Do you know what an aquatint is? / LR3 / / Latvian radio

The chief engineer of the LONO screen printing studio tells the story Gints Ozolins

Themes of tonal gradation have always been topical for the family of graphics. Why not! While a painter fills the canvas with a mystical shadow, an ominous storm cloud or a mysteriously shaded face with a stroke of the brush, graphic artists must be able to achieve such a mood with just a line.

But don’t expect any compromises from the graph! Already in the Middle Ages copper engraving developed artistic canons for the crossing of lines, punctuation, density, in order to obtain the volume of space, the filling of areas and the boundaries of light. An aid for 17th century masters of engraving. the first half features the Kassel lieutenant colonel and amateur artist Ludwig von Siegen inventing mezzotint. The essence of this technique is the technique of mechanical grinding of the metal plate, which provides an opportunity to enhance the pattern of the engraving lines with perfectly saturated dark areas, as well as sensual light transitions.

Apparently, aquatint was first born at one time. Yes, this will not be the first episode of the birth of aquatint, because its first introducer kept his invention in great secrecy, which is why the name of another artist is often called the creator of aquatint a century later.

But first let’s return to the characterization of the era of the first birth of aquatint. After the establishment of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in 1588, the areas around the lower reaches of the Rhine and Meuse rivers experienced unprecedented prosperity.

In historiography, it is called the Golden Age of Holland. Although only 1.5 million people lived in the seven provinces at that time, the new republic controlled the world’s sea trade routes, built an ambitious fleet that surpassed the combined fleets of England and France, but the sectarian division served as the basis for a great emigration of Protestant artisans from the Spanish Netherlands to the new republic. In a short time, from a small port city, Amsterdam has become a global citadel of commerce, art and civic initiative.

These historical conditions have also influenced artistic processes and the art market in the most direct way.

Basically, Holland was building a new identity from scratch: it was characterized by free trade, pluralism, private enterprise and Protestant individualism. Both in art and in society at large, the leading role of the church has diminished to a minimum.

An English traveler observed in 1640 that the walls of almost every Dutch blacksmith’s or shoemaker’s house was decorated with paintings. Today the art market was incredibly saturated. The commissioner of the work of art was no longer the church or the monarch, but the broad strata of the bourgeoisie. Completely new, hitherto non-existent genres emerged in art, such as still life, flower arrangements, gastronomic compositions, peasant life, landscapes with animals, observation of craftsmanship and interiors, urban landscapes and marine. The formats of the paintings were small in accordance with the new market situation, if one does not count the representative group portraits of the city councils. In Holland, art fairs were regularly held, but artists often specialized in painting of a particular genre or motif. The great religious plots, canons and discussions disappeared from the art scene, in their place massism and the accessibility of art to the popular masses triumphed.

In such circumstances, the reproduction of works of art by stamp methods was a particularly welcome concern, so it is not surprising that graphic works were also popular in Holland. In 1643, Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig von Siegen, who served at the Hesse-Kassel court, moved to Amsterdam. He gave Europe the vital tonal engraving technique of mezzotint. And it didn’t take long before something similar was created based on the etching.

The painter and engraver Jan van de Velde IV (1610, Utrecht – 1686, Haarlem) was one of those who appreciated the new methods and followed the spirit of the time. In his works he used the recently discovered process of mezzotint, but ended up using powdered grain etching under conditions unknown to anyone. In the period from 1651 to 1654, the Dutch master stayed at the Swedish royal court and his portrait of Queen Christina was made here. Although van de Velde never described his methods of creating his work, anyone who looks at this portrait will unequivocally understand that what is shown in the image is nothing more than an aquatint. A few years later, in Amsterdam, Jan van de Velde made many more portraits in which he used this then unknown technique.

So what is the characteristic of aquatint?

The aquatint technology is based on the same principles introduced by the Swabian artist Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg in the 1500s, combining copper engraving and decorative iron armor engraving. This technique uses a polished copper plate coated with an acid-resistant paint. A pattern is scratched into this layer of paint and etched into a solution of copper sulphate or nitric acid. In this way the stroke is obtained, while the toning of the area can be obtained with the aquatint. That is to say, the copper plate is coated with rosin powder and by heating the plate from below with a torch, the powder is fused to the surface of the plate. Each particle of molten rosin powder forms an acid-resistant sphere on the plate surface, but the depressions between these spheres are exposed to etching. In this way a negative relief is obtained which creates a continuous color tone in the print on the paper.

Since Jan van de Velde kept his trade secret behind seven keys and no one found out what the artist was doing in his workshop, it took the family of graphic artists another century to achieve their desired goal.

The powdery grain etching method was given the name aquatint around 1770 by the famous British landscape watercolourist and map maker Paul Sandby. It is only natural that a member of the watercolorist family should have drawn attention to aquatint, because one of the endeavors of aquatint was to mimic the texture of watercolor.

Several masters of graphics in the 18th century. in between, he went in search of the “holy grail” of gravure printers with a scuba. This process was finally crowned by the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Leprince (1734, Metz – 1781, Lagny-sur-Marne), a pupil of the valiant lacquer luminary François Boucher, a French graphic artist and painter. He showed his aquatints to the public in 1768 and in certain quarters they were received with genuine enthusiasm. However, like van de Velde, Leprenz was in no hurry to reveal the technical details of his invention to the general public. Great interest was shown in this case by the well-known French literary magazine Mercure de France, whose editors hoped that Leprenz would make his technique available to the public, thus creating the possibility of reproducing the works of artists kept in closed collections or even of publishing all the works of the annual Paris Salon.

Leprince, on the other hand, did not want to show a philanthropic gesture and stubbornly continued to keep the candle under the dowry. However – where there is grain, there are also mice – and the secrets of the aquatint trade are gradually being revealed. Realizing this harsh reality of life, Leprenz applied to the French Academy of Sciences with an offer to buy aquatint technology from him. However, such a transaction did not take place, and in 1780 Leprenz went one step further: he published a catalog of 30 to 40 copies of aquatint with a technological description of aquatint.

Unfortunately, Leprince did not get the financial return he deserved, because a year later the master went to serve the muses in otherworldly printing houses.

Meanwhile, her pet had a brief but bright flash of fame. The great Spanish painter and graphic artist Francisco Goya created a number of canonical graphic works in the aquatint technique: “Capricci” (1799), “Terrors of war” (1810-1819), Corride (1816) and “Foolishness” ( 1816-1823).

It must be said that the triumph of aquatint did not last long. Following the lithographic process discovered by the Munich playwright Alois Seenfelder at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, many gravure printing techniques, especially tonal ones, lost their appeal in the eyes of both book and newspaper publishers and artists. However, aquatint experienced a new wave of popularity as a pure medium of artistic expression in the 19th century. in the second half. To a large extent, the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris served as an impetus for this, within the framework of which a large-scale exhibition of handicrafts, applied arts and fine arts was organized by Japan, which ended the policy of isolationism. The emergence of this mysterious oriental civilization made an impression not only on the broad masses of society, but especially on impressionist artists. The ancient technique of Ukiyo-e polychrome woodcut has been admired, copied and interpreted. French-American artist Mary Cassatt adopted the stylistic techniques of Japanese art, the pastel color palette, but she chose European etching methods—etching and aquatint—for the development of her graphic works. Many other Impressionists also began using the aquatint process in their works, including names such as Edouard Manet, Félicien Ropp, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Jacques Villon.

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