Menu Icon


| Grand Auctions

The Mezzotint

In our September sale we have a very high quality mezzotint by Henry Macbeth-Rayburn titled Lord and Lady Melbourne and Family after George Stubbs. If anyone reading this is as confused as I am by all the different types of print, I have written a small piece about the mezzotint considerably helped by Charles Newington, a master printer.

His comments on our print are as follows: “It is an extremely fine impression from a mezzotint copperplate printed in colour with the ‘a la poupee’ technique with hand coloured additions. The ‘a la poupee’ technique involves using a dolly or a rolled up small piece of cloth, a bit like a fag roll up. A base colour such as warm black is spread all over the plate and then wiped clean. Then spot colour is carefully placed in with the dolly and wiped clean before the dampened paper is laid on the plate and put through the press. The impression has been trimmed to just inside the plate mark.”

I asked him how he could differentiate between a mezzotint and an etching, because both processes are very similar.

"The invention of the technique of Mezzotint was attributed to Prince Rupert. The preparation of the copperplate is long and exhaustive. French prisoners of war were made to do it. The plate is literally ploughed up with a curved serrated tool, the rocker, which is rocked back and forth over the plate to create a uniform rich velvety black when the ink is spread over it. The surface is wiped with with a stiff muslin rag leaving the ink within the indented dots and lines. The image is then made by burnishing the plate gradually flattening down the rough surface.

“The technique is often combined with line etching with the wax coated plate drawn into it with a needle point exposing the copper, which is placed in acid and the lines bitten into the plate. The plate is then rocked over the bitten lines giving a linear structure to the burnished modelling of the image, which would otherwise be pure chiaroscuro. An Aquatint is biting the plate in an acid bath with a powdered resin resist applied and is the more commonly used technique for using tone and a far less lengthier business than mezzotint.”

Simple, there you are. We have not started on lithographs and offset lithographs …. It is endless, far easier to have oil and watercolour.

For more information, please contact Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions.