MINIATURE masterpieces are giving art lovers a micro-sized glimpse of the past.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s final fling of what’s been a highly successful year is the first exhibition devoted entirely to vignettes by the extraordinary 18th Century artist-engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick.

Curated by Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Thomas Bewick: Tale-pieces is a contemporary look into history offering the viewer – with the aid of a magnifying glass – an opportunity to lose themselves in a miniscule world, captured precisely and ingeniously in print by Bewick.

The vignettes were not originally made to be hung on gallery walls but published in books about natural history.

The books presented each specimen by describing it in words and illustrating it with a printed image – for in the days before photography, hand-made pictures like Bewick’s served as scientific evidence.

Born in Northumberland in 1753, he recast the art of the tailpiece through his depictions of everyday life in his native Tyne valley.

Each represents a part of the world on paper in miniature - a whole landscape with the horizon in the distance, a group of people or a lonely figure in a story.

Bewick’s sympathy was on the side of the under-privileged.

Many vignettes depict people coping with different situations, often travelling, working, crossing rivers and other obstacles on their way.

Jeanette Edgar, communications director for Lakeland Arts Trust, which owns Abbot Hall as well as Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, said she was a big fan of Bewick and first came across his work as a graphic design student at art college.

She added: “I was fascinated by the detail and his often moral stance.

"The delicate and intricate technique could achieve much more detail than metal engraving, transforming a crude art into the most popular form of graphic art in Britain – probably until the advent of photography a hundred years later.

"The resulting detail lent itself to various methods of reproduction, which many contemporary designers including myself, thoroughly abused.

“I still find Bewick’s work intriguing, a real mixture of craft, illustration and a wicked observation on mankind.”

* Thomas Bewick: Tale-pieces is at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal from November 12 until December 18. Entrance £5.75 for adults.