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French Engraving in the Crayon and Pastel Manners

The encyclopaedic approach characteristic of mid-18th century French Enlightenment culture found typical expression not only in the first comprehensive catalogues raisonnés of old master printmaking by Adam Bartsch and the various publications of ‘receuils’ (collected editions of prints issued in book form) but also in new printmaking techniques specifically invented to reproduce the exact character and texture of chalk drawings so they could be published in facsimile to record the important French collections then being built up.

The plate was worked with a selection of roulettes (spiked wheels) and mattoirs (spiked punches) either directly into the copper or through a soft etching ground (see "soft-ground"), giving a dotted granular line similar in appearance and texture to a chalk line on rough-grained drawing paper.

First conceived by J.C.François (1717 – 1769) who made only a few experiments, crayon engraving was perfected and practised extensively by Gilles Demarteau, working in Paris from 1746, and Louis Marin Bonnet. Boucher supplied many of the chalk drawings which they took as their models. It was probably Bonnet who first extended the principle to multiple plates. Two-crayon engravings (also see “Colour Intaglio Prints”) were printed from two plates, one inked in black and the other in sanguine, and three-crayon engravings from three plates in black, sanguine and white onto blue paper, in successful emulation of sanguine chalk drawings, and black & sanguine chalk drawings with white highlights on coloured paper.

Louis Marin Bonnet (1736–1793): The Fine Musetioners.

Louis Marin Bonnet (1736–1793): "The Fine Musetioners".  
Colour engraving in the pastel manner, 1775, after Raourt.
(Here reproduced only in black and white, as no colour illustration available.)
(Lettering in the lower border of this example trimmed away.)

Louis Marin Bonnet (1736–1793): The Fine Musetioners.  
Enlarged detail from the corner of
Louis Marin Bonnet's "The Fine Musetioners".
 One of the ‘Estampes Angloises’, with a gold,
brown and black printed border.

The culmination was Bonnet’s development of pastel engraving, a procedure which could involve up to eight plates each printed in a different tint, including a gold border, to recreate the effect of a full colour pastel drawing in a gold frame. Bonnet made a series of ten prints with gold borders, known as the ‘Estampes Angloises’ because of their (sometimes misspelt) English titles (see above and left). It is speculated that Bonnet was avoiding a tax on the use of gold by pretending the prints were English imports. Also he no doubt wished to exploit the then current vogue in France for English prints.

The fashion for crayon engraving , so closely allied to the voluptuous rococo drawings of the Ancien Regime, did not survive the French Revolution.


Louis Marin Bonnet (1736–1793): Bust in Profile of a young Woman 

Louis Marin Bonnet (1736-1793):
“Bust of a young Woman”.

Crayon engraving, 1767,
after a chalk drawing by François Boucher.


Louis Marin Bonnet (1736–1793): Provoking Fidelity

Louis Marin Bonnet (1736-1793):
“Provoking Fidelity”. Pastel engraving, 1775,
printed in several colours and gold, from multiple plates. The printed image incorporating a
surrounding printed imitation gold frame.

After a pastel by Marc Antoine Parelle.
Lettered with the English publisher,
F. Vivares’s address. (318 x 247 mm)


See also :

INTAGLIO PRINTS - A General Introduction

Line Engraving
English Stipple Engraving
Soft-Ground Etching

Colour Printed Intaglio Prints

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