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Thomas Gainsborough (1727—1788) painter and printmaker

Goya (1746—1828) Spanish painter and etcher


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A printmaking method related to etching but producing finely granulated tonal areas rather than lines; the term applies also to a print made by this method. There are several variants of the technique, but in essence the process is as follows. A metal plate is sprinkled with acid-resistant resin, which is fused to the plate by heating, and when the plate is immersed in an acid bath the acid bites between the tiny particles of resin and produces an evenly granulated surface. The design is created by drawing on the plate with acid-resistant varnish, and great variety of tone can be obtained by immersing in acid and varnishing in turn (the longer the acid bites, the darker the tone). A version of aquatint was first used in the Netherlands in the mid-17th century (at about the same time as mezzotint was invented), but it initially made almost no impact. The technique lay dormant until it was revived in France around the middle of the 18th century, and in the late 18th and early 19th centuries it became highly popular in England for reproducing watercolours (the combination of ‘aqua’ and ‘tint’ in the name suggests its qualities). Colour could be added by hand or by using several plates with different coloured inks. The principal English pioneer of the technique was Paul Sandby, who published his first examples in 1775 and is said to have coined the term. He taught the technique to Gainsborough, who combined it with soft-ground etching. Aquatint has also often been combined with conventional etching, notably by Goya, most of whose prints use the two techniques together in varying proportions. With his great exception, aquatint was used mainly as a reproductive technique until late in the 19th century, when Cassatt, Degas, and Camille Pissarro took up the method. In the 20th century it became much more popular with creative printmakers as part of the general revival of interest in the print as an independent art form. Masson, Picasso, and Rouault are among the major modern artists who have used it.

Subjects: Art.

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