Although famed primarily as a great watercolourist John Sell Cotman was one of the most productive original etchers of his generation. Indeed, he spent over fourteen years at the height of his artistic creativity engaged principally in the production of etchings and soft ground etchings. Between the years 1810 and 1824 J.S.Cotman produced some of the finest etched work to come from any member of the Norwich School. Concentrating mainly on aspects of ancient or ruined architecture, John Sell Cotmanís etchings share the unique character of his carefully observed pencil sketches and architectural drawings, depending essentially on line alone, rather than areas of light and shade.
In particular, it was J.S.Cotman's work in soft ground etching which captured the qualities of his most vivacious pencil drawings of landscape. This technique allows the artist to drawn freely onto a surface applied to the printing plate which is then peeled away to expose the bare areas metal for etching. From the freshness of the images which Cotman produced using this method it is clear that the freedom which this technique allowed was perfectly suited to Cotman's rapid style of draughtsmanship.