Mot du Jour: “Aquatint”

20Nov09

"La Jeu de la Palette," 1766, Jean-Claude-Richard de Saint-Non, after Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Aquatint printed in brown ink. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

An aquatint is a type of etching that mimics the appearance of watercolor and ink washes through the use of a tone process.  The technique is used to create shaded areas that range from light to dark and is most common in landscapes, portraits, and figure studies to give a sense of depth and realism.

The aquatint technique uses acid to penetrate a surface that is partially protected by a porous copper or zinc plate.  The plate is covered with a thin layer of powdered resin and the acid bites a grouping of tiny lines around each resin grain, which then hold enough ink when printed to look like a wash.

The aquatint technique was perfected in France in 1768 by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince and employed greatly by English etchers, but the greatest master to use it was Goya, in Los caprichos, 1799.  The American naturalist and artist John James Audubon’s series of 435 large-sized, hand-colored etchings with aquatints, Birds of America, 1827-1838, is another famous example of the aquatint technique. In the 20th century new life was breathed into the aquatint technique by Pablo Picasso, Andre Masson, and other notable modern artists.

– Emily Waldorf

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