Posts tagged with 'etching'
As a volunteer at the Walker Art Gallery, I have been helping Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson, to digitise works related to the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, currently on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition explores the role that James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell played in the Etching Revival (1830-1940) in Britain. It also shows how their contemporaries, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), Charles Méryon (1821-1868), and William Strang (1859-1921), were influenced by their art.
One of the etchings that really caught my interest was Breaking Up of the Agamemnon by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which was one of three works by him included in the exhibition. It shows a large hulk of a vessel being demolished. The vessel is HMS Agamemnon, the Royal Navy battleship moored at the Naval Arsenal at Deptford on the River Thames, seen against the setting sun. Launched in 1852, the 230-feet long Agamemnon was one of the most intimidating of all wooden warships and the first British steam-powered flagship. The Agamemnon saw action in many battles, including the Crimean War, and was the predecessor of iron-hulled ships, which were introduced in the 1860s.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon reminded me of another etching, Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2 (1890) by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. I came across the etching when I was researching scenes of Liverpool Docks. Both ships had illustrious histories, and I felt that the images of their breaking up expressed a deep sense of loss and sorrow.
Haden’s etching of the Agamemnon was a spontaneous response to what he saw on the Thames one day in July 1870, but it became the most important subject of his career, which he continued to work on over the next 16 years.
Early in 1870 the art scholar, artist and etcher Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) asked Haden to etch a plate to be published in the first edition of his new art journal, The Portfolio (1870-1893). The journal, named after a folder in which collectors often kept valuable prints, championed etching as original art, rather than a reproductive medium. This concept played an instrumental role in the British etching revival during the second half of the 19th century. Haden, like the French Impressionists, always tried to work directly from life, and for this purpose, he always carried prepared copper plates wherever he went. He drew directly onto the plate to capture the movement of the light and its reflections in the sky, clouds, and water. The demolition of the Agamemnon may not have been a traditional subject for a study of ambiance, but Haden must have been entranced by its grandeur and spectacle.
In a letter to Hamerton, dated July 3, 1870, Haden wrote of the Agamemnon etching: “. . . I had thought of making the sun set behind the old hulk and the distant cupolas of Greenwich and of using the sinking luminary as typical of the departing glories of both . . . .” This shows that Haden indeed drew the initial sketch for Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 directly onto the copper plate. The sun is setting between the ship and Greenwich, conveying a poignant majestic reference to the glorious history of the Agamemnon. The rays of the setting sun rippling through the clouds are echoed on the stirring water in the foreground. Named after Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae who led the united Greek army to the Trojan War, the ship proudly displays the figurehead wearing a Roman centurion’s plumed helmet pointing towards the sun. The Agamemnon almost appears as if ready to set sail once again into the distant horizon. Although she is now tethered to a much smaller barge, with her ribs exposed and only one of three masts standing, the Agamemnon still looks magnificent. The image highlights the ship’s immense scale and power, but it also conveys a sense an ending.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon was a very complex project for Haden. He said he had “never undertook a more perplexing job.” The initial spontaneity of etching was followed by many attempts at adding and deleting small details throughout the composition, resulting in 11 states (versions of the print) being made in total. However, the main image of the ship against a shimmering evening sun remained largely unchanged.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 was an artistic and commercial success. The plate was unfortunately too large to be printed in The Portfolio and instead was later published by Frederick Goulding, and sold through Colnaghi’s, bringing Haden a huge financial reward. The plate was so popular that he produced a second version of the subject Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 2 (1886) in mezzotint.
As for the etching Haden promised to Hamerton for the first edition of The Portfolio Hamerton instead selected another of Haden’s prints, entitled A Brig at Anchor (1870), which is also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. He etched it from nature by moonlight on the Thames.
To discover more about the art of etching and to enjoy Haden’s intricate works at first hand don’t miss Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 7 October and the fascinating video made by Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design explaining the process of etching.
15 June 2018 by Alex Patterson
For a curator the best part of any exhibition, is the first time you properly look at the objects. This is a time when you can make discoveries and investigate objects beyond their normal scope. When I first began work on the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, Keith our paper conservator analysed the condition of the prints. In doing so, he noticed a wonderful watermark on the paper used for James McNeill Whistler’s prints (1834-1903). It is a beautiful design with a central beehive motif surrounded by ornate scrollwork of leaves and flowers crowned with a fruit tree. It also shows the initials DEDB. I immediately wanted to learn more about where this paper came from and why it was used for Whistler’s prints so I could include it in the exhibition and share it with our visitors. This is what I found!
Apparently Whistler was very selective about what paper was used for his etchings. This wasn’t at all unusual; the etching revival had instigated a new interest in the aesthetic tone and structure of paper. Modern paper made in the early 19th century could be highly acidic and appear bright white after the introduction of wood pulp and chlorine bleaches into the paper-making process. Laid paper was also gradually replaced with wove paper which had a more even surface. Whistler, and indeed most printers, refused to use such paper as it affected the overall tone and aesthetic of the work. The modern paper created too much of a contrast between the inks and the white background. Also wove paper did not hold the ink in the same way as laid paper.
Following Rembrandt’s example, Whistler like most etchers’ and printers preferred to use ‘Old Dutch’ or silky Japanese paper. Throughout his life Whistler constantly searched stationers and old book shops looking for it, as large quantities could still be found in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Made from boiled and beaten rags, drained on wire moulds, ‘Old Dutch’ paper was high quality with a ribbed texture and creamy in colour. Japanese paper was alternatively made from the bark of a mulberry tree; it could vary in thickness and tone from pale cream to a pronounced yellow. These types of paper could be identified by their unique watermark.
A watermark is design or motif that is caused by thickness variations created by the wire mould when shaping the paper. The ‘beehive’ watermark that we found on Whistler’s print’s, shown in transmitted light, is not the mark of ‘Old Dutch’ papermakers as I originally thought, but it can be traced to Holland.
The ‘beehive’ watermark is associated with the Honig (honey) family of Dutch papermakers who owned mills in Zaandijk, North Holland. The coat of arms was widely copied throughout the Netherlands and came to represent Dutch papermaking more generally. Whistler’s ‘beehive’ watermark is a variation belonging to the De Erven de Blauw papermakers from the 1820s, which explains the initials DEDB within the design (there were alternate versions of the De Erven de Blauw watermark also shown)
We would have never known that these watermarks existed on the Walker Art gallery’s prints before as they are not visible under normal lighting conditions, it was crucial to photograph our findings through transmitted light to document the work. This research and photographs of all the prints which contain the watermark are permanently available for everyone to view on Watermark, our online collection of works on paper.
8 June 2018 by Alex Patterson
My research for the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery uncovered some really interesting information about James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and his connection to Liverpool and Lancashire area. Read more…
17 May 2018 by Ann
Kathryn Edwards is an Artist and Musician. She will be delivering line drawing workshops at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight on 9 June and 24 July as part of the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the city exhibition.
In this blog we give a background to Kathryn as a workshop leader, an insight into how the work of Whistler and Pennell sparked the inspiration for these workshops, which are suitable for beginners and experienced artists alike and all about creating confidence. Kathryn’s art is about interpretation and in this free workshop she wants visitors to feel every line created is the right one, no erasers needed!
Places on the workshop are free but spaces are limited, advance booking via Eventbrite is essential.
2 May 2018 by Ann
We’re preparing to bring a little bit of city life to Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery this week as we countdown to the opening of our spring exhibition Whistler & Pennell: Etching the city on Friday 4 May.
Profiling the work of American artists; James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell who made London their home, the exhibition reveals their passion, innovation and influence upon an artistic technique that at the time was in decline.