he English school of engraving is entirely modern. Before Hogarth we scarcely had any native engraver of note: all the education in the art he had was in the humblest walks, and only in the way of trade. Before his time our engravers were mostly Flemings; the earliest and best being Wenceslaus Hollar, who did many small prints in the times of Charles II. After him we had several portrait engravers of good power, both natives and foreigners, Faithorne, White, Houbraken, and Virtue, whose notes on our art-history Walpole edited. When the cartoons of Raphael, now at Hampton Court, were unrolled and properly appreciated, it was decided that they should be engraved, and Nicholas Dorigny was invited over for that purpose, lodged at Hampton Court, and knighted in the dark days of George II.
A new kind of engraving was very much practised then, It had been introduced some time before, and was called mezzotint, Prince Rupert having the credit of being the inventor. John Evelyn published in 1662, in his work called “Sculptura,” a chapter on the new method of engraving, or mezzotint, invented or communicated by Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhyne, 'embellished by a specimen from Rupert's own hand. If the prince claimed the invention, he must have misinformed Evelyn, as the real discoverer of the process was Lieutenant -Colonel Louis von Liegen in the service of Hesse Cassel, prints from his hand being found dated 1643, fifteen years before Rupert's earliest engraving, with the word "inventor" after his name. This process, which was admirably carried out by Earlom, and has been united with legitimate engraving by late English engravers, may be shortly described. In the first place the plate is all grounded over by an instrument adapted to the purpose, so that the roughened surface, if printed in the ordinary way, would give a black impression. 'On this the design is drawn, and the effect produced by scraping and polishing out the lights, thus creating a chiaroscuro without any outlines whatever.
As an engraver Hogarth is not to be considered; it is his invention, his inflexible tragic and satiric feeling, repulsive and gross as it is, that places him in the first rank of art. The best British engraver of last century was Sir Robert Strange, a Scottish Jacobite who took arms in the rebellion of 1745. Narrowly escaping the loss of his head, he studied abroad, and was at last knighted by the reigning George, to propitiate him to use his powers in executing certain royal portraits. Strange in figure, and Woollett in landscape, are our best men in scientific line engraving; although we have had many of extraordinary artistic dexterity in the first half of the passing century. Now, however, the whole aspect of the art is changed; the noble style appears to be dying out, falling before the facile and showy methods and mechanical contrivances lately introduced, while miniature prints, so beautiful and perfect in the days of Turner and the Annuals twenty-five years ago, are entirely driven off the field by wood-engraving, elaborated beyond the recognition of the old masters so rough and vigorous.
This revolution, one of the most remarkable in art matters in our time, has been partly brought about by the new methods of copying pictures, lithography and its development into printing in colours. Of these it is therefore necessary to say a few words.
Senefelder, whose bust now appears among those of other Bavarian heroes on the wall of the Fame-temple in Munich, was an actor in one of the theatres of that city, when, under the late King Ludwig, a prodigious artistic activity was in full play. Having to prepare copies of the parts for the stage, and little time to do it, he cast about for some means of shortening his labour. The calcareous slate found on the Danube, he observed, had the property of transmitting greasy writing to paper with great clearness, and that, while wet, he could recharge the stone with ink without smearing it. A little care and ingenuity brought his practice to as much perfection as enabled him to use the invention, and he soon turned his attention to the reproduc tion of pictures in imitation of chalk drawings, the grain of the stone being particularly favourable for that pur pose. In a few years many artists followed in perfecting the method, which has been properly called chemical print ing, in distinction from other methods which are purely mechanical.
The first essays in this drawing on stone with greasy chalk were necessarily rude, but its improvement was rapid; and new and important features were added. The first was printing a tint with white lights under the drawing in black, which gave variety and a tone of colour to the picture, a successful improvement which resulted in giving the character of a drawing on tinted paper with black and white chalks, and entirely threw into the shade the painfully elaborate imitations of chalks, by that kind of engraving called stippling, so much admired when practised by Bartolozzi and others.
This repeated printing, which it will be seen at once is all that is wanted to produce imitations of pictures in colours, was only a new application of an invention of the seventeenth century, which does not seem to have been then pursued very far, although many examples might be mentioned. One of these, exhibited at the great Manchester Exhibition, cut by Bartholomew Coriolanus, 1647, representing the Fall of the Giants from Guido Reni, about three feet by two in size, was printed from wood blocks, three printings giving four tints, by leaving the colour of the paper for the lightest part of the picture. The stone surface has rendered much finer tints possible, and a very few years have sufficed to make Chromo-lithography so powerful and complete that water-colour pictures are imitated with a precision which renders it difficult to distinguish between the original and the counterfeit.
Within the last decade of years, or little more, while the noble old art of line engraving as practised by old Landseer, Pye, Wilmore, & c. in landscape, and by Raimbach, Burnet, Doo, Robinson, & c. in history, is apparently dying out in England, the wonderful discovery of sun-printing, Photography, has been followed by many processes facilitating transfer-printing. These are all mechanical, not artistic, and not noticeable here.
Scott, William Bell. Half Hour Lectures on the History and Practice of the Fine arts. 3rd ed. “with 50 illustrations engraved by W.J. Linton. London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1884.
Last modified 28 April 2021