Sunset (f) is a two-colour lithograph on Gasenchi Echizen hand-made, white paper printed by chine appliqué on Arches Cover mould-made, off-white paper. It depicts a peaceful scene looking towards the horizon beyond a promontory of land that sticks out into the sea. The sky is dotted with small wisps of cloud; the sea is calm; only the slightest indication of watery movement is given. In the foreground, at the water’s edge, a large pile of excrement is tastefully depicted in a semi-abstract form. Because the image is black and white – in fact predominantly grey – none of the dramatic colour that is normally associated with sunset imagery is present, resulting in a neutral atmosphere. The total absence of detailed features of any kind adds to this.
Hamilton was inspired to create Sunset (f) by a print by Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet (1792-1845), the French nineteenth-century master of lithography, that he saw and admired in the home of the master printer Ken Tyler. Hamilton was staying in Tyler’s home in 1975, while working in his famous print workshop on the Flower-piece B lithographs (see Tate P12105, 12106 and 12107). According to Lullin, the author of Hamilton’s print catalogue raisonné, ‘Hamilton did not particularly relish tusch lithography and drawing with lithographic stick seemed the only technique that would produce a satisfactory result [and he explained]: “I thought it might be possible for me to master the medium if I took a lesson from the past. It took all my spare time for a week, working with a well-sharpened stick of hard litho chalk to confirm my conjecture.”’ (Quoted in Lullin, p.138.) The previous year, the artist had made a coloured Sunrise print using collotype and based on a pastel drawing of the same name derived from a postcard of a sea view looking east from Cadaqués in Spain. Like all the Sunset images, Sunrise features a giant turd that dominates the image. Hamilton relates it to a reverie recounted by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections: ‘I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on His golden throne, high above the world – and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the wall of the cathedral asunder’ (Jung quoted in Lullin, p.138).
In 1974 Hamilton created Sunsets (a) to (e) using brightly coloured pastel on paper. They feature various coastal views, always dominated by a large pile of faeces on the sea shore. He used a more restrained palette of colours for the pastel study that he created for the print Sunset (f), and for the painting of the same name (both 1975, Collection Bombelli, Cadaqués). The lithograph is a mirror-image reflection in black and white of the composition shown in the study and the painting. The method of chine collé printing allowed for the transferral of the finest details of the image from the litho stone, resulting in a delicate grainy texture. The two-colour inks confer an antique appearance to the print, a reminder that the nineteenth century was the high point of lithographs of this kind. Hamilton has commented that Sunset (f) ‘is the only lithograph I have done that I considered completely successful, in the sense that it seemed – to me at least – to demonstrate the maximum potential of stone lithography as a technology’ (quoted in Lullin, p.138).
The print Sunset (f ) was produced in an edition of fifty, plus twelve artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the twelfth artist’s proof. Hamilton signed and numbered each print beneath the image using graphite. Tyler’s blind stamp was applied to the lower right corner and his workshop number was inscribed in graphite on the verso, lower left corner: RH75-204.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.138-9, reproduced p.139 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, MACBA Barcelona and Ludwig Museum, Cologne 2003, pp.72-4.
Elizabeth Armstrong, Pat Gilmour, Kenneth E.Tyler, Tyler Graphics: Catalogue Raisonné 1974-1985, Minneapolis 1987, p.151, reproduced p.151 in colour.