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Images of City and River, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeA stock catalogue to accompany a selling exhibition organised as a fringe event of the City of London Festival July 1988

A celebration of London and the Thames in its rich diversity through prints which reflect both the changing role of the river and the response to it by artists.

In the 17th & 18th centuries the river was a flourishing life line, the main artery of communication, a broad channel full of busy craft; the city an impressive backdrop of towers and steeples. The city streets were narrow so that the water offered the easiest, if not the only, means of a general view. London was unique in having its port at the very centre of the city, the Pool of London lying immediately below London Bridge. Until the opening of the new docks further east in the 19th century, all shipping unloaded at the Pool. As the city grew and spread west, artists portrayed reaches higher up the Thames at Battersea and Chelsea and beyond. The print trade moved west too, from St. Paul’s to St. James and Bond Street, when the leading 19th century publishing firms of Colnaghi and Ackermann were established. Artists recorded the new buildings that rose after the Fire, the opening of new bridges and other new building developments, frost fairs when the river froze and other popular entertainments. As the commercial docks moved east and London declined as a port from the 1850’s, artists captured and made picturesque the dereliction of the waterfront, just before the building of the embankment. A desire to record contemporary life with an impressionist interest in the effects of sunlight and mist gave way in the early 20th century to a focus on pictorial construction complimented by an architectural theme.

The catalogue concludes with a selection of views elsewhere in Britain and prints of Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Venice and other European ports, New York and Shanghai.

Short introduction of British topographical printmaking

A national school of printmaking was slower to develop in Britain than on continental Europe, so that the earliest views of London were made by or after foreign artists and were generally engraved and published abroad. The most famous view was C. J. Visscher’s huge prospect on joined sheets, made in 1616; yet there is no evidence that Visscher ever visited London in person. This removal from source naturally led to inaccuracies and some delightfully fanciful skylines. The first artist to make extensive studies of the city of London directly from nature was Wenceslaus Hollar. The Bohemian etcher settled in London for long periods and married an English woman.

Only in the closing years of the 17th century and the early decades of the 18th did English publishing firms such as Overton, Bowles, the Bucks, establish themselves  in response to the growing interest and demand for printed views. The founding of the Society of Antiquarians in 1717 encouraged the trend for accuracy and resulted in encyclopaedic collection of views of different parts of the country. A new invention mid- century, the optical diagonal viewing machine, led to a craze for ‘optical’ or ‘perspective’ prints. A forerunner of the modern slide show, but without projection, the combined use of mirror and convex lens gave the hand-coloured engravings the appearance of three dimensions, the linear geometric system of perspective enhancing the illusion of recession.

The discovery of the new printing processes of aquatint and lithography happily coincided with the rise of the English school of watercolourists at the turn of the century. Many artists such as Sandby, Turner, Westall and Shotter Boys attempted original printmaking as a complimentary art form to their watercolour painting.

Aquatint dominated the early decades of the 19th century. Alderman Boydell, print publisher and Lord Mayor of London, whose successful business in historical and genre stipple engravings crashed when the French Revolution, followed by the Napoleonic wars, put an end to his export market, was the first to recognise the potential of hand-coloured aquatints for the home market. The technique of aquatint lends itself particularly to printing in one or two colours, requiring a minimal of finishing in hand-applied colour washes. Rudolf Ackermann, who settled in London in 1795, became the main promoter of fine colour plate publication when lithography superseded aquatint.

The revival of interest in etching as an original artist’s medium, intimated by the Norwich School at the beginning of the 19th century, and encouraged by French example, came to fruition in the 1860’s. The British print scene again became cosmopolitan. British etchers were published and exhibited in France and America, as well as at home; European, American and Australian artists settled in London or visited and etched the city.

The British School in the late 19th century, polarised stylistically around the two colossi of Whistler and Haden, both trained in Paris. While Whistler, open to a wide variety of influences, looked to Meryon, the Barbizon artists, Japanese woodcuts, Hollar and Dutch 17th century masters, Haden was inspired more single-mindedly by the historical etchings of Rembrandt and the contemporary French work of Bracqumond and the members of the Sociétédes Aquafortistes. Relatives and early colleagues, they developed into inveterate enemies, as so often in Whistler’s relationships.

In addition to Whistler and Haden, the various intaglio printing firms and newly established London art schools was also influential contributing factors. Delâtre, printer to the Société des Aquafortistes in Paris and leading intaglio printer of his day, who initiated many French artists into etching, was invited to teach at  the School of Engraving at South Kensington (today the R.C.A.) in 1863. Frederick Goulding (an apprentice with the commercial lithographic printers Day & Son) attended these classes and later became the leading British printer of etching plates, printing for Whistler until they fell out. Like Felsing, who held a similar position in Berlin, Goulding often signed the impressions he had printed, in addition to the etcher of the plate. Frank Short was a seminal influence on several generations of students at the Royal College of Art.

By the end of the 19th century Glasgow artists were held in international repute. The Glasgow School of Art trained an interesting group of etchers, including Cameron, Bone and Dodd. In their architectural subjects, although ultimately founded on Whistler’s 'Thames Set' and Meryon’s 'L’Eaux-fortes sur Paris', they developed a highly individual style, and a strong interest in drypoint. By the first decade of the new century they were acclaimed as masters of drypoint. McBey, Macleod and Robertson also developed as etchers in this Scots ambience.

Large quarto paper bound catalogue containing 202 items, fully illustrated.

(Currently out of print)

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Addams C.
  • Anderson S.
  • Auerbach A.
  • Basket C.H.
  • Basset A.
  • Batchelar T.
  • Beauvais
  • Béjot E.
  • Bella S. della
  • Benoist P.
  • Beurdely J.
  • Bickham G.
  • Blampied E.
  • Bone M.
  • Bormann E.
  • Bowles J.
  • Bowles T.
  • Boys T.S.
  • Bracquemond F.
  • Brangwyn F.
  • Briscoe A.
  • Brouet A.
  • Bruycker J. de
  • Buck S. & N.
  • Cameron D.Y.
  • Campion frères
  • Carter F.
  • Chatelain J.B.C.
  • Cherau J.
  • Cole B.
  • Dodd F.
  • Dudley R.
  • Dumont J. le Romain
  • Evershed A.
  • Farington J.
  • Fellowes W.D.
  • Friedrich A.
  • Gautier L.
  • Greaves W.
  • Guillaumin A.
  • Haden F.S.
  • Havell F.J.
  • Heriot R.
  • Heumann G.D.
  • Heyman C.
  • Hollar W.
  • Holloway C.Q.
  • Hook J.C.
  • Ireland S.
  • Jacques F.
  • Kermode W.A.
  • Krommer H.
  • Lalanne M.
  • Lami E.
  • Larkins W.
  • Latenay G. de
  • Lepère A.
  • Macleod W.D.
  • McBey J.
  • Meidner L.
  • Menpes M.
  • Meryon C.
  • Moore A.P.
  • Morin E.
  • Nevinson C.R.W.
  • Nittis G. de
  • O’Connor H.
  • Overton H.
  • Pennell J.
  • Prust E.C.
  • Pugin A.C.
  • Pyall H.
  • Rayse
  • Roberts J.
  • Robertson D.
  • Robins W.P.
  • Roussel T.C.
  • Rowlandson T.
  • Ruprecht A.
  • Rushbury H.
  • Scott S.
  • Shepherd T.H.
  • Short F.
  • Silvestre I.
  • Simon T.F.
  • Sloan J.
  • Smart D.I.
  • Sparks N.
  • Stadler J.C.
  • Stone H.M.
  • Tissot J.J.J.
  • Ury L.
  • Vahrenhorst P.
  • Visscher C.
  • Vondrous J.C.
  • Walcot W.
  • Way T.R.
  • Webb H.G.
  • Westall W.
  • Whistler J.M.
  • Wilkinson N.
  • Wyllie W.L.
  • Zeeman R. (Nooms)
  • Zeising W.

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