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Paul Sandby

1731 – 1809

Episcopal Palace at St. David’s by Paul Sandby

Episcopal Palace at St. David’s   1775

  Aquatint with etching.
Signed in the plate.
S 316 x 389 mm; P 239 x 315 mm; I (outer border) 229 x 304 mm
Outstanding early printing in dark brown ink with a variant version of the sky, as published by Paul Sandby himself in his first Welsh Series, entitled XII Views in South Wales. Early impressions in dark brown ink, such as this, are now scarce.

Aquatint was a novel etching process which was designed to introduce tonal values to the printed image. The popularity of this printmaking technique rivalled that of mezzotint until both were gradually displaced by lithography during the nineteenth century. Paul Sandby’s magnificent work in aquatint is considered to be one of the major turning points in the history of printmaking. The importance of his innovative and pioneering work in this medium cannot be overstated. Although Paul Sandby neither invented the original process of aquatint, nor was the first to use it in this country, he established the technique as a means of reproduing topographical watercolours and gave the process the name by which it is known. ‘Aquatinta’, as he first called it, is derived from the words ‘Aqua’, meaning water, and ‘Tinctus’, meaning stained.

Paul Sandby refined the original process by introducing the concept of laying the aquatint ground through floating it on to the plate in a suspension in alcohol. His design could then be ‘painted’ on to the prepared plate using a water based substance which would cause the protective varnish to lift, thus, exposing the grounded plate to the effect of the acid bath. This method allowed him to produce the finest of grounds and gave him a freedom of handling through which the subtlest gradations of tone and the effects of watercolour washes could be obtained.

This view of the Episcopal Palace at St. David’s is one of Paul Sandby’s earliest aquatints and the set in which it was released was his first publication in the new medium. It is thought that Paul Sandby took over the publication of this series from John Boydell in order to oversee the printing of his delicate plates. The subtle balance between the fine, pale tones of the sky areas and the rich, dark tones of the rocks and shadows (clearly evident in this early impression), required special attention in printing. In particular, it appears that the aquatint ground which Paul Sandby used for the delicate sky tones could not withstand any number of impressions and the edition taken from these plates was very restricted indeed. Fine impressions from this series, such as this early impression of Episcopal Palace at St. David’s are now very scarce.

It is surprising that in his ground-breaking first series of twelve Welsh aquatint views, Paul Sandby should have chosen to use a drawing by another artist, namely L. Wynn, as the basis for this plate – his final view in the series. Here, Sandby was interpreting and adapting the design of another artist in his own painterly manner whilst creating the aquatint upon the plate. This plate represents one of the earliest aquatint reproductions of a watercolour drawing ever to have been produced in this country.

On antique laid paper, with unidentified watermark, with margins beyond platemark on all sides. Generally good original condition.