Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of a prominent Victorian scientific illustrator, Edward Whymper, and today we honor another one, Cecil Aldin, who was born Apr. 28, 1870. Aldin was a regular artist for such British periodicals as the Illustrated London News, and he was chosen by Henry Hutchinson to provide the illustrations for his Prehistoric Man and Beast, published in 1896 (sixth image). This was not the first English book to relate the culture of prehistoric humans to the public; the idea of human antiquity had become established in the 1860s, and such earlier works as Louis Figuier’s Primitive Man (1870) had already provided scenes of the lives of Stone Age hunters. But the earlier illustrations were wood engravings. Aldin provided much softer watercolors, which were photographed and reproduced as half-tone plates—a very early example of the half-tone process.
In the 1890s, the Paleolithic period was commonly divided into several eras, based on the animals that were hunted: the Era of the Cave Bear, the Era of the Mammoth, and the Era of the Reindeer, and Aldin provided action scenes for each of the three eras, which we reproduce above, in order. Hutchinson provided the captions: “An eviction scene at Wookey Hole” (second image), “Hunting the mammoth in southern France” (third image), and “Hunting the reindeer in southern France” (fourth image). In addition, we show a detail from the eviction scene (first image), and an even more enlarged detail from the lower right corner of the mammoth hunt, revealing Cecil Aldin’s elaborate signature (fifth image).
We displayed Hutchinson’s book, opened to Aldin’s illustration of “Eviction at Wookey Hole”, in our 2012 exhibition, Blade and Bone: The Discovery of Human Antiquity, and we added the other two illustrations for the online version.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.