Iain MacPhail has compiled a catalogue raisonné of the Detmold twins’ etchings.

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ATG: the remarkable work of the Detmold twins is something of a well-kept secret. How did you learn about the story?

Iain MacPhail: It was in Sotherans of Sackville Street early in 1974 that I stumbled across a copy of The Hours of Gladness with lovely tipped-in plates by Edward Detmold. The story of this chance purchase is one of many told in my catalogue raisonné of the Detmold etchings.

I quickly found out that several books illustrated by Detmold were popular - The Jungle Book and The Arabian Knights among them - but their etchings were less well-known.

The following year, I heard through a book dealer about a sale of the Detmolds’ library in Montgomery, Wales, where Edward Detmold had lived since the war. Maurice Detmold had committed suicide while at the peak of his powers aged 25, as did Edward some 50 years later.

Their sister, Nora, who had continued to live in the family house, left an enormous body of artwork which included etchings, watercolours, drawings, etc. These were auctioned by Christie’s in King Street, over a five-year period beginning in 1976. I was lucky enough to acquire a substantial number of etchings from these sales. Thus, my quest had begun.

What was the first etching you bought and at what point did you think of yourself as a Detmold collector?

The first I bought was in 1976 at Craddock and Barnard of Museum Street. It was Morning Ride (I have given it the catalogue number IM111). I then asked the dealer Hilary Gerrish to check his stock of Detmold work and he offered me a nice Detmold image of a cockatoo (IM92). By then I realised I was going to collect the Detmolds’ work, but I did not then think it would be a 50-year quest.

Relatively little has been published about the subject and only a few exhibitions held. How did you go about piecing together the scholarship as a collector and now as an author?

You are correct. Relatively little has been published - and this despite the esteem in which the Detmolds were held at the time.

Burne-Jones, who met the twins while they were boys, called them geniuses. They exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 12, the youngest ever so to do. However, as his obituaries said, Edward, a recluse in later life, died a forgotten man.

I have managed to piece together an extraordinary life.

I was helped in my research by Campbell Dodson who listed the twins’ etchings up to 1910 (Edward continued to etch for another 20 years). Keith Nicholson published a thin, soft cover book which contained mainly images of the Detmold twins’ Jungle Book Folio of 1903.

There was a centenary exhibition in 1983 held at the Universities of York and Nottingham - it then travelled to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington in 1984. I lent over half the items for this show which was very professionally researched.

Another more general exhibition was held at the Dulwich Picture Gallery curated by Rodney Egan called The Age of Enlightenment and was held over Christmas in 2007. Ten pages of this catalogue were devoted to the Detmold twins’ etchings and watercolours.

It was the waspish Evening Standard art critic, Brian Sewell, who declared that the Detmold brothers deserved an exhibition of their own.

Does your collection embrace all works by the twins or does it have specific focus?

This is a good question with a complicated answer. You do have to separate out the etchings from the rest of the twins’ work - the books and the original artwork. Early on I realised that many of the paintings and drawings were going to be out of my reach but in a more modest way I could collect the etchings, so I firmly focused on these.

How many pieces do you have or are there still gaps to fill?

My catalogue lists 184 different etchings, of which I have the vast majority together with many different states and some duplicates. I don’t know exactly how many pieces I have, but certainly over 220.

As to the gaps, there are a few, which is one of the reasons for delaying the publication of my catalogue. I always felt there would be another one to discover around the corner.

Where have you made most of your purchases?

At last an easy question! Numerically most at the Christie’s sales in the late 1970’s. Thereafter at many auction houses and dealers all over the country.

What’s the most unusual place you have made a purchase?

Believe it or not, eBay, where I took a large risk over a wonderful Edward Detmold image which was on sale in the US. Fortunately, the seller had photographed the back of the frame and I recognised the label of US dealer JoAnn Reisler, a specialist in book illustration, on that. So I ended up owning a beautiful Edward watercolour for very little money.

The moral here is if you buy something on the ‘quiet’ please eventually let your descendants know what you have bought!

What is the price range of the works on the market and what are the key determinants of value?

I have known a dealer who sells certain Detmold images for up to £10,000. But at auction many go for low hundreds.

The answer to the second part of your question, as many of your readers will appreciate, depends on what the dealer/gallery thinks it’s worth and they might even have a purchaser in mind.

But the reality must be the quality of the image, its condition and its rarity.

Do you ever sell items to fellow collectors or upgrade?

I have parted with a few duplicates but I have never sold to upgrade. However, I have missed out on buying items that I would love to own because I felt they were too expensive.

What is the one great discovery you have made?

I was lucky to buy a portfolio of 28 etchings, many of which were unknown and unrecorded. These were from the Detmold twins’ earliest period and clearly showed the rapid advances in etching that they made between 1897-98.

Do you have any particular favourite work and why?

It is not the most striking image, nor the most valuable, but the one I particularly like is called Jungle (IM173). This is Edward Detmold etching at his very best. Four hand touched states exist showing the development of the plate, and just to emphasise his individuality Edward used brown ink for most of the few known impressions. There are, of course, other favourites.


Jungle (173), etching, 1924-28. One of the prints by the Detmold twins from the Iain MacPhail collection.

Is there one that got away?

Yes indeed, a rare late coloured print of three pink ibises (IM 161 which came up at a south London auction house many years ago. I was the underbidder. Another copy of this rare print came up for sale at Sworders in 2021.

Do your family and friends share in your enjoyment of the collection?

Yes, I would hope so, as I have quite a few items up on my walls.

Do you collect anything else?

Other artists have come to my attention but only one has stuck - a French painter who exhibited in major galleries in the 1950s and 1960s. Once highly valued, his work now languishes in the relative doldrums which I hope will give my children and grandchildren great reward while paying me a tax-free dividend every time I look at them! For now, I shall keep his name to myself.

You chose a niche subject away from the mainstream. Is that something you would recommend to a collector just starting out?

If you wish to be a collector, you have to specialise in as narrow a field as possible. That way it is possible to know more about your chosen field than anyone else. Auctioneers and dealers can only know so much about a wider field, be it art, porcelain, furniture or silver. So, yes, do specialise.

Iain MacPhail’s catalogue raisonné of the Detmold twins’ etchings is available at cost. He can be contacted at