Martin Hardie.

The British school of etching, being a lecture delivered to the Print collectors' club online

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SIR F. SEYMOUR HADEN Shepperton Frontispiece

W. HOLLAR Muff page 8

T. GIRTIN Pont St. Michel from the Pont Neuf 10
(touched proof)

A. GEDDES Mrs. Geddes (the artist's mother) 12

J. S. COTMAN Caernarvon Castle 14

J. STANNARD Fisherman's Cottage 16

S. PALMER The Early Ploughman 18

J. A. McN. WHISTLER Balcony, Amsterdam 20

SIR F. SEYMOUR HADEN Sunset in Ireland 22

ELIZ. ARMSTRONG Good Morning 24

J. A. McN. WHISTLER Black Lion Wharf 26

SIR F. SHORT Low Tide, the Evening Star, and Rye's 28
Long Pier Deserted





/T was a great disappointment to me that illness prevented
my being present when Mr. Martin Hardie gave the
inaugural lecture to the Print Collectors' Club on the
British School of Etching. With other members of the
Club who, like myself, were unable to attend, I am glad
that in response to many requests the lecture is being published
in a not unworthy form. In the index to the late Sir
Frederick Wedmore's " Etchings" Mr. Hardie is described
as " bureaucrat and etcher" He is Keeper of the Depart-
ment of Engraving, Illustration and Design in the Victoria
and Albert Museum ; and our Print Collectors' Club, like
the Museum, is fortunate in having the help and guidance
of one who combines administrative skill with sound historical
knowledge, and, not less important, a practical command of
the Etcher's craft.

Without these qualities it would have been impossible for
Mr. Hardie to have taken a balanced view of the many
aspects and interests included in his subject, even after
eliminating, as was necessary in the time at his disposal,
all but British work and all but the etching method. In
reviewing a subject like this, if judgment is to be of any
value, the broadest outlook must be taken : there must be
no best and no worst and, indeed, there never is and it
makes no difference whether an etching is done with a
dozen or ten thousand lines so long as the message of the
etcher is thereby conveyed. Leaving aside work that is
mainly skilled craftsmanship of which there must always be
a certain amount there will remain for the collector very
many forms of the art in which he will find rest and joy,
prints that appeal to him both by the subject or motive
and by the mode of treatment. It is the understanding of
the facilities and limitations of the various methods of

etching and engraving, and of their full qualities, that adds
so much to the appreciation and pleasure that prints bring
to the true collector. We hope by means of other lectures
such as this, by social meetings, by technical demonstrations,
and by all means in our power, to promote general know-
ledge of all forms of engraving, and to establish a common
meeting ground for print-lovers and those who practise the
various arts of making prints : and we hope, by earning
the enthusiastic support of lovers of fine prints, to build
up so strong a position, that some day the Club and its
parent, the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers,
may have a permanent home where all our aims may be
pursued with ampler scope.



MAKING ENEMIES, places several people
under his ban, among them the so-called
" experts " " those sombre of mien, and wise
with the wisdom of books, who frequent
museums collecting comparing compiling-
classifying contradicting." On every charge, from sombreness
of mien to capacity for contradiction, I must plead guilty,
and it is with the greater timidity that I venture to deliver this
opening lecture of the Print Collectors' Club to so distinguished
an audience of connoisseurs and well-known artists. When
the honour was thrust upon me, it was suggested that this
first lecture should be a survey of the whole history of etching.
That would have meant a very superficial treatment of the
subject, and so it seemed preferable to limit our attention to
the British School. But even the British School of Etching
is " no narrow frith to cross," and you must pardon me if
the short time at our disposal allows only of cursory reference
to many well-known etchers, with just an indication of the mile-
stones and landmarks from which you can map out, or recall
to your memory, the big outlines and features of our subject
to-night. And to give you a final apology for an inadequate
treatment of a large subject I would point out that it would
take all our time to read you just a bibliography, with little
more than titles, of all that has been written about British
etching from Faithorne's " Art of Graving and Etching,"
published in 1662, down to the last illuminating article by Mr.
Malcolm Salaman, who, you will be pleased to know, has
recently been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society
of Painter-Etchers in place of the late Sir Frederick Wedmore.
Nor can we enter into details of technique that is a
subject for later demonstrations and lectures. But, as I am
addressing the amateur (in the true sense of the word) as well

as the technician, I would ask you to consider the fact that
every one of the etchings which you see reproduced to-night
was done in the same way drawn with a point of steel or of
a stone (such as diamond or ruby) on copper or zinc or other
metal, printed direct without further treatment in the case
of the scratched lines of dry point, or printed from lines
bitten with acid into the metal plate. In any case, every-
thing depends on a basis of pure line drawn with a fine point ;
and to understand etchings you must appreciate the value,
the quality, the characteristics of line. You will find that
an etcher's line can be as personal, as expressive, as diverse,
as handwriting. The line that the etcher makes on copper
is his means of expression his language ; and, in Hazlitt's
words, "it is in the highest degree unphilosophical to call
language or diction the dress of our thoughts. It is the
incarnation of our thoughts." You can recognise the master
from a square inch of his plate, by the subtle incarnation of
personality that creeps into every line of his work. That is
why I have put on the screen as a key-note to our whole subject
a little plate of " Shepperton " by Sir Francis Seymour Haden.
It is a very simple plate more than half of it white space yet
it is masterly in composition and in expressive rendering
of nature. The work throughout seems so loose and un-
conscious, yet every line is vital and reveals the master's hand.
To enter on the history of British etching we must begin
with Hollar, because born in 1607, just one year later than
Rembrandt he marks the beginning of etching in our country.
Born at Prague, Hollar came to England with the Earl of
Arundel in 1637, and except for eight years passed at Antwerp
during the troubles of the Civil War, spent his life in our
country. An indefatigable worker, he executed over 2,700
plates historical subjects, portraits, architecture, costume,
topography an almost incredible record of industry. On
the screen is his portrait of H. Van der Borcht, and you will

see at once that with Hollar we begin with a master of technique,
using a line drawn and bitten with extraordinary precision
and expressiveness. And all through the history of etching
you can never disregard technique, and more and more you
will weigh and balance it against artistic vision. You will
find what the French describe as metier or cuisine as opposed
to ame : craftsmanship versus soul. And the greatest etchers,
from Rembrandt downwards, are those who have used their
craft for the expression of something personal, interpretative,
spiritual. The great etcher cannot, as Hollar must have
done, sit down to make an etching after breakfast every
morning. I recall, with some misgiving, the fact that the
motto of our Society reads Nulla dies sine linea. Let us
interpret it as expressing the hope that some member some-
where is scratching a line on copper. Heaven forbid that
we should all be doing it every day ! One day's toil following
another make the mezzotint an epic, but the fine etching must
have something unpremeditated, must sing itself like a lyric.
It must always be the offspring of a mood ; it must be impulsive,
swift inexplicable as love at first sight. If there be crafts-
manship behind the impulse, there may result a masterpiece
of the world. Now Hollar rarely rises above the level of the
master craftsman. The hand is deft, the mechanics faultless,
the application untiring, but he opens no magic windows,
takes us into no comradeship of spiritual beauty, follows no
dream. Yet such things as his views of London at the time
of the Great Fire (on the screen you have his view of Old
Richmond Palace), some of his costume plates, and the sets
of muffs and shells, are little masterpieces of their kind,
never destined to command fabulous prices in the sale-room,
but things which the collector will always love and treasure for
their refinement and perfection of craft. His muffs,
about three inches square in the print, are perfect miracles
of observation and of ingenuity in execution.

Hollar's numerous etchings must have been widely known
in England, but it is difficult to trace any continuity of
tradition. As has been said, the use of the etching needle
in our country was sporadic, and without searching for con-
necting links, one may leap from Hollar to Hogarth (1697-
1764).* Vandyck (1599-1641) comes between, but I am
passing Vandyck, because his series of portrait etchings
was executed in Flanders before he settled in London.

Etching was used by Hogarth mainly, of course, as the
foundation of his well-known sets of engravings, but he used
etching for its own sake in some small subscription plates.
His " Lord Lovat " of 1746, and his " Laughing Audience >:
of 1733, are done with the freedom and impulsiveness that
the good etching demands.

But, surveying the eighteenth century as a whole, we find
no great original masters of etching. Jonathan Richardson,
the elder (1665-1745), a great collector whose mark appears
on so many fine Old Master drawings, etched a few portraits.
Thomas Worlidge (1700-1766) was more prolific, but his work
possesses no striking value as original etching. His portrait
of Walter Baker the first state which you see on the screen,
shows his accomplishment at its highest, but his work is of
chief interest to us mainly because he used dry-point freely,
and because he carried on the Rembrandt tradition, making
numerous copies from Rembrandt, which, in spite of their
inadequacy, are sometimes a snare to the collector. The
Rembrandt collector has often also found a pitfall in the
conscientious work of Captain William Baillie (1723-1810),
who made many close copies of the great master, and also with
singular boldness restored the original plate of Rembrandt's
Hundred Guilder print, which had come into his possession.
His own work is unimportant, but his method may be seen
in our slide from an etching of a self-portrait by Franz Hals.

"These dates, not all inflicted on the audience, are inserted here at the President's suggestion.

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It is not till the first decades of the nineteenth century
that we find British etchings of real importance, reflecting
spirituality and true personality of temperament. The rise
of an indigenous school of landscape painting, and the
blossoming of the British School of Water-Colour, carried
with them a return to the high traditions of painter-etching.
Girtin and Turner, Wilkie and Geddes, Crome and Cotman,
make the first forty years of the nineteenth century a period
of memorable revival.

Girtin (1775-1802) and Turner (1775-1851), it is true,
both used etching merely as a preparatory groundwork for
aquatint and mezzotint, but both used it with a mastery that
gives permanent value to their work. It was in 1802, the last
year of Girtin 's short life of twenty-seven years, that he was
working on the " Picturesque Views of Paris." The etching you
see is a view of Belle- Vue and the Pont de Seve from the Terrace
at St. Cloud. There is time only to remind you that he made
the etchings for these views in soft-ground, worked over the
proofs of the etchings with a wash of sepia, and then sent
them to be completed in aquatint by Lewis and others. The
etched states there are some unique trial proofs in the
Victoria and Albert Museum are, in most cases, finer, at
any rate, more personal, more autographic, than the aquatints,
and stand alone in the history of etching. I think you will
agree with this if you look first at the etching of the " View
of the City from the Louvre," and then at our slide made from
the finished print in aquatint. From Rembrandt to Cameron,
no one has surpassed Girtin in the use of nervous, expressive
line to render the superb sweep of panoramic views.

As I am speaking to collectors, it may be of interest to say
that my own chief find, certainly my most wonderful bargain,
was a set of a dozen or more touched proofs of Girtin 's etched
states. They were undescribed, many of them folded up
and creased, in a large parcel of newspaper cuttings and so on


at Hodgson's saleroom. When I saw them, they had been
turned over by dozens of dealers and sold the day before.
I traced them to a dealer in Yorkshire, and he gave me the
entire set for 153., making a profit on his whole parcel. Most
of them are the proofs now in the Victoria and Albert Museum,
and I have three or four myself.

Turner's etchings, such as the " Via Mala " of our slide,
were done almost exclusively for the series of prints known
as the Liber Studiorum, dating from 1807 onwards. For
this great set of landscape compositions he made drawings
in sepia; then, in nearly every case, he etched with his own
hand the main outlines of his subject, making a framework,
so to speak, on which he himself or some mezzotint engraver
under his own supervision, was to complete the work. The
etched states, like Girtin's, were intended as the scaffolding
for the later print, and on that account are generally strongly
bitten. The etching on the screen is "The Junction of the
Severn and the Wye," and it may interest you if we follow
it by the finished mezzotint. Turner knew everything or
something about every branch of painting and engraving, but
he had not probed very deep into the mysteries of etching.
He had not realised, like Palmer, that it was a " temper-trying,
teasing, yet fascinating art." His etchings, none the less,
will always take their place as pure etching for their brilliant
draughtsmanship, their wonderful economy of means. There
is not a touch that is not fluent and finely expressive.

And here, perhaps, I may mention Thomas Rowlandson
(1756-1827), because his etched work, too contemporary
with Turner's, though very different was also made as a
skeleton, to be clothed with aquatint and colour. That it
was made for issue on the "id. plain and ad. coloured J:
principle, makes it the more remarkable. Wrought without
the higher qualities of etching, and with a somewhat even
biting, Rowlandson's work, in etching as in drawing, has a


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vitality and force and vividness that give him a notable place
in British art.

In the case of Wilkie (1785-1841) and Geddes (1783-1844),
however, etching was an end in itself. Sir David Wilkie,
who used dry-point freely as well as acid, produced some
thirteen plates between 1819 and 1824 a ^ f them lively
studies of character, such as * Reading the Will ' and
" The Lost Receipt," both of which are little pieces of
genre, admirable not only for fine technique, but for the
simple veracity with which, so ingeniously, they tell their tale.
Andrew Geddes, whose fifty plates were produced between
1812 and 1826, takes a far higher place as an interpreter,
whether of landscape or human character. His portrait of his
mother is a masterly dry-point, recalling Rembrandt in its
shrewd characterisation, its close workmanship and rich use
of burr. His landscapes, such as " Peckham Rye," boldly
and freely handled again with an echo of Rembrandt are
charming impressions direct from nature. I may add that
there are very fine collections of Geddes' work (with a large
number of trial proofs) both at the British Museum and at
the Victoria and Albert Museum. His work was fully
catalogued by Mr. Campbell Dodgson, whom we are proud
to have as an Honorary Fellow of our Society and member of
this Club, in the 1915-17 volume of the Walpole Society.
I would remind you that the late Sir Frederick Wedmore,
also an Honorary Fellow of our Society, a keen student and
a brilliant writer, spoke wisely of Geddes' landscape etchings
as " to be eagerly sought for, since they are really the successors
of Rembrandt and the faultless precursors of Muirhead Bone."

To show again how sporadic was etching in our country,
we must now travel from Edinburgh to Norwich. We
celebrate this year the centenary of the death of John Crome
(1768-1821), " the little dark man with the brown coat and
the top-boots," whose works Borrow prophesied in


" Lavengro," seventy years ago, would some day rank
" among the proudest pictures of England and England
against the world." To-night we must remember that Crome
and his followers not merely planted firmly on our soil an
indigenous school of landscape painting, but began the modern
revival of etching, following old and sound tradition, but
adding something of our national spirit and outlook. In
their hands English etching became a living, breathing art,
and we may claim Crome as the first of English " painter-
etchers." His etchings were for Crome the idle amusement
of an empty day, bits of personal observation on Mousehold
Heath or in East Anglian lanes or woods. One likes to think
that Crome's work inspired Jasper Petulengro's gospel of
joyous life : " There's night and day, brother, both sweet
things ; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things ; there's
likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother."

Crome's etchings were done, as he says, " for pleasure or
remembrance " and that is how all really great etchings
have been made. Some ill-bitten, careless proofs were given
to his friends, but they were never really known or published
till after his death. The British Museum, I may say, has a
representation of Crome that is complete and unique,
and it is important there, or elsewhere to study the
early states, because in later editions the plates were
botched and bungled by successive hands, by Crome's son,
Ninham, W. C. Edwards and others. The collector must
avoid those later issues of 1838 and subsequently, that came
out in a portfolio with Dawson Turner's memoir of the artist.

Cotman (1782-1842), the next great artist of the Norwich
School, was probably influenced by Crome, but it was not
till 1838, seventeen years after Crome's death, that his set
of etchings, mainly in soft-ground, was published with the
title of " Liber Studiorum." There are many things in that
volume, like the " Caernarvon Castle," now before you, and


"Harlech Castle," that are little masterpieces of composition and
design, wonderful in their searching draughtsmanship and in
their cunning suggestion of texture and surface. There is
brilliant draughtsmanship in Cotman's hard-ground etchings
in his various publications on the antiquities of Norfolk and
elsewhere the " North West Tower, Yarmouth ): is a fine
example but as a whole they lack the superb quality, the wonder-
ful combination of breadth and intricacy that, as shown in his
" Liber Studiorum," makes him one of the masters of English
etching as well as of water-colour. The " Postwick Grove " is
another delightful soft-ground etching, and I would remind
you that the "Liber Studiorum," in which these etchings
appear, was issued in volume form in 1838. Not so many
years ago the volume, with its forty or fifty plates, could be
bought for 4 or 5. It is rarer now, no longer an " un-
considered trifle " in the lists of secondhand booksellers, but
the wise collector will not let the volume pass.

High also in rank among the etchers of the Norwich School
we must place an amateur, the Rev. Edward Thomas Daniell
(1804-1842), who worked under Crome as a boy at the Norwich
Grammar School. His prints, covering the years 1824-1835,
are full of interest and technical value, and at the same time
curiously modern in their spirit. He reaches a very high
level of refined thought and execution in his " Borough Bridge."

One would like to dwell, if time permitted, on other
Norwich men, such as Stannard, Vincent, Ninham, and
Stark. Stannard, in particular, who was only thirty- three when
he died in 1830, I regard as a little master who has been too
much hidden under the shadow of his Norwich contemporaries.
In spite of dry unsympathetic printing, things like his
" Witlingham Old Church " and his " Fisherman's Cottage,"
claim the highest respect for their command of the etched
line. Joseph Stannard (1797-1830), appears to deserve greater
admiration, greater permanence than he has hitherto won.


Contemporary with the Norwich School was David Charles
Read (1790-1851), a drawing-master working at Salisbury,
where, between 1826 and 1844, he produced some 240 plates,
almost entirely of landscape. His work is often a little lacking
in thought and coherence, but it is at times vigorous and
spirited, rising perhaps to its highest level in some dry-points.
Occasionally, as shown in our two slides, he is simple and
unaffected, in many ways anticipating the outlook of Legros
or Seymour Haden.

We have now reached, with the last of the Norwich School,
and with Read of Salisbury, the period of the 'forties in last
century. We have seen Crome and Cotman, Wilkie and
Geddes, Girtin and Turner, asserting themselves as isolated
possessors of the true etching impulse ; but they stand alone,
having no real following, and it was left to posterity to recognise
the true value and importance of their art. They worked
in isolation, with appreciation from the smallest of circles.
They had no publishers, no exhibitions, no Press to praise
or revile them ; and the collector of their days, instead of
wisely choosing out the men of to-morrow, was filling his
solander boxes with Marc Antonios and doubtful Old Master
drawings. So they stood alone, and, till you reach the modern
revival of etching in this country, beginning with Whistler
and Seymour Haden, there is no main stream of etching, no
close-knit sequence of events. It was not till the middle
of last century that the new movement really began, and we
must recognise that it received its first notable impulse from
the etchers of France. In France the period from 1840 to
1865 covers the finest work of Jacque, Millet, Corot, Daubigny,
Meryon, Bracquemond, Jacquemart a wonderful period in
etching, as in painting. On our side of the Channel the
revival came later. Here, during the 'fifties, the art of etching
was neglected or misunderstood. A few artists and amateurs
practised etching, and formed an Etching Club in London,


which issued various publications beginning with a set of
illustrations to Goldsmith's " Deserted Village," in 1861.
Their work is well-drawn, sincere, too pretty, and shows
little appreciation of the real spirit of etching. Millais,
Creswick, Hook and Charles Keene stood out as doing work
that was above the dull and uninspired productions of the
rest, but one cannot forget that most of them had never seen
a printing-press, and simply drew on the plate, leaving it to
the club secretary to do the biting and all the rest. (Secretaries
nowadays do not possess this gentle and accommodating
nature ! It would be rather fun, all the same, to have the
chance of receiving a Short and biting it into a Brangwyn !)
In the case of the Etching Club, however, one must make a
qualification as to Samuel Palmer (1805-1881), for no one can
fail to appreciate the strong individuality of this artist, and
the romantic idealism of his work. In these days we are
inclined to insist perhaps overmuch on precision, economy

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Online LibraryMartin HardieThe British school of etching, being a lecture delivered to the Print collectors' club → online text (page 1 of 3)