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The Dutch School

  • Object:

    Print

  • Place of origin:

    London (printed)

  • Date:

    ca. 1700 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Smith, John (publisher)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mezzotint

  • Museum number:

    E.127-1998

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case EM24B

Mezzotint is a form of tonal engraving. The engraver first creates a surface that will print solid black by roughening the surface of a copper plate with a serrated tool called a 'rocker'. This process raises a fragile burr of displaced copper which will hold a lot of printing ink. The design is then created by smoothing this burr in varying degrees to print a range of velvety tones. For white highlights, the engraver polishes the burr completely away, making the plate perfectly smooth once more, so no ink will adhere after the surface has been wiped. Mezzotint is particularly suited to reproducing the tonal gradations of painting.

John Smith was the most important mezzotinter in late Stuart England as well as being a print publisher. A generation before the now more famous William Hogarth, he was the first native born British printmaker to earn an international reputation. Active from 1683 to 1729 he made his name and his fortune as the creator of portrait mezzotints but in the same period he also made or published 'subject' mezzotints, a blanket term for everything which is not a portrait.

Smith was taught mezzotinting by Isaac Beckett who learnt the technique from John Lloyd, who in turn learnt it from the Dutch printmaker Abraham Blooteling (1640-1690) who was resident in London from 1673-1680. Smith began his career around 1683 mezzotinting portraits for other publishers but by 1687 was beginning to act as his own publisher and by the early 1690s had taken over from Isaac Beckett (died 1688) as the mezzotinter who had an agreement with Kneller to reproduce his portraits. This professional partnership between an artist and a printmaker is similar to one or two other important examples of the same phenomenon (Raphael and Marcantonio Raimondi, John Constable and David Lucas) in being a crucial vehicle for the dissemination of a painter's work at the same time as it pushed a talented printmaker to new heights of achievement.

Physical description

The image shows a schoolroom scene with three children and their teacher holding a wooden spoon. In the background is a screen with a bottle hanging on it and a portrait.

Place of Origin

London (printed)

Date

ca. 1700 (printed)

Artist/maker

Smith, John (publisher)

Materials and Techniques

Mezzotint

Marks and inscriptions

I. Smith ex:
Lettered below the image

Dimensions

Height: 18 cm size of sheet, Width: 15.3 cm size of sheet, Height: 17.5 cm size of plate, Width: 15 cm size of plate

Object history note

Bought at a sale 'An Eighteenth Century collection of British Prints; Sotheby's 13 November 1997; lot 500

Historical context note

Museum numbers E.104-133-1998 were lot 500 at the sale at Sotheby's London on 13 November 1997 of an Eighteenth Century Collection of British Prints. This collection was put together in Germany, mostly in the period 1770-1800. The lot consisted chiefly of mezzotints by John Smith, or by other mezzotinters but subsequently republished by John Smith.

Descriptive line

The Dutch School; published by John Smith; mezzotint; ca. 1700

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

J. E. Wessely, "John Smith Verzeichniss seiner Schabkunstblätter", Hamburg 1887, no 419
A. Griffiths 'Early Mezzotint Publishing in England - I, John Smith, 1652-1743' in 'Print Quarterly', vol VI, no 3 September 1989, pp. 243-257.
Thomas, Ben 'The Paradox of Mezzotint'; University of Kent; 2008
'Early English Mezzotints: John Smith as Printmaker and Publisher', Elizabeth Miller; Prints, Drawings and Paintings Temporary Display; 8th April-8th November 1998

Materials

Printing ink; Laid paper

Techniques

Mezzotint

Subjects depicted

Students; Teaching; Teachers

Categories

Prints; Images Online

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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