Tag: etching

James Abbott McNeill Whistler: a true lover of Venice

“If the man who paints only the tree, or the flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.”
James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was a great and famous American painter, who became famous for works such as “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” also known as “Whistler’s Mother”.

Whistler’s Mother


What the fewest people know, however, is his genius in the production of chalcographic engravings: Whistler has been one of the most inventive and influential engravers in history, making almost 500 engravings in five decades.
He approached engraving in 1857, at the age of 23, as a gifted and passionate young draughtsman, using the chalcographic technique to capture and reproduce quick sketches at the time when engraving was used as a mere reproductive technique.
From the 18th century onwards, in fact, the art print had become almost exclusively a means of reproducing works of art and portraits, going towards a real industrialisation.
At the end of the 19th century, with the birth and success of photography, engraving was able to free itself of its utilitarian function, thanks to artists such as Whistler, who rediscovered the vitality and autonomy that characterized it at the beginning.

In his first years of experimentation with this technique he worked outdoors, drawing on suitably prepared copper, and then proceeding to morsure in his room, travelling around Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland.
In 1859 he moved to London, where he produced views of the Thames, maintaining the purity of unadorned realism inspired by Japanese prints.
At that time he also began to rub the inks in an expressive way and to work using the technique of drypoint, preferring it to etching, for the production of portraits and figures.

From September 1879 Whistler moved to Venice to produce twelve etchings, commissioned by the Fine Arts Society of London, which expected the return of the artist after a stay of three months.
The artist instead stops in the city for fourteen months and produces fifty etchings, over a hundred pastels, reaching its creative peak.
The views of smaller canals, the entrances to palaces, the reflections dancing on the water and the dark evanescent landscapes represent places known by the locals, far from the tourist routes, just before Venice was sold to the masses

As a supporter of “Art for Art’s sake”, in the celebration of visual beauty, his production is an honest work that shows the most intimate spaces of Venice, showing the viewer the city through the eyes of a Venetian and helps to redraw the map of the city.
Etching gave Whistler the opportunity to combine the speed of execution, quickly drawing ideas on the plate, with the possibility of perfecting and developing them across multiple states, highlighting its complex aesthetics.
His work, with such an innovative approach, has not only attracted followers and imitators, but has also influenced the entire art world.

“I learned to know a Venice in Venice that the others never seem to have perceived…”

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

https://www.frasicelebri.it/frasi-di/james-mcneill-whistler/ https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Abbott_McNeill_Whistler

Engraving – part #2


The copperplate engraving is a “hollow” printing technique. The signs engraved on the plate take the color and transfer it on the paper during the printing process, while the areas of the matrix that have not been processed retain the color of the paper. In this way, the signs made on the matrix become directly the signs that will be printed on paper.

The chalcographic matrix is a sheet of metal (copper, zinc, brass, aluminum) that can be more or less hard, and which can be worked directly (in this case the strength of the hand, with the help of metal tips, engraves the matrix) or indirectly (here instead the acid corrodes and digs the sign on the plate).


Working in a direct manner, called drypoint, consists in engraving the plate with a hard point that, opposing more or less force, raises the barbs (small ridges of metal corresponding to the created groove). These ridges, together with the engraved sign, retain color during the inking phase and create a special and recognizable effect.

The processing in an indirect manner which makes use of acids and spread in different ways, often used together, which will give different results. The two main processes that I have experienced are: acquaforte etching and aquatint.

Drypoint – Venetian house in Castello district


We use this technique to get marks on the sheet. The metal matrix, after being cleaned and polished is protected with a special paint, which will prevent the acid to act on the whole surface.

Thanks to a tip, signs are traced on the matrix that deprive her of her protection. Once the plate is immersed in the acid, these signs will be subject to the corrosive action in the metal engraving in the metal, more or less in depth, depending on the time of exposure in acid.

You can achieve different intensities in the various signs of the same plate, proceeding with various morsure (in acid baths) and protecting the signs you want to be lighter with the paint.

Aquaforte etching – Grand Canal from Accademia bridge


This technique is used to obtain shades of different intensities on the plate. Even in this case, the slab must be protected from the corrosive action of the acid, but unlike the acquaforte etching, paint is not used, but a very fine powder evenly spread on the metal surface.

Then the slab is heated and the powder melts on it, protecting and allowing the acid to act simultaneously on the metal in a controlled manner.

To obtain different intensities it is sufficient to protect areas of the sheet that you want to keep clearer by spreading a layer of protective paint and working with various morsure.

An alternative to the use of special dust is to spread an even layer of spray paint on the plate.


Aquaforte + Aquatint – Ponte Chiodo in Venice


The other technique that I used in my work is the so called sugar lift, which makes possible to achieve an effect similar to watercolor.

This technique consists of painting the plate with a brush soaked in a special sugar solution, and once dry the plate is covered with a thin layer of protective paint. Later, hot water is poured on the slab which separates the paint from areas treated only with the sugar solution, and we proceed to protect exposed areas as in aquatint (with special fine powder or spray paint).

At this point the plate is immersed in acid as usual and it is possible to proceed with the various morsure.

Aquaforte etching + sugar lift – Fish