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History of Etching

Updated on May 26, 2010

Albrecht Durer was a pioneer in this field and etched his The Cannon upon iron. Van Dyck, who was 'the solitary great etcher' of the Rubens school, depended for his splendid effects on the use of the open line and vigorous, dotted work. He etched several heads leaving accessories to be completed by an engraver. Rembrandt (1606-69), on the other hand, who is the perfect 'painter-etcher', relied on cross-hatching, and dis­covered how, by leaving ink on the surface of the copper, he could cope with the difficult task of reproducing the chiaroscuro of his paintings and ensure a rich and liquid surface tone. His etchings embrace portraits, landscapes and religious themes, Christ with the Sick around Him, Receiving little Children being widely accepted as his masterpiece. Other and notable painter-etchers of Holland were Adriaen van Ostade, Paulus potter and Nicolaes Berchem. The etchings of Jacques Callot and Claude Lorraine are of great interest.

In the 18th century the Italian school of etching reached its high-point in the delicate 'Capricci' of Giovanni tiepolo and the architectural designs of piranesi. A school of satirical etching developed in England. hogarth used etching as well as line-engraving to repro­duce his paintings. Thomas rowlandson etched in out­line, his prints' being completed by aquatint or hand colouring or both (as in his Dr Syntax illustrations). George cruikshank may well be mentioned in connec­tion with Rowlandson, as he has won universal favour by his sympathetic interpretation of Dickens's odd charac­ters. Early in the 19th century (1807-19) appeared Turner's Liber Studiorum, etched in outline by the artist himself and completed in mezzotint by various engravers. Francisco goya is the finest Spanish etcher; his power to seize upon all hypocrisies and affectation is well exemp­lified in his 'Caprichos', whilst his 'Desastres de la Guerra' are remarkable, if almost repulsive, expositions of the terrors of war. In the last century the etchings of Jean Francois millet and of Charles Meryon stand out. Also notable are those of A. Legros, but whistler with two exquisite London and Venice series was unsurpassed, though his brother-in-law, Seymour Haden (1818-1910), showed equal skill. Sir D. Y. Cameron, Sir Frank Bran-gwyn, Walter Sickert and Sir Muirhead Bone are distin­guished etchers of more recent times. Etching had an exceptional vogue in the 1920s and, probably as a result of its spontaneous nature, it has been used by many prominent painters of the 20th century, for example by matisse in his illustrations to Mallarme's Poesies, 1932; and by Picasso whose Minotaure, 1935, is a well-known plate.

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