Sunday, 10 March 2013

From “Liber Veritatis” to “Liber Studiorum” (Part 2): Turner, Short & Cotman


What are some of the traditional approaches to reproducing artworks?


In the last post the discussion addresses the difference between Claude Lorrain’s reproduction of his paintings in drawings for his Liber Veritatius [Book of Truth] and Richard Earlom’s reproduction of the same drawings in mezzotint for the published version of the Liber Veritatius. In summary, I proposed that Lorrain’s build up of overlaid lines reproducing his paintings’ tones creates a sparkling effect resulting from white paper peeping through the matrix of black lines. Moreover, this sparkling effect achieved by line is well suited to Lorrain’s interest in portraying contre-jour lighting—placement of the featured subject in front of the sun. By contrast, I proposed that Richard Earlom’s choice of the medium of mezzotint fails to capture this sparkling effect even though his choice of medium is effective in reproducing subtle nuance of tonal changes observed in Lorrain’s drawings.

For the present discussion (Part 2 of the three instalments) I wish to move the focus onto Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and the reproduction of his oil paintings, sketches and watercolours published in the Liber Studiorum [Book of Studies]. Mindful that there is already a wealth of easily accessible information about Turner’s Liber Studiorum (see, for example, Alexander J Finberg’s [1988] J.M.W. Turner’s Liber Studiorum with a Catalogue Raisonné), I will lean the following discussion towards some of the key considerations underpinning his approach to reproducing artworks and the advice that he gave the printmakers he commissioned to translate his compositions into prints.

In terms of Turner’s early approach to reproducing his artwork for the Liber Studiorumm, his sixth print, Jason (shown below), is a fine example. It exemplifies Turner’s willingness to extend his translation of the original painting, drawing and watercolour (see http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-jason-n00471; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-study-for-the-figure-of-jason-d04908; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-jason-d08106) so that the print is not a literal copy of the original artworks but rather it is an artwork in its own right.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
(engraver) Charles Turner (1774–1857)
Jason, 1807 from the Liber Studiorum, published in London
Mezzotint and etching on laid paper
18.3 x 25.9cm (image); 20.7 x 29cm (plate); 21.4 x 29.4cm (sheet)
Inscribed above the image: "H" (centre)
Inscribed below the image: "Drawn & Etched by J.M.W. Turner R. A." (left); "Engraved by C. Turner" (right); “JASON” (upper centre); "Published as the Act directs by J.M.W. Turner Harley Street" (lower centre)
State ll (of V)
Tate Gallery description: “On the right, Jason climbs over broken tree-trunks in the foreground towards a cavern in the rock in which a coil of a serpent is seen emerging.”
Finberg 6; Rawlinson 6; Whitman 868
Condition: a rare, very rich and well-inked impression. The sheet is trimmed close to the plate edge with remnants of mounting tape at the corners (verso). There is a previous collector’s signature mark in ink on lower right corner (recto) and two ink stamps and the same collector’s signature mark in ink (verso). The image is in very good condition, but the margins within the plate marks have several spots, thin patches and nibbles.
I am selling this print for $390 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of JMW Turner’s Jason
At this initial stage in his approach to reproductive prints, Turner’s use of etched line (as can be seen in the detail above) shares a similar freedom of expressive gesture, in the sense that the line-work is relaxed and spontaneous, as his hand-drawn lines in the original studies. Turner’s later prints, however, reveal that this former freedom is replaced with more calculated approach as Finberg (1988) comments regarding Turner’s treatment of his etched lines:
In them Turner has dropped . . . the dainty virtuosity of his early pencil outlines (1795–1797), and the joyous swagger of his Scottish and Swiss sketches of 1801 and 1802. His line is now sedate, governed by the intellect rather than the emotions. (p. liii)
Finberg’s insight can be easily verified by comparing Turner’s relatively free use of line as seen in Jason with his formal and controlled use of line the latter print, Raglan Castle (Finberg 58: Berry Pomeroy Castle) (see below two states of each print from the British Museum).

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
(upper left) Jason, 1807
© The Trustees of the British Museum AN119606001
(lower left) Jason, 1807
© The Trustees of the British Museum AN85218001
(upper right) Raglan Castle, 1816
© The Trustees of the British Museum AN88723001
(lower right) Raglan Castle, 1816
© The Trustees of the British Museum AN88719001
Beyond Turner's shift to a more formal use of line, described by Finberg as “free from affectation or self-consciousness” (ibid.), there is also an evolution in the surface attributes of Turner’s prints—their facture. This subtle, but important, change in the surface treatment arises from the manner in which Turner etched his plates (mindful that Turner’s contribution to the creation of his prints was often no more than the initial etching phase). In the earlier prints, he etched his lines very deeply resulting in highly embossed and comparatively thick lines (see a photograph of the recto and verso surface of Jason below). By comparison, his later prints were etched with more discipline—no doubt tuned from experience—resulting in less embossed lines. 

(above) verso detail of Jason showing indented etched lines
(below) recto detail of Jason showing embossed etched lines 
Regarding the deeply etched lines of Turner’s early approach, PG Hamerton in his famous Etching & Etchers proposes that Turner’s execution of Jason is “coarse” (1876, p. 270). In terms of the effectiveness of Turner’s line-work to express meaning, however, this assignation of coarseness is not meant to be derogatory but rather uncompromisingly forceful; as Hamerton goes on to explain:
The few rude strokes by which this dragon [a featured subject in the print] is made to live and writhe, are … incomparably superior to the most careful imitation of scales which laborious dulness [sic] could achieve with a month’s toil … (1876, p. 271)

With regard to the mezzotint shading that was usually applied by printmakers commissioned for this task (e.g. Charles Turner who engraved Jason), JMW Turner’s approach to this medium also evolved from the initial prints in the Liber Studiorum to the later ones. In the earlier prints Turner recognised that the mezzotint process was not entirely satisfactory for rendering skies; the medium produced too heavy a tone to match Turner’s notion of a luminous sky. As a solution to this dilemma Turner chose aquatint for portraying many of the sky areas of his later prints as the aquatint process could produce more delicate and lighter effects than is the case with mezzotint. Moreover an aquatint is also more durable in terms of the longevity of the created image on the printing plate than a comparatively fragile mezzotint image on the plate. Sadly, the combination of aquatint skies and mezzotint rendering of the earth beneath does not always lead to a cohesive outcome (i.e. a “happy marriage”). This is because the two treatments when printed with the same colour of ink often “look as though they have been printed with different coloured inks” (Finberg, 1988, p. Ixix).

Ultimately, this need to find the perfect tonal relationships was resolved with the technical upheaval in the printing industry arising from a shift in interest from copper plate printing processes to steel in 1823. The use of steel gave artists greater scope when reproducing tones than previously, as Finberg (1988) notes: “It enabled them to lighten the key in which they worked, and to model the lights with greater subtlety and delicacy” (p. IXXXV).

Arguably this new found lyrical development in the art of mezzotint arising with use of steel plate may have been the catalyst (in the sense of the final “nail in the coffin”) that laid to rest Turner’s former enthusiasm for his Liber Studiorum prints. In short, one might suggest—but not this author—that the mediums employed for his prints were simply not good enough to mirror his artistic vision, in terms of capturing nuance of light of his original artworks, to compare what the new age had brought to the reproductive process. To illustrate the sensitivity that steel plates offered artists, compare the subtlety of the skies in the steel reproductive engravings of Turner’s paintings shown below. Be mindful, however, that these prints are not a part of the Liber Studorium and were executed in the late 1800s.

John Cousen (1804-80)
Peace—Burial of Wilkie after JMW Turner
Steel engraving on heavy wove paper
32 x 23.5cm (sheet); 19.5 x 19.5cm (octagonal image)
Inscribed below the image: “J.M.W. TURNER. R.A. PINXT.” (left); “J. COUSEN. SCULPT.” (right); “PEACE_BURIAL OF WILKIE” / “FROM THE PICTURE IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY” / “LONDON. JAMES S. VIRTUE” (centre)
Condition: pristine condition. I am selling this print along with the three steel engravings below (4 prints in total) for $105 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.





Detail of Cousen’s Peace—Burial of Wilkie after JMW Turner
Detail of Cousen’s Peace—Burial of Wilkie after JMW Turner
Detail of Cousen’s Peace—Burial of Wilkie after JMW Turner
John Cousen (1804-80)
Hannibal Crossing the Alps after JMW Turner
Steel engraving on heavy wove paper
23.8 x 31.5cm (sheet); 15.5 x 24.7cm (image)
Inscribed below the image: “J.M.W. TURNER. R.A. PINXT.” (left); “J. COUSEN. SCULPT.” (right); “HANNIBAL CROSSING THE ALPS.” / “FROM THE PICTURE IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY” / “LONDON. JAMES S. VIRTUE” (centre)
Condition: very good condition with slight wrinkling. I am selling this print along with the steel engraving above and the two below (4 prints in total) for $105 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button (see Peace—Burial of Wilkie).
Detail of Cousen’s Hannibal Crossing the Alps after JMW Turner
Robert Brandard (1805-62)
Snow-Storm after JMW Turner
Steel engraving on heavy wove paper
22.5 x 33.5cm (sheet); 19 x 25.2cm (image)
Inscribed below the image: “J.M.W. TURNER. R.A. PINXT.” (left); “R. BRANDARD. SCULPT.” (right); “SNOW-STORM.” (centre)

Condition: pristine condition but trimmed before the lower centre text liness. I am selling this print along with the two steel engravings above and the one below (4 prints in total) for $105 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button (see Peace—Burial of Wilkie).
Detail of Brandard’s Snow-Storm after JMW Turner
William Miller (1796–1882)
The Shipwreck after JMW Turner
Steel engraving on heavy wove paper
22.3 x 30cm (sheet); 16.5 x 24.7cm (image)
Inscribed below the image: “J.M.W. TURNER. R.A. PINXT.” (left); “W. MILLER. SCULPT.” (right); “THE SHIPWRECK.” / “D. APPLETON & CO. NEW YORK.” (centre)
Condition: pristine condition. I am selling this print along with the three steel engravings above (4 prints in total) for $105 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button (see Peace—Burial of Wilkie).
Detail of Miller’s The Shipwreck after JMW Turner

One artist that chose to take a different route to steel plate engraving for reproducing Turner’s compositions is Francis Job Short (1857–1945)—better known as simply, Frank Short. Short saw value in Turner’s approach to reproductive prints and completed Turner’s abandoned Liber Studiorum with the so-called Little Liber using mezzotint and aquatint. Short also revisited Turner’s original compositions with fresh interpretations, such as his version of Berry Pomeroy Castle [Raglan Castle], Aesacus and Hesperie, Aesacus and Hesperie and Chain of Alps from Crenoble to Chamberi (shown below). To my eyes there is no better proof that the tradition of using mezzotint and aquatint explored by Turner can surpass the delicate plasticity of engraved steel plates than closely examining the richness and subtlety that Short was able to imbue his prints.

Frank Short (1857–1945)
Raglan Castle after JMW Turner's Berry Pomeroy Castle
Etching and mezzotint on heavy wove paper
19.4 x 27cm (image); 22.5 x 30cm (plate); 29.6 x 36cm (sheet)
Singed in pencil lower right
Inscribed below the image: “FRANK SHORT SCULP AFTER J.M.W. TURNER” (left); ”London, Published 1st. Augt. 1885, by Robt Dunthorne at The Rembrandt Head in Vigo Street.” (centre)
State ii (of ii)
Condition: crisp and richly inked impression in very good condition. There is a 7mm closed tear on the middle right margin edge and another 5mm tear on the middle bottom margin edge. Both tears are far away from the plate mark.
I am selling this print for $390 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Short’s Raglan Castle after JMW Turner’s Berry Pomeroy Castle
Detail of Short’s Raglan Castle after JMW Turner’s Berry Pomeroy Castle

Frank Short (1857–1945)
Aesacus and Hesperie after JMW Turner
Etching and mezzotint on heavy wove paper
17.6 x 25.6cm (image); 21.1 x 28.8cm (plate); 30.8 x 43cm (sheet)
Signed in pencil lower right with dedication to Stopford A. Brooke. (Brooke was a friend of Short and is the author of Notes on the Liber Studiorum.) "Trial Proof" inscribed in pencil lower-left corner in the margin. 
Inscribed below the image: “F Short sculp after J.M.W. TURNER RA. 1895” (left);
Trial proof before the addition of title “Aesacus and Hesperie” and before the change to inscription from “F Short” to “Frank Short”
Condition: superb and richly inked impression. There is sun toning from the print having been once framed and tape residue verso. There are pin holes in the top and bottom corner margins—revealing the print’s former role as a trial proof—and the right corner pinhole has been torn with a minor bump in the paper edge at this corner as well. Beyond these minor handling issues the print is in good condition with no foxing or stains.
I am selling this print for $410 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Short’s Aesacus and Hesperie after JMW Turner
Frank Short (1857–1945)
Apuleia in Search of Apuleius after JMW Turner
Etching and mezzotint on heavy wove paper
18.3 x 26.7cm (image); 21 x 29cm (plate); 28.5 x 36.4cm (sheet)
Singed in pencil lower right and pencil inscription in lower left corner margin (I am unable to decipher the text apart from “2 July 1937”)
Proof before the addition of text
Condition: very richly inked impression. There is scattered foxing on the front of the sheet but mostly visible within the margins.
I am selling this print for $300 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Short’s Apuleia in Search of Apuleius after JMW Turner
Frank Short (1857–1945)
Chain of Alps from Grenoble to Chamberi after JMW Turner
etching on wove paper
17.7 x 25.8cm (image); 21.5 x 29cm (plate); 24.3 x 31.8cm (sheet)
Signed with engraver’s monogram on shield.
Inscribed below the image: “FRANK SHORT SCULP AFTER J.M.W. TURNER” (right)
Proof before the mezzotint first state (see Finberg, 1988, p. 196)
Condition: well-inked impression in good condition. There are two very faint vertical marks (possibly from uneven light falling on the print during storage)
I am selling this print for $110 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Chain of Alps from Grenoble to Chamberi after JMW Turner

In the next and final instalment in this three-part discussion about reproductive print processes I will address John Sell Cotman’s (1782–1842) approach to a very different type of Liber Studiorum.

4 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting comment but I don't know how you would like me to respond. Nevertheless, I'm sorry to hear that I've let you down

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  2. I have three prints I found at a garage sale. All three say J M W Turner R.A. and then a different script on each printed lower left of print..
    First is an animal print with deer in foreground, hand colored, I think it's called "pet" something and has J. Cousen. Script at lower left
    Second has swans with women crossing a river, horses in background, hand colored, John Pye Script
    Third is a castle right center with a large river twist with cattle in fore ground left, hand colored, J C Varrell Script at left.
    Do you know if these are rare? Do they have great value?

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    Replies
    1. There are two types of prints by Turner: those that he oversaw (i.e. he envisaged that they were artworks on their own right) and those that were designed as reproductions of his drawings and paintings.
      For the first type, I recommend seeing if your prints can be found in the catalogue raisonne by Alexander J. Finberg (1988) in his “Liber Studiorum.” If they can be found here then there is a good chance that they are valuable. They may even be extra valuable if they are from early states of printing.
      For the second type, the value rests to a large extent on whether the print is an original engraving or a photogravure. If it is an original engraving, the value varies with the evident skill of the printmaker and with the particular subject portrayed (photogravures are of minimal value). If the print is hand-coloured at the time of publication and it is well executed then this may make the print attractive (to some collectors) but if it were coloured after publication then the colouring may decrease its value.
      You may wish to look at Luke Herrman’s (1990) “Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner” as it has many illustrations but the classic text in two volumes by W. G. Rawlinson (1808) may be of little use to you as it isn’t illustrated (beyond a photogravure front-piece portrait of Turner).
      To get an idea of values, I recommend looking at the ever-changing listings of Turner’s prints on Ebay.com: http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2060353.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.XTurner+engraving.TRS0&_nkw=Turner+engraving&_sacat=550

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