James Sharples, The Forge, a steel engraving

England, AD 1859

An engraving by a self-taught painter and engraver

James Sharples (1825-92) was a self-taught English artist born at Wakefield in Yorkshire. He started work when he was ten years old as a smith's boy on the foundry floor. During his spare time he learned to read and write. His talent for drawing was discovered when chalking out designs on the foundry floor. He subsequently began to make figure and landscape drawings, and copy lithographs.

Sharples took up painting when he was eighteen. The following year he started work on The Forge, after which he made this engraving. He completed it in 1847, having worked on it in his spare time for three years. While making the painting he attempted to work full-time as an artist, but he was unable to sustain himself financially.

From 1848 Sharples devoted his artistic energies to designing and engraving. On seeing an advertisement, he ordered an engraver's steel plate, making a press and engraving tools for himself. He started this engraving of The Forge in his spare time. It took him ten years.

When the plate was published it was an enormous success with critics and the public. His story became a case study in Samuel Smiles's Self-Help, a popular self-improvement book first published in 1859.

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More information


F.D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolut (London and New York, 1968)


Height: 455.000 mm
Width: 530.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1865-6-10-25



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