Joseph Swain (1820 - 1909)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Joseph Swain, wood-engraver, was born in Oxford in 1820, and moved to London with his family at the age of nine. Initially apprenticed to the drawing-master Nathaniel Whittock, Swain later went to work for Thomas Williams in order to learn wood-engraving.

Swain began working for himself in 1842, and the following year received a commission which led to him becoming manager of the engraving department of Punch magazine. In due course Punch allowed Swain to take on other work (he was listed as an independent engraver from 1855) while retaining responsibility for engravings in the magazine. Swain carried out a great variety of engraving, which was widely admired for preserving the distinctive qualities of the work reproduced.

Unlike some contemporaries Swain did not try to originate new publications, but he did exhibit his firm’s prints at the Royal Academy, and publish texts about artists he admired. In this way he asserted the proximity of his wood-engravings to art, rather than commerce (as detractors of engraving sometimes claimed). After Swain’s death in 1909 his firm was taken over by his son, Joseph Blomeley Swain (b.1844).


Born: 1820

Died: 1909

Works associated with Joseph Swain in the RA Collection

7 results

Associated books

7 results