version of wood-engraving. Doyle created his imagery in watercolour and coloured inks, and it was then converted into a series of woodblocks by Edmund Evans, who pioneered this process as a rival to chromolithography.

An exquisite scene, airy and lyrical, from Doyle’s In Fairyland.

Another scene from Richard Doyle’s celebrated In Fairyland.

Evans had already used the technique with a number of illustrators. In 1864 he produced A Chronicle of England by James Doyle, Richard’s brother, and he went on to engrave a wide range of children’s books by Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott. Evans’s workmanship was always of a very high quality, but his masterwork, and Doyle’s masterpiece, was In Fairyland. Though not initially successful (being sold at 31 shillings and 6 pence), the book was reissued at the end of 1874, dated 1875, for a more affordable 15 shillings. The same engravings were used for Andrew Lang’s The Princess Nobody (1884) and a modern edition of Doyle’s fantasy was published in 1979. In its two original editions it remains a collector’s treasure and commands very high prices in the antiquarian book-trade.

Another scene from In Fairyland.

Related Material



Doyle, James. A Chronicle of England. London: Longman, Green, Longman, 1864.

Doyle, Richard. In Fairyland. With a poem by William Allingham. London: Longman, 1870 [1869]; reprinted 1875 [1874].

Doyle, Richard. A Grand Historical Allegorical Classical and Comical Progression of Remarkable Personages Ancient Modern and Unknown. London: Thomas McLean, 1842.

Doyle, Richard. In Fairyland. With a poem by William Allingham. London: Longman, 1870 [1869]; reprinted 1875 [1874].

Doyle, Richard. Jack the Giant Killer. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1888 [produced 1842].

Lang, Andrew. The Princess Nobody. London: Longman, 1884.

Doyle, Richard. An Overland Journey to the Great Exhibition. London: Chapman & Hall, 1851.

Doyle, Richard. Scenes from English History. London: Pall Mall Gazette Office, 1886.

Doyle, Richard. The Story of Jack and the Giants. London: Cundall & Addey, 1851 [1850].

Thackeray, W. M. Rebecca and Rowena. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850.


Engen, Rodney. Richard Doyle. Stroud: The Catalpa Press, 1983.

Hardie, Martin. English Coloured Books. 1906; rpt. London: Batsford, 1990.

Created 12 September 2021