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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeEtchings of R T Cowern

All the Etchings of R T COWERN RA, RE

Etchings of R T CowernA selection of portraits, presented chronologically by printmaker, followed by a selection of topographical views, predominantly urban views in Britain and mainland Europe, also arranged chronologically by artist.A final flowering of the Modern British Etching Tradition 1930-1940, seen in the works of Cowern, his teachers, his friends & fellow students at sequentially Birmingham School of Art, the Royal College of Art, London and at the British School at Rome.

Both a catalogue raisonné of the etchings of R T Cowern and a portrait of a decade of etching production and education in a small close-knit group.

Cowern entered Birmingham Art School in 1929 and won a scholarship to the Engraving School of the Royal College of Art in 1931. His etching activity began just as the etching market had crashed after the boom years of the twenties. He effectively stopped etching in 1940 when the War diverted his efforts. He did not resume after the War when the commitments of a young family were best met in the security of a teaching post. Though in the Etching Room at Brighton School of Art he passed on his love of the technique, etching was generally in abeyance in post-war printmaking for nearly twenty years.

The decade of the 1930’s is self-contained, beginning with the Crash and ending in the clash of World War Two. Despite the epithet of the ‘Etching Boom’, in intaglio printmaking in the 1920’s drypoint had predominated over etching and in the second half of the decade there had been a revival of interest in original line engraving. The new generation of the 1930’s concentrated mainly on traditional etching. Cowern described it as an "absolute compulsion to etch". Cowern’s first teacher, Noel Spencer at Birmingham was an etcher, but at the Royal College Malcolm Osborne at this period worked mainly in drypoint and Robert Austin used line engraving.

There is a consistent quality to Cowern’s work and that of his peers which immediately places it in the ethos and milieu of the R.C.A. and the graphic tradition that had developed there through the preceding decades. General art training at the R.C.A., as at provincial art schools such as Birmingham, was grounded in drawing. Cowern and his fellow students, like their teachers, were primarily draughtsmen. They did not share the painterly concerns which were to preoccupy post-war printmaking or the ‘modernist’ ideas of other ’30’s trends such as the vogue for the colour linocut at the Grosvenor School.

Cowern’s earliest plates show the direct influence of his teachers but in 1932/33 he discovered the advantages of working directly on the plate out of doors and produced sensitive and individual airy landscapes and tree studies on Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common and developed his own delicate broken line. The various demands of the impending Diploma led to figure compositions in 1934, bathed in interior sunlight through curtains. Draughtsman to the Sakkharah expedition in 1935 there followed atmospheric plates of palm trees and the landscape at Memphis, Egypt. The culmination was in the Italian landscape plates, such as his masterpiece “Anticoli Corrado below the Waterfall”, as a Rome Scholar 1937-39.

Cowern was an exact contemporary student at the Royal College of Murray M Tod, Wilfred Fairclough, Martyn Lack, Denise Brown, Eric Taylor and R Stanley Dent; a remarkable group who all received early recognition in the pages of 'Fine Prints of the Year' and in early election, while still students, to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers. (At a period when etching was being abandoned and new recruits must have been very welcome.) Fairclough went on to win the Prix de Rome (1934-37), followed by Tod (1935-38) and Cowern (1937-39). Taylor and Dent were runners up. H Andrew Freeth, Cowern’s close friend from Birmingham Art School, preceded Cowern to Rome, winning his scholarship unprecedently directly from Birmingham rather than a London postgraduate college (1936-39). They were a close group of friends and their work is interrelated yet individual; it has a period charm but at its best produced timeless minor masterpieces.

Published 1996
140 pages, 159 items described and illustrated.

(UK Price: £25, International orders: £30)

I generally have some etchings by Cowern available in current stock. These are soon to be included as a small Exhibition in the Web Exhibitions section of the website.

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Austin R
  • Ball R
  • Beaumont L
  • Bradfield N
  • Brown D
  • Cowern R T
  • Dent R S
  • Elesdy I
  • Fairclough W
  • Freeth H A
  • Josset L
  • Komjati J
  • Lack M
  • Lindner D
  • Osborne M
  • Sayer H
  • Smith E
  • Spencer N Taylor E
  • Tod M
  • Varga N