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’ c.1806–7
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Dunstanborough Castle c.1806–7
Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Dunstanborough Castle, engraved by Charles Turner’ 1808
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Dunstanborough Castle, engraved by Charles Turner 1808

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
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
William Daniell
The Land’s End, Cornwall