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Paul Sandby

1731 – 1809

Scenes of 18th Century Life – Ten early proofs by Paul Sandby

Scenes of 18th Century Life – Ten early proofs   c.1756

  Original etchings, one finished using manière a lavis.
Signed in the plates.
S (overall) 450 x 357 mm
Unique group of ten early proof impressions, apparently prior to the Ryland and Byer edition. One proof amended with brown watercolour and inscribed with the artist’s name in pencil.

Particularly fine impressions printed in black or very dark brown inks, apparently contemporary with the creation of the plates (one is dated 1756), and prior to the Ryland and Byer edition. Early printings of Paul Sandby’s original etchings are extremely rare as few were published by the artist prior to the Ryland and Byer edition of 1765. It is thought that Sandby created these particular small etchings for his own private use as gifts and teaching aids.

This unique group includes the fascinating Portrait of a sculptor with a bust (see Yale Center Catalogue, 1985, item 35g). This last item is one of the most interesting plates, technically, to have been produced by Paul Sandby. The chiaroscuro produced by the uniform brown tone across the plate was achieved using a method known as manière a lavis. This technique involves brushing weak acid across the surface of the copper plate in order to bite the plate evenly. This appears to have been an experimental method exclusive to Paul Sandby as it is not mentioned in any of the standard English technical manuals and no other eighteenth century English printmaker is known to have used it. Highlights are obtained by either burnishing away the minute indentations created in the plate by the acid, or by wiping the plate, prior to printing. This technique anticipates the discovery of aquatint which followed soon afterwards. It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul Sandby should have been one of the earliest exponents of the newly discovered aquatint technique, having learnt the secrets of the process from the Honourable Charles Greville who had purchased the formula in Europe in about 1772.

The unusually fine quality of these early impressions is apparent when compared with the later printings found in the Ryland and Byer publication of 1765. In particular, some of the small vertical plates featuring ladies and peasant women are remarkable for their clarity and strength. Most Ryland and Byer impressions have all but lost the background details of these small plates and do not achieve the tonal effect created by the rich printing of the fine lines in these early impressions.

The largest plate, which depicts two portrait heads and a stocky man wearing a hat (mounted at the centre of this group), has been amended in brown watercolour and inscribed with the artist’s name in pencil. Some feathers have been added in brown watercolour to the hat of the stocky man standing in the lower half of the plate. Similar etched feathers can be found in an early impression from this plate which is contained in the album of Paul Sandby’s etchings collected by William Sandby and now in the British Museum (189*.b.2). It had been thought that these etched feathers did not appear in any impressions published in the Ryland and Byer 1765 issue; however, Ann V. Gunn (The Prints of Paul Sandby, London/Turnhout, 2015, p.119) has pointed out that impressions of the first state of this etching, before the feathers, can be found in some of the earliest sets bound and issued by Ryland & Byer - though sets issued in 1773 and later contain impressions which feature the feathered additions to the hat. It would appear that the hand-amended impression in this group is a particularly early printing by Paul Sandby, printed whilst the artist was still toying with the design; however, it is now certain is that the alteration to the plate itself with the appearance of the etched feathers marks the change between the editions.

All impressions are on antique laid paper, variously trimmed to leave narrow margins around either the image or the platemark. The entire group of prints is mounted, as shown in the j-peg image, on a single sheet of firm wove paper. Each print is tipped to the support sheet at one or two corners and is in generally very good original condition.