Alexander Cozens

Plate 8


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Alexander Cozens 1717–1786
Aquatint on paper
Image: 240 × 314 mm
Purchased 1980

Catalogue entry


Purchased from Christopher Mendez (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Aquatints, average size (i) of plates, 9 7/16 × 12 1/8 (24 × 31.8), (ii) of paper, 10 1/2 × 14 1/2 (26.6 × 36.2); individual sizes given below. The plates are numbered (1–16) in the top left or right corner, but not lettered. The sixteen plates correspond to Cozens's ‘Descriptions of the various kinds of composition of Landscape’ in A New Method of Assisting the Invention of Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape, pp.31–3

Plate 8 '8. A water-fall.’
(i) 9 5/8 × 12 1/8 (24 × 31.4)
(ii) 10 1/8 × 14 1/2 (26.7 × 36.8)

Prov: Presumably purchased by an ancestor (perhaps a pupil of the artist) of the 13th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, from whom purchased by Christopher Mendez c.1970.
Lit: A.P. Oppé, ‘Fresh Light on Alexander Cozens’, Print Collector's Quarterly, VIII, April 1921, pp.61–90; A. P. Oppé, Alexander & John Robert Cozens, 1952, pp.56–65 and Appendix, pp.163–187; Henri Zerner, ‘Alexander Cozens et sa Methode pour l'Invention des Paysages’, L'Oeil, 136, 1966, pp.28–33; Alan Shestack, ‘Lift Ground Prints by Alexander Cozens’, Artist's Proof, 8, 1968, pp.82–6; Andrew Wilton, The Art of Alexander and John Robert Cozens, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 1980, pp.31–5, pls.13–25; Paola Lavezzari, Alexander Cozens, A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape, Canova, 1981.
A reprint of the text of A New Method ..., with reduced reproductions of twelve of the plates, is included in Oppé, op.cit., 1952, Appendix, pp.163–187. Facsimile reprints of A New Method... including title pages, text and plates, are published in (i) Introd. Michael Marqusee, Alexander Cozens, A New Method of Landscape, 1977, and (ii) Lavezzari, op.cit., 1981, following p.ccxvii, but Lavezzari reproduces plates 17–36 singly, instead of four to a page as in Cozens's publication.

T03169T03184 represent ‘Blot’ landscapes, designed to encourage an imaginative approach to landscape drawing and painting. They were published as Plates 1–16 in Cozens's A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape. This work appears to have been published in its complete form c.1785, in a very small edition. Complete copies, which are very rare (there are examples in the collections of the Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum, and of the Beinecke Library, Yale), include two title-pages, thirty-three pages of text, an ‘Index of Particular Passages in the Treatise’ and a ‘Table of Examples’, which lists the forty-three illustrations which follow. Of these, Cozens describes Plates 1–16 as ‘Blots’ of various kinds of composition of landscape, and plates 17–36 (small plates, printed four to a page) as various kinds of composition of sky. The remaining seven plates (37–43) include two ‘Blots’ and five worked-up landscapes based on them, the latter engraved in a mixture of aquatint and mezzotint by William Pether.

Cozens evidently engraved the ‘Blots’ and ‘skies’ himself. It is difficult to establish precisely what technique he used to make the ‘Blot’ prints, whose essence lies in their effect of spontaneity. He seems to have devised a characteristically individual version of the aquatint process, achieving the effect of immediacy by applying acid directly to the plate in various areas, thus diminishing the usual granular effect of aquatint.

T03169T03184 was one of two sets of the ‘Blot’ prints (the other is now in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California) found by Christopher Mendez in the library at Chudleigh, among a large collection of drawing manuals; each set was unbound, and seems to have been issued independently of the text and other plates of A New Method. As will be suggested again below, Cozens probably originally intended to publish both the ‘Blots’ and the ‘skies’ as separate publications.

A New Method was published towards the end of a life in which Cozens had been drawing-master at Christ's Hospital, at Eton College and to many private pupils. The greater part of its text is devoted to expounding the idea of the ‘Blot’ as an image whose suggestive power might be as infinitely various as the cloud in the passage from Anthony and Cleopatra (Act IV Scene II) which Cozens quotes on his title-page:

Sometime we see a Cloud that's dragonish,
A Vapour sometime like a Bear, or Lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendant Rock,
A forked Mountain, or Promontory,
With Trees upon't, that nod unto the World
And mock our Eyes with Air.

'Particular Passages’ in A New Method advocating and explaining ‘Blotting’ begin by arguing in favour of ‘composing landscapes by contradistinction to copying’ (p.2). 'Too much time is spent in copying the works of others, which tends to weaken the powers of invention; and I scruple not to affirm, that too much time may be employed in copying the landscapes of nature herself’ (p.3). Cozens then relates how, seeking one day to fire a pupil's imagination, he progressed from a random pencil ‘hint’ of a landscape to a tinted ‘Blot’ which his pupil ‘instantly improved...into an intelligible sketch’; Cozens then ‘improved’ the method by making the blots in black ink, tracing them on transparent paper and producing sketches from them. Cozens's role as drawing-master is shown at its most practical in Rules I–V (pp.30–31), which instruct the student how ‘To make Drawing Ink’, ‘To make Transparent Paper’, ‘To form a BLOT’, ‘To make a SKETCH from a Blot... as a preparation for a finished Drawing’ and ‘To finish ...a Sketch that is made out from a Blot’.

Cozens's most succinct description of a ‘Blot’ occurs on p.6: ‘An artificial blot is a production of chance, with a small degree of design.’ The blot-maker may focus his thoughts on ‘the general form of the composition, and upon this only; whilst the subordinate parts are left to the casual motion of the hand and the brush’. ‘A true blot is an assemblage of dark shapes or masses made with ink upon a piece of paper, and likewise of light ones produced by the paper being left blank. All the shapes are rude and unmeaning, as they are formed with the swiftest hand. But at the same time there appears a general disposition of these masses, producing one comprehensive form, which may be conceived and purposedly intended before the blot is begun. This general form will exhibit some kind of subject, and this is all that should be done designedly’ (p.7).

Cozens then explains the difference between ‘blotting’ and ‘sketching’: ‘To sketch in the common way, is to transfer ideas from the mind to the paper, or canvas, in outlines, in the slightest manner. To blot, is to make varied spots and shapes with ink on paper, producing accidental forms without lines, from which ideas are presented to the mind. This is conformable to nature: for in nature, forms are not distinguished by lines, but by shade and colour. To sketch, is to delineate ideas; blotting suggests them’ (pp.8–9); and, he adds, a blot should suggest different ideas to different people.

The title of A New Method derives from a passage in Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting (in the English translation published in 1721), which Cozens informs us that he was unaware of until he had made his blot experiments. He quotes (pp.5–6) Leonardo's description of ‘a new method of assisting the opening the mind, and putting it upon the scent of new thoughts ...if you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humerous faces, draperies, &c. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will be furnished with abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new.’ Cozens then points out that his own method is an improvement, since instead of waiting for odd shapes to suggest ideas, blotting is done deliberately, though semi-abstractedly.

The compiler is very grateful to Kim Sloan who, during her research on Cozens, succeeded in tracing what is apparently the sole extant copy of his Essay to Facilitate the Inventing of Landskips, published in 1759; this copy, which originally belonged to Cozens's pupil and patron William Beckford, is now in the Western European Drawings Department of the Hermitage Museum. Miss Sloan has generously contributed the following note: ‘An examination of its text and plates indicates that by 1759 Cozens was already familiar with Leonardo's “new method of assisting the Invention” as it was described in the 1721 English translation of his Treatise on Painting. In his 1759 Essay Cozens states that he had already “endeavour'd to improve upon the above hint, by making Those imperfect Forms on Purpose, and with some degree of Design...”. His examples consisted of eight “Stiles of Composition”, each illustrated in the form of a “blot or black sketch” and an outline drawing after it. These 1759 blots are more recognisably landscapes than those of the New Method and were not produced on wrinkled paper. The two-page text of the Essay ended with the promise of a future publication containing “each of the Designs of this Book ... with Figures, and shaded upon two different Principles”. This is probably the lost Treatise on Perspective and Rule for Shading by Invention of 1765. The sixteen Various Species of Landscape Composition probably form an intermediate stage in the evolution of Cozens's blot method to its final expression in the New Method of c.1785.’

Kim Sloan's findings indicate that Cozens had been experimenting with ‘blotting’ (and perhaps teaching his pupils how to ‘blot’) for nearly thirty years before the publication of A New Method. This, combined with the fact that sets of the ‘Blots’ and ‘skies’ were apparently issued separately, increases the likelihood that Cozens originally intended to publish and expound the ‘Blots’ separately, and that it was only towards the end of his life that he decided to combine both ‘Blots’ and ‘skies’ into the publication of A New Method.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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