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An Introduction to
The Etching Club
Elizabeth Harvey Leeand
Elizabeth Harvey LeeA selection of etchings by fellow members of the Club
from its early days, till the 1850's

The Etching Club

The Etching Club was established by Charles West Cope in 1838. Other early members included Thomas Creswick, Henry James Townsend and Richard Redgrave, and later members, c1850, in addition to Palmer, included the Pre-Raphaelites Millais and Holman Hunt, and even, c1870, Seymour Haden, though Haden disagreed with the Club’s policy of pricing plates by the number of manual hours that had gone into their production, and resigned in 1878.

The stormy relations that Haden raised disrupted what had always been, till then, a friendly and sociable group, as described by Charles West Cope -

"During the time I resided in Russell Place, the Etching Club, which became so well-known afterwards, was founded. It was at first only a small society. We met at each other's rooms in turn, once a month, and experimented in etching for an hour or two, and then had a simple supper, limited to bread and cheese. This arrangement soon broke down, for it was found that we had not conveniences, such as proper tables and lights, and we were apt to spill the acid and spoil table-covers etc.

...Subsequently we etched at home, and brought impressions of our plates to the meetings, where they were freely criticised.

...After a time we made a selection from the etchings and published them privately in numbers; and later we took up poems to illustrate.

......Our profits were never very great, although I have received as much as 60 for one etching. The great attraction consisted in the pleasant meetings, where brotherly kindness abounded, and where pleasure was ballasted by a little business and occasional cheques. At one time the club dined at the King's Arms, Kensington, but latterly they dined at each other's houses, and business was done afterwards.

...In time nearly all in the Etching Club became members of the Royal Academy and their evening meals afford a fair test of their growing prosperity; from the modest supper of bread and cheese in lodgings to the comfortable additions of cold meats, these developing into dinners at an inn, and, lastly, to sumptuous repasts in good private houses, and even palaces, waited on by flunkies.

......Of course, this little account of the etching club relates to a good many years, so that from very young men we got to be decidedly old, but yet with some friskiness left in us."

From Reminiscences of Charles West Cope R.A. by his son Charles Henry Cope M.A.
Published by Richard Bentley & Son 1891

Minutes, even if frequently rather sketchy, were kept for each meeting of the Etching Club from 1838 to 1885, charting Club activities and ideas.

The Club had been established for three years before they ventured on publishing their plates as collections presented in the large folio volumes, with which they are most associated today. In the first two years of its existence the Club issued, to just a handful of subscribers, up to a dozen small sets of etchings. These earliest plates, identified by having the words Etching Club etched in to their lower borders (see etchings by Thomas Creswick in the exhibition, listed on the right), had only about seven impressions taken initially of each image. (Forty-four of these plates would be re-issued in the Club’s Etch’d Thoughts volume, a compilation of sixty etchings, in 1844, leading to complaints from a few of the very earliest foundation subscribers that so many of the images in the new publication duplicated those they had already acquired during 1838-9.).

Members used a firm of commercial printers, Gad & Keningale, to print proofs of their plates. They were given a press by John Sheepshanks, a patron and major print collector, which was initially installed, and for some years following housed, at their printers (though by 1863 it is mentioned in the Club Minutes as being in the custodianship of James Clark Hook). Editions from the published plates were printed by Gad and Keningale until 1872, when Frederick Goulding, advocate of retroussage, took over at the instigation of Seymour Haden for what would be the penultimate Club publication; though already at a Club meeting in November 1858 Cope had arranged a visit and subsequent demonstration and advice on “more artistic” printing from Auguste Delâtre, the leading Parisian printer of the day of artists’ plates. Among the plates sent to Delâtre were “the unappropriated plates on steel by Palmer”.

The Minutes also include discussion of exhibition of member’s etchings, at International exhibitions, in Paris, and at the R.A.

All the early publications were issued as bound volumes, and mainly related to poetical texts. Like printed books they were published in editions of up to several hundred (though they can be difficult to find today). The etching plates, supplied by the Club to members, were sometimes copper and sometimes the much harder wearing steel, which could take many passes through the press without deterioration.

The Club decided on a ‘theme’ and members produced a relevant etching. The members balloted on the selection of etchings to be published in each book. In that the Club supplied the etching plates for proposed publications, they also largely determined the format of members’ etchings. Until about midway through the 1850’s the standardised plates tended to be only up to 120 mm (5 inches) in their maximum dimension. From 1857 (and probably slightly earlier in practice) this rule was relaxed.

Projects were frequently mooted and came to nothing or after lengthy delays changed direction. There is a single mention on 10 March 1857 of plates given to O’Neill, Taylor, Townsend and Hunt for “Club portraits”. And on 10 November 1879, twenty-two years later, a series of Portraits of Members was proposed, each to do himself, on plates the size of Van Dyck’s Iconography. (When Samuel Palmer conceived his own unachieved series of etchings of ‘L’Alllegro & Il Penseroso’, it was in the terms of plates “the size of Turner’s Liber Studiorum”). At the Club meeting on 28 April 1862 the Secretary read a list of Proverbs for intended illustration – Palmer is listed as having selected ‘make hay while the Sun shines’…

The Etching Club Minutes cease at the beginning of 1885, four years after Palmer’s death. The members present were Hook, Millais, Horseley, Calderon, O’Neill and Hodgson. And the minutes are confined to the two words “No business”. Earlier meetings had also sometimes had a similar description when the evening gathering had proved to have been purely social, but they indicate a finality in the entry for 20 Jan 1885. The Club had run its course and was effectively superceded by the Society of Painter-Etchers, which Haden had founded 1880-81.

Samuel Palmer contributed seven plates (see Palmer Exhibition item nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12) to five of the following full list of Etching Club publications. The titles of his etchings are specified.

The Deserted Village of Oliver Goldsmith illustrated by the Etching Club. London published. Printed by Gad & Keningale for the Etching Club, 1841. (80 etchings, total edition of 220.)
(Prior to Palmer being a member)

Songs of Shakespeare illustrated by the Etching Club. London published by the Royal Polytechnic Union, 1843. (17 etchings, total edition of 1500.)
(Prior to Palmer being a member)

Etch’d Thoughts by the Etching Club. London published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1844. Printed for the Etching Club by Charles Whittingham at the Chiswick Press and Gad and Keningale. (60 etchings, total edition of c240, the first 20 being printed on large paper.) Each etching faced a poem, which either had inspired the image, or which the image brought to mind. The title page also had an apt quotation from William Cowper’s long blank verse “The Task”
Elizabeth Harvey LeeTo arrest the fleeting images, that fill
Elizabeth Harvey Leethe mirror of the mind, and hold them fast
(Prior to Palmer being a member)

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by T Gray illustrated by the Etching Club. London published for the Etching Club by Joseph Cundall, 1847. (28 etchings, totoal edition 400.)
(Prior to Palmer being a member)

L’Allegro by John Milton illustrated by the Etching Club. London published for the Etching Club by Joseph Cundall, 1849. (32 etchings, total edition 300.)
(Prior to Palmer being a member)

Songs and Ballads of Shakespeare illustrated by the Etching Club. London published by Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1853. (35 etchings, including 17 re-issued from Songs of Shakespeare, 1843. Edition of 225.)
Includes Palmer's The Vine

Etchings for the Art Union of London by the Etching Club, London published by the Art Union, 1857. (30 etchings. Edition of 500 - distributed to Art Union subscribers in 1857 and 1858.)
Includes Palmer's The Skylark, The Sleeping Shepherd and The Rising Moon

A Selection of Etchings by the Etching Club, London published for the Etching Club by Joseph Cundall & Thomas Bosworth, 1865. (12 etchings. Edition of 350 – the first 50 on large paper in a portfolio, 300 on India paper, 4to, bound.)
Includes Palmer's The Weary Ploughman

Etchings for the Art Union of London by the Etching Club, London published by the Art Union, 1872. (20 etchings. Total edition of 450 distributed to Art Union Subscribers in 1873 and 1874.)
Includes Palmer's The Morning of Life

A Series of Twenty-One Etchings Published for the Etching Club, London, Harry Blair Ansdell, 1879. (Edition of 100 – of which 75 were for sale and 25 for the Club. Printed on Japan paper, each impression pencil signed by the artist, presented in double mounts and issued in a portfolio; the plates bevelled for printing and ostensibly destroyed after printing (the plates were cancelled with scored lines.)
Includes Palmer's The Lonely Tower


The Junior Etching Club

The Junior Etching Club lasted only seven years. It was founded by the ‘old’ Etching Club in July 1857 for younger members and those that favoured a less finished, more sketchy style of etching.

Whistler was briefly a member. Millais, though a member of the original Etching Club, also contributed to the two collections of etchings produced by the Junior Etching Club -

Passages from the Poems of Thomas Hood, illustrated by the Junior Etching Club, published by E Gambart 1858

Passages from Modern English poets, illustrated by the Junior Etching Club, first published by Day & Son at the end of December 1861, and with later editions.

Other than a certain relaxation in the style of etching these publications had a not dissimilar ethos to the earlier publications of the old Etching Club, the etchings being accompanied by related poems.

BibliographyElizabeth Harvey Lee

  • Checklist of Etching Club publications, production prices and sales, 1841-1879.
  • The Etching Club Minutes and related Papers, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Andrew Frederickson: The Etching Club of London:a taste for painters’ etchings. Article/exhibition catalogue in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol 92, no.388, Summer 2002, which can be read on line
  • Richard T Godfrey: Printmaking in Britain. (Phaidon 1978)
  • Kenneth Guichard: British Etchers 1850-1940. (R Garton 1977)

Newly acquired etchings by members of The Etching Club will be added into this exhibition, even after it has been archived.

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Palmer's Peers Exhibition

To view the entire Exhibition, print-by-print, click this link and then follow the prints through the Gallery by using the "next print >" and "< previous print" navigation buttons. Alternatively, you can select an individual print from its thumbnail or title in the list below.

Samuel Palmer etching, The Willow

Charles West Cope
Milton's Dream of his deceased Wife
Etching, 1850

The Blacksmithy Shop | Thomas Creswick | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Thomas Creswick
The Blacksmithy Shop
Etching, 1838

Summer | Thomas Creswick | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Thomas Creswick
Etching, 1839

The Village Church | Thomas Creswick | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Thomas Creswick
The Village Church
Etching, 1839

Moonlight | Thomas Creswick | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Thomas Creswick
Etching, 1839

The Overshot Mill | Thomas Creswick | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Thomas Creswick
The Overshot Mill
Etching, 1857

Portrait of William Etty | William Gale | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee William Gale
Portrait of William Etty
Etching, 1861
The Fisherman's Goodnight | James Clarke Hook | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

James Clarke Hook
The Fisherman's Goodnight
Etching, 1857

The Abundance of Egypt | William Holman Hunt | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
William Holman Hunt
The Abundance of Egypt
Etching, 1857
The Desolation of Egypt | William Holman Hunt | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
William Holman Hunt
The Desolation of Egypt
Etching, 1857
Ruth | John Everett Millais | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee John Everett Millais
Etching, 1858
Summer Indolence | John Everett Millais | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee John Everett Millais
Summer Indolence
Etching, 1861
The 14th February | George Bernard O’Neill | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee George Bernard O'Neill
The 14th February
Etching, 1872

Three English Etchings, c1881

A small selection of Landscapes produced by other artists in the year of Palmer’s death, comprising three plates from English Etchings – A Monthly Publication of Original Etchings by English Artists, published by William Reeves, Fleet Street.

The loose leaf etchings, in a paper folder, were prefaced by a text describing the subjects or by appropriate poetry, somewhat in the manner of the earlier publications of The Etching Club.

An Old River Course | William Livesay | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
William Livesay
An Old River Course
Etching, 1881
The Water Wheel | Samuel Henry Baker | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

Samuel Henry Baker
The Water Wheel

Etching, 1881

The Yew Avenue | Martin Snape | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
Martin Snape
The Yew Avenue
Etching, c1881

See also the associated exhibitions:

Poetry Made Visible
The Complete Etchings of Samuel Palmer

Palmer's Legacy
A selection of etchings in the British neo-romantic pastoral tradition in the 20th and 21st centuries, from F L Griggs to Ron McBurnie.