Today we see colour reproductions of paintings everywhere. But in Turner’s time most people experienced art in the form of black and white reproductive prints. These were produced by professional engravers who specialised in translating the effects of colour into black lines printed on white paper. Turner owed his reputation not to colour, but to line.

Over 850 prints were produced after Turner’s work during his lifetime. He supervised the work closely, evolving a ‘school’ of engravers who were particularly skilled at handling Turner’s style. This close collaboration resulted in beautifully subtle prints which are works of art in their own right.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Dunstanborough Castle' circa 1806-7
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Dunstanborough Castle circa 1806-7
Watercolour on white wove writing paper
support: 188 x 270 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Dunstanborough Castle, engraved by Charles Turner' 1808
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Dunstanborough Castle, engraved by Charles Turner 1808
Etching, aquatint and mezzotint on paper
image: 182 x 263 mm
Presented by A. Acland Allen through the Art Fund 1925

Unusually for an artist, Turner was also a competent printmaker. During production of his famous print series, the Liber Studiorum 1807–19, he often etched the outline composition from his own watercolour. He would then pass the plate to a professional engraver for the detail. Occasionally he even completed the entire print himself.

‘Engraving is not more an art of copying Painting than the English language is an art of copying Greek or Latin’
J.M.W. Turner

Only one of the three prints below is after Turner: the other two reproduce paintings by some of his contemporaries. Look at the fine detail and the contrast created by the range of marks used in each of the prints. Do any of them evoke a real sense place? Do you think the print after Turner is more successful than the others?

after Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Land's End, Cornwall' 1814
after Joseph Mallord William Turner
Land's End, Cornwall 1814
Intaglio print on paper
image: 142 x 220 mm
Purchased 1986
after Samuel Owen, 'Land's End Cornwall, with Long-Ship's Light-House' 1814
after Samuel Owen
Land's End Cornwall, with Long-Ship's Light-House 1814
Intaglio print on paper
image: 131 x 166 mm
Purchased 1988
William Daniell, 'The Land's End, Cornwall' date not known
William Daniell
The Land's End, Cornwall date not known
Aquatint on paper
image: 162 x 241 mm
Presented by Tate Gallery Publications 1979