Very fine early proof printing of this rare unpublished etching with mezzotint. Engraver’s proof ‘g’.
Sometimes known as Sheep-washing, Windsor, this plate was etched by J.M.W. Turner himself and the tonal values were added through mezzotint engraving by Charles Turner. Intended for issue in J.M.W.Turner's Liber Studiorum series, this plate remained unpublished and lifetime impressions, such as this, are very rare.
This composition was based upon a preparatory drawing by J.M.W.Turner dating from an expedition in the summer of 1818 - Finberg quotes from Mrs. Fawke’s diary for 4th June, 1818: “Went to Eton to see the boat race. Dined and slept at Salt Hill. Little Turner came with us.”
The copper plate for this work appeared in the Turner sales in 1873 and a number of impressions were printed soon afterwards on smooth plate paper. This impression can be determined as an early proof when compared with impressions printed during the 1870's. It is clearly superior in quality and has been printed in a dark umber-brown ink on T. Dupuy VIII watermarked paper (see Finberg intro.p.lxxx) with full, untrimmed margins. This paper and ink-type are consistent with Finberg’s proof ‘g’. Almost all of the impressions pulled in the 1870's were printed in an orangey-brown ink on smooth plate paper with neatly prepared edges.
This early proof printing shows far greater contrasts in the small highlights on the water, the foreground sheep and elsewhere throughout the image, and the marks of the mezzotint tools are much clearer than in the 1870’s printings. However, the castle, the trees in front of it, and the added tree at the upper right, appear weaker and more faint in terms of mezzotint shading than in the posthumous printings – these areas have been wiped to a much greater degree before printing, leaving ink only in the etched grooves which delineate them. Clearly, J.M.W.Turner had these central areas of mezzotint burnished down intentionally in an attempt to increase recession and contrast in the plate as a whole - an attempt which was not entirely successful. In later impressions, these areas have been much more heavily inked and not then wiped, giving the image a more uniform effect and making the castle and trees appear stronger. It is quite possible that this rather unsuccessful burnishing could have been the cause of the argument between artist and engraver referred to by both Rawlinson and Finberg - this could explain why the plate was never quite finished to J.M.W.Turner’s satisfaction, the lettering never added and the plate never published!
A fascinating and particularly fine lifetime proof impression in generally very fine original condition.