The Hythe prints, below, demonstrate various stages of the printmaking process. Most prints after Turner were produced with a combination of etching and engraving. Etched lines were used first to set out the basic composition. Engraved lines were then added for emphasis and clarity.
At an advanced stage, the plate was printed and sent to Turner for approval. Invariably Turner ‘touched’ the proof, adding detailed annotations showing engravers how to improve the image.
If you can decipher Turner’s handwriting on the ‘touched’ proof, you can then see how his suggested alterations have been carried out in the final print.
‘The inclined lines in the water do pray all you can to remove them … let the water be distinguishable only by its lines, therefore strengthen all the horizontal lines of the Sea which you have to do’
J.M.W. Turner to the engraver George Cooke, written on touched proof of Hythe
‘Mr Miller, soften down the Edges of the clouds generally between the shadows an [sic] half-tones, and as a word of advice aim at softness or union of the lines a little more’
Turner to the engraver William Miller, on touched proof of Clovelly
‘The tone of the church requires a little more solidity about the upper part, but take care of blackness. One of the figures standing on the shore in the middle-distance is too much a Falstaff, the other Master Slender. Make the sun, if you can, more visible as to disk at the uppermost side and then the plate will do. The boat’s foremast has no bottom to it, burnish one in and make a shadow’
Turner to the engraver George Cooke, on touched proof for Teignmouth
The correspondence between Turner and his engravers gives a great deal of insight into the collaborative process. Turner’s instructions show his meticulous eye for detail and the shared aesthetic between artist and engraver. But professional relations sometimes deteriorated, usually over money.
‘I regret exceedingly the time I have bestowed in endeavouring to convince you in a calm and patient manner of a number of calculations made for your satisfaction; and I have met in return such hostile treatment that I am positively disgusted at the mere thought of the trouble I have given myself on such a useless occasion’
The publisher W.B. Cooke, in a letter to J.M.W. Turner, 1 Jan 1827
The sale of reproductive prints was a lucrative but competitive market. Turner’s close involvement in the printmaking process, and his very high standards meant that prints reproducing his landscape paintings were renowned for their sophisticated and delicate effects.