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[from] Subjects from the ‘Liber Studiorum’ after J.M.W. Turner [T04873; T05042-T05074; complete]
Thirty-four etchings and mezzotints comprising various states of twenty-eight subjects; on laid paper, various sizes
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1988 (T 04874-T05074); see individual entry for T04873
Prov: ...; Craddock and Barnard, from whom bt by Tate Gallery (T04874-T05074; see individual entry for T04873)
Lit: F.C. Strange, The Etched and Engraved Work of Frank Short, 1908; A.J. Finberg, The History of Turner's Liber Studiorum, 1924; M. Hardie, The Liber Studiorum Mezzotints of Sir Frank Short, R.A., P.R.E., after J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Print Collectors' Club, vol.17, 1938
Short's involvement with Turner's Liber Studiorum began when he was a student and lasted for most of his adult life. In 1888, when his first series of reproductions of the Liber was published by Robert Dunthorne, he explained in the accompanying leaflet how, while studying at the Stourbridge School of Art, his enthusiasm was caught first by the autotype reproductions in the Revd Stopford Brooke's Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner (3 vols., 1882–4), and then by a proof of the original plate of the ‘Devil's Bridge’ (see T05043). He continued: ‘Well, that started it. It is hard for young people to believe that things once accomplished by men now dead cannot be done in these days; and yet it is a fact that all who had wrought upon the Liber Studiorum were dead, and their craft had died with them.’ Encouraged by the distinguished printer Frederick Goulding, Short resolved to try to recreate it by first attempting a copy of the Liber plate ‘Procris and Cephalus’ (see T05047). Having sought Ruskin's advice on this plate and his suggestions for others he might tackle afterwards, Short received ‘the kindest of replies and offers of all help, and a list of the plates he would have me do. That valiant publisher, Mr. Robert Dunthorne, said, “We'll do it!” and so it came about’.
Short's efforts to recreate the Liber were prompted by a passionate love of Turner-fostered by early reading of Ruskin - and an urge to enter his mind and creative process; by an equally profound respect for the engravers who had first interpreted the Liber drawings with such skill and sensitivity; and by a sense of mission in reviving the lost art of mezzotint. Despite initial difficulties and rebuffs, his enterprise soon met with generous encouragement from Turner collectors like Stopford Brooke, John Edward Taylor, Henry Vaughan and W.G. Rawlinson besides Ruskin himself, all of whom made available Turner's original drawings or proof impressions of the original plates. Ruskin, writing from Brantwood on 25 January 1885, recommended: ‘Twelve carefully - and not hurriedly - finished plates, would represent all that's best in the Liber, and, I hope, become a Standard Art School Work’. Soon he suggested ‘You might perhaps go up to twenty, if the public encouraged you’, but Short and Dunthorne kept to twelve for their first series. Having received some proofs early in 1887, Ruskin wrote on 10 February:
Are these lovely things really for me to keep? Any one of them would have been a dazzling birthday present to me; but, above all gifts, the pleasure of seeing such work done again, and of knowing that the worker is as happy as he is strong in it, lights the spring of the year for me more than the most cloudless sunshine on its golden hills. You are doing all these things simply and well as they can be done - and I believe Turner has got through Purgatory by this time, and his first stage in Paradise is at your elbow.
The first twelve plates were proved at the National Art Training School, now the Royal College of Art. Goulding, or his foreman, S. Cope, were the printers (Cope's son took over for Short's later plates). Dunthorne announced fifty etched impressions at 5s. each, and 400 impressions of the mezzotint states at 2 guineas, on specially made English waterleaf paper of Colombier size. This first edition of twelve subjects, completed by 1888, included those described below, T05043-T05054, and was accompained by a variant of Turner's original frontispiece, designed by Short himself (T05042). The success of the enterprise encouraged Short and Dunthorne to embark on a larger project, sixteen new plates which would posthumously complete Turner's Liber, from rare early trial proofs or unpublished drawings. In 1897 Dunthorne accompanied an exhibition of Short's Liber with what were described in the catalogue as ‘New Mezzotints by Frank Short, completing the Book as arranged by Turner, with an Introduction and Notes by W.G. Rawlinson’. These plates were again printed by Goulding, who ‘took a great interest in the later plates’. In 1911 Dunthorne issued another catalogue, printed by the Chiswick Press, which listed two further subjects, not in the Tate Gallery collection, reproducing Turner's unpublished plates; T05059-T05069 were also made from unpublished plates. Later still, Short undertook an even more ambitious project of historical reconstruction, a series of nine plates from subjects existing only in Turner's drawings; T05070-T05074 belong to this group.
In later years, Short reflected as follows on his long devotion to the Liber:
It has often been said to me: ‘Why do you do reproductive or interpretative engraving instead of always your own?’ Well, all I can say is that I feel there is something scholarly in such engraving-in good work soundly (I hope) done; and looking back some fifty years I think I have got more joy out of the work in connection with this immortal Book than from all my other activities in engraving and etching. And it brought me into contact with many lovers and collectors of Turner's work, and I would not have missed that. Especially I might mention Ruskin, J.E. Taylor, Henry Vaughan, W.G. Rawlinson, Percy Horne, Stopford Brooke, Dr. Pocock, Mr. Bullard, Mr. A.A. Allen, and many collectors whom I have not met but who have written to me about the plates, and whose words I valued.
He added that he had, whenever possible, worked from original proofs in the finest impressions available; when depending on Turner's drawings he ‘considered that my duty was to translate them into the richer quality of mezzotint, as nearly as I could to the effect of the drawing, without inventing or intruding anything of my own’ - a somewhat disingenuous statement that drew Martin Hardie's comment that ‘To turn a vaporous watercolour by Turner into a mezzotint is about as easy as to translate ancient Hebrew into modern Czechoslovak’. When working from preliminary etchings, which in many cases were the work of Turner himself, Short concluded, ‘I followed when possible every pen line of Turner, only adding a few lines here and there to connect up anything missing’.
Short's devoted study and ‘completion’ of the Liber is an important episode in the historiography of Turner, and, in so far as it contributed to a revival of the mezzotint medium, in the history of English printmaking. Although more recent critics have dealt somewhat coolly with Short's Liber, his plates won the sincere admiration of his own generation of collectors, connoisseurs and fellow printmakers, especially of F.L. Griggs and Hardie, who together had conceived the 1938 volume of the Print Collectors' Club devoted to these prints, although, following Griggs's death, Hardie alone contributed the highly appreciative essay that precedes the catalogue proper. ‘All of Short's work from the unpublished prints and from drawings’, Hardie considered, ‘ranks worthily with the published portion of Turner's monumental work, and would have gladdened his mighty heart’.
Hardie prefaced his catalogue with words of caution that remain very relevant. Short had pulled many trial proofs of his Liber plates, which had been widely dispersed; Hardie had worked from ‘about 200’ that he could trace in the time available. The impressions acquired by the Tate Gallery include a number of trial proofs, not all of which appear to conform exactly to the states tentatively identified by Hardie - who had in any case, as he further explained, often only been able to guess at the sequence from state to state despite his close friendship with Short himself. Subtle differences between successive pulls could be confusing, and Hardie had seen ‘in Short's studio, proofs just printed successively from the same plate, which anyone in fifty years from now might well describe as different states. In the case of impressions printed many years ago the artist himself is often in considerable doubt as to their exact order’. It is thus rarely possible to assign dates to individual states, if states they are, and the modern cataloguer is likely to be able to offer few advances on Hardie's categorisation. A final qualification is that the publication dates given by Short in his lettering are not necessarily the dates of production, and it will be seen from the following notes that a period of years sometimes elapsed between the production of an etching and its completion as a mezzotint. The technical comments by Short himself quoted here may be found in Hardie's catalogue entries, having been transcribed by him, very often from conversations with the artist. Hardie also preserved the commentaries by Rawlinson that had appeared in Dunthorne's catalogue of 1897.
T05043 Little Devil's Bridge, over the Russ above Altdorft, Switzerland
Etching 178 × 254 (7 × 10) on laid paper 278 × 413 (10 7/8 × 16 1/4); plate-mark 227 × 303 (9 × 12)
Etched and engraved inscriptions: ‘FS’ in monogram b.l. of image, ‘FRANK SHORT SCULP. AFTER J.M.W. TURNER’ below image b.r.
Lit: Strange 1908, no.40; Hardie 1938, no.2
The ‘Little Devil's Bridge’ was one of the first twelve Liber reproductions issued by Dunthorne. The bridge had been drawn first by Turner during his Swiss tour in 1802. The original Liber plate (Finberg 1924, pp.75–6, no.19) had been etched by Turner himself and engraved by Charles Turner; it was published in 1809. Turner's drawing for it is in the Tate Gallery (D08123; TB CXVI V). Short owned an engraver's proof of the original print and, according to the leaflet that accompanied the Dunthorne series in 1888, it was Charles Turner's mezzotint of this subject that first attracted Short to the medium and inspired him to produce his own versions of the Liber. ‘picture to yourselves a diligent student ... Think of his finding himself one day in that dismal little room at the National Gallery containing the Turner watercolours, and seeing there a proof of the Devil's Bridge - the first mezzotint he ever saw - and imagine the shock of delight that went through him. Well, that started it’. Ruskin at first advised Short against tackling the Devil's Bridge, but changed his mind, and when in 1887 Short sent him an impression of his own version in progress, wrote back ‘you can't think what a gift this Devil's Bridge is to me, for I gave all my own away to Oxford, and have been sorry ever since’. The gift was perhaps the etched state which Short had sent with comments alluding to the colour of the ink originally used by Turner, and to his own somewhat unsatisfactory attempts to match it: ‘You would hardly think that the colour this ink was made of was simply Brown Ochre. We did not find out for some time, but now I am sure, that all the etchings were printed in the weakest ink they could make. Yellow ochre in some of them tells as quite a dark brown in the lines. The lines in this etching looked deep enough to me, but they showed very weak through the mezzotint and I had to deepen them, by rebiting over the mezzotint ground.’
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996