Elizabeth Harvey-Lee Logo Elizabeth Harvey-Lee, Print Dealer Elizabeth Harvey-Lee | Print Dealer Elizabeth Harvey-Lee | Print Dealer
Click here to return to the Home page at any time
Further information about Elizabeth harvey-Lee
The methods and history of printmaking
Order back-copies of Elizabeth's previous printed catalogues
View this month's selection of prints
View Elizabeth's current on-line exhibition, and explore the archives
Contact Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeTechniques Harvey-LeeIntaglio Introduction Harvey-LeeSoft-Ground Etching

Soft-Ground Etching

Although the earliest soft-ground etching was made in the 1640’s by Benedetto Castiglione, it was an isolated example and is known only in an unique impression. The process was re-invented in the middle of the 18th century in France, probably by J C François while he was developing crayon engraving (see here).

The admixture of tallow to the usual etching ground renders it soft and waxy and prevents it from setting hard when it is applied in a thin layer to the copper plate. The artist draws in pencil or crayon onto paper laid over the soft ground (see right, for a remarkable survival of such a drawing, by the student Robert Austin). The pressure lifts the ground and leaves the copper partially exposed for biting in a bath of acid in the usual manner (i.e. as in hard-ground etching).

The resulting printed line has an appearance very similar in character and grainy texture to a pencil or crayon drawing on paper.

William Frederick Wells (1762–1836): View on Windermere

William Frederick Wells (1762–1836): "View on Windermere (“Winandermere”)"
Soft-ground etching, 1810, after the drawing by Revd Jos Wilkinson. 
(297 x 401 mm)

Soft-ground etching was invented as part of the crayon engraving process as a means of making facimiles of drawings. In 18th century France it remained an adjunct of crayon engraving but in England, which had no tradition in crayon engraving, artists saw the advantages of its immediacy to make original ‘multiple drawings’ by its means. Gainsborough was an early exponent. In the 19th century the Norwich School artists, Crome and Cotman, and the watercolourists David Cox and Sam Prout took it up, and for the first couple of decades it became a popular medium. It was largely superseded by lithography by 1830.

Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928): The Kiss.

Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928): "The Kiss". 
Soft- and hard-ground etching, 1904.  (147 x 90 mm

At the end of the 19th century Frank Short revived an interest in soft-ground etching, though it did not attract many artists. A similar revival of interest on mainland Europe had a more wide-spread impact.


Robert Austin (1895-1973)

Robert Austin (1895-1973)
“Norman Tennant playing the Mandolin in Bed”.
Soft-ground etching, 1920. (110 x 117 mm)

Robert Austin (1895-1973)

Austin’s actual drawing which created the soft-ground etching. Pencil on thin tracing paper. The survival of this ephemeral witness to the process of soft-ground etching is remarkable. Norman Tennant was a fellow student at the Royal College of Art and kept both the drawing and etching together, all his life, as a record of friendship.





See also :

INTAGLIO PRINTS - A General Introduction

Line Engraving
French Engraving in the Crayon and Pastel Manners
English Stipple Engraving

Colour Printed Intaglio Prints











Return to top ^