Constable’s varied and painterly sketching style was closely reproduced in a series of twenty-two mezzotints engraved by David Lucas (1802–1881) under Constable’s close supervision: English landscape.
The mezzotints were based on some of Constable’s oil sketches (previously only known to his closest friends) as well as exhibition paintings from various periods of his working life and works painted specifically for the series.
In the text he wrote to accompany the mezzotints Constable noted that his aim was to observe nature in its various aspects and to increase interest in the rural scenery of England. He also wanted to demonstrate his belief that chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark, is an attribute of nature itself.
The process of making a mezzotint is laborious and difficult. The metal plate is firstly roughened to create a surface that when loaded with ink will print a deep, dark black. The engraver then smooths out the texture of the plate with a sharp instrument, creating surfaces that do not collect ink and therefore print as light areas. It is an ideal medium to produce images with dramatic contrasts between light and dark.
In 1947 the Australian landscape painter Hans Heysen began to acquire engraver’s proofs of the Constable–Lucas mezzotints. Some of these impressions are included in this exhibition.
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