Arts Te Papa is changing…

We’re building a spectacular new art gallery and making changes online.

The Arts Te Papa website will be shutting down soon, but head to Collections Online to find your favourite works from New Zealand’s national art collection.

Find out more about the new art space

Keep up to date with news from Te Papa

Other Te Papa Sites

Come up and see my etchings

Victoria University art history lecturer David Maskill takes a fresh look at the etching revival and its surprising links with New Zealand


<P><STRONG>The etching revival</STRONG></P> <P>Between 1850 and 1930, there was an unprecedented boom in original, handmade etchings, first in France and then particularly in Britain. It has come to be known as the etching revival. At its height (1890&#8211;1920), it spread to the United States, Australia and New Zealand.</P> <P>Etching had been in use since the 16th century, but by the mid 19th century, it had been superseded by the combination of etching and engraving, executed by specialist printmakers turning out multiple copies of the same work. The artists of the etching revival rejected the reproductive function of printmaking and sought to revive etching as an original art form. To achieve this, they sought inspiration in the work of the great etchers of the distant and recent past, in particular Rembrandt van Rijn (1606&#8211;69), Charles Meryon (1821&#8211;68) and James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834&#8211;1903). It could be said that they made their work in the ‘wake’ of these great artists. </P> <P>As a result, later critics dismissed the etching revival printmakers for lacking originality. So it is timely to reappraise them by exhibiting their work alongside that of their heroes. That my students and I have been able to do this is the direct result of the global reach of the revival. The collections of Te Papa are extremely rich in etchings, thanks to the Wellington collector, Sir John Ilott (1884–1973), who gave more than 700 works to the national collection. </P> <P><STRONG>The craft of printmaking</STRONG> </P> <P>The printmakers of the etching revival were dedicated to mastering all of the technical aspects of their craft. Historically, printmaking had been a collaborative, workshop-based process, in which each stage of production was assigned to a different specialist. However, the etching revival printmakers took responsibility for everything. From applying the acid-resistant ground to the printing plate, to drawing the design, carefully judging the depth of ‘bite’ of the acid into the copper, inking, wiping and printing the plate, these printmakers took complete control. And at each stage, they could impose their own distinctive ‘touch’.</P> <P data-associrn="36408"></P> <P data-associrn="38021"></P> <P>The portraits of artists Frank Short (1857&#8211;1945) and Muirhead Bone (1876&#8211;1953) show both engaged in the process of printmaking. Short is needling a plate, while Bone is inspecting an impression he has just pulled from the press.</P> <P><STRONG>Spot the difference!</STRONG></P> <P>Etching revival printmakers often made multiple ‘proof states’ - that is, impressions printed from the plate as the work progressed. Sometimes, the differences between proofs are obvious, but in others, such as these two impressions of Douglas Iain Smart’s <EM>Bargehaven</EM> from 1950, you need to look closely to spot the changes. The two conical condenser towers in the first state have been removed in the final state so we can see the steamer with its smoking funnel. </P> <P data-associrn="38660"></P> <P data-associrn="40928"></P> <P><STRONG>Rembrandt and the etching revival</STRONG></P> <P>Of all the artists emulated by the etching revival printmakers, the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn was the most admired. His etchings were the gold standard against which they measured their own works.</P> <P>Rembrandt often combined etching with drypoint (scratching directly onto the copperplate with a sharp needle), paying fastidious attention to inking and printing and using exotic printing paper. Later printmakers sometimes made direct copies of his etchings, either as a way of learning to master the medium or to try to outdo the great master himself. Roland Hipkins’ astonishingly fine copy of Rembrandt’s self-portrait is a case in point. He made the etching the year he moved to New Zealand from Britain to take up a teaching position.</P> <P data-associrn="37522"></P> <P data-associrn="767169"></P> <P><STRONG>Charles Meryon’s architectural legacy</STRONG></P> <P>French artist Charles Meryon is best known in New Zealand for his etchings done after the drawings he made when he visited the South Island settlement of Akaroa in the 1840s. However, it was his architectural views of old Paris published a decade later that attracted the attention of the etching revival printmakers. You can see echoes of the moody, sometimes sinister melancholy of his Paris images in the works of Muirhead Bone and Australian Mortimer Menpes (1855&#8211;1938).</P> <P data-associrn="40529"></P> <P data-associrn="39563"></P> <P><STRONG>Whistler and the art of reflection</STRONG></P> <P>The American painter and etcher James Abbott McNeill Whistler was both a key figure in the early etching revival and a major influence on those who followed him. His etchings of riverscapes and views of Venice, in particular, enthralled them.</P> <P>Whistler introduced an impressionistic technique into his work that brilliantly captured reflections on water. He would often leave large sections of the plate untouched by the acid, relying instead on a thin film of ink, known as plate tone, to convey atmosphere. His followers had to master this technique to achieve similar effects. James McBey’s <EM>Barcarolle</EM> is a brilliant example of the subtle use of plate tone to convey the effect of moonlight on water.</P> <P data-associrn="42403"></P> <P data-associrn="41648"></P> <P><STRONG>The etching revival comes to Wellington</STRONG></P> <P>Touring exhibitions that came to Wellington, such as one organised by artist and gallery owner John Baillie in 1912, helped spark public interest in etchings. Immigrant artists also brought with them their knowledge of the etching revival from Britain. One of them was Harry Linley Richardson (1878&#8211;1947), who arrived in 1908 to take up a teaching position at Wellington Technical College.</P> <P>Richardson’s etching <EM>Wellington from Kelburn near Bowling Green</EM> from 1916 depicts a view from just above the Mount Street cemetery. His use of a rapidly sketched, impressionistic line suggests spontaneity, and the plate was probably needled on the spot. Following Richardson’s lead, etchings of Wellington scenes made in the 1920s and 1930s continued to look very European, with small lanes off Lambton Quay becoming mysterious alleyways that echo the work of Meryon.</P> <P data-associrn="1514189"></P> <P data-associrn="1514193"></P> <P>&nbsp;</P> <P>This essay is published to coincide with <EM>Traces of the Wake: The etching revival in Britain and beyond</EM>, an exhibition curated by David Maskill with his honours students at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington.</P> <P>&nbsp;</P>
image

Malcolm Osborne, Sir Frank Short, 1931, etching and drypoint,
Gift of B. Sutherland and C. Todd, 1940.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Douglas I. Smart, Bargehaven, 1950, etching and drypoint on grey paper,
Gift of Mrs Harold Wright, 1965.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Rembrandt H. van Rijn, and Pierre-Francois Basan, Lieven Willemsz. van Coppenol, writing master: the smaller plate, copy, circa 1658, etching,
Purchased 1910.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Rembrandt H. van Rijn, Self-portrait leaning on a stone sill, 1639, etching, with touches of drypoint,
Gift of Bishop Monrad, 1869.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Charles Meryon, Le Pont-Neuf., 1853, etching and drypoint,
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1962.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Roland Hipkins, after Rembrandt H. van Rijn, Self portrait by Rembrandt, 1922, etching,
Gift of Mr and Mrs R.J. Waghorn, 1983.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

James M. Whistler, Hurlingham, 1879, etching and drypoint,
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1952.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Mortimer L. Menpes, Interior of Saint-Maclou, Rouen, circa 1902, drypoint,
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1969.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

Douglas I. Smart, Bargehaven, 1950, etching,
Gift of Mrs Harold Wright, 1965.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

image

James McBey, Barcarolle, 1925, etching,
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1968.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

Marmaduke Matthews, &lt;EM&gt;Plimmers Steps&lt;/EM&gt;, &lt;EM&gt;c&lt;/EM&gt;. 1935, etching, 193 x 127mm. Alexander Turnbull Library

Marmaduke Matthews, Plimmers Steps, c. 1935, etching, 193 x 127mm. Alexander Turnbull Library

Harry Linley Richardson &lt;EM&gt;Wellington from Kelburn near Bowling Green&lt;/EM&gt;, 1916, etching, 115 x 270mm. Alexander Turnbull Library

Harry Linley Richardson Wellington from Kelburn near Bowling Green, 1916, etching, 115 x 270mm. Alexander Turnbull Library