Sunday, February 24, 2013
Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A. (1849-1914)
“Every artisan—I would say every intelligent labourer has photographs taken of his family and of himself; and however poor examples of likeliness these may be, they are vastly superior to the old silhouettes, which were the only cheap form of portraiture before the invention of photography.”~ My School and My Gospel by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1908
Herkomer ( Sir Hubert von, R.A. ) Ivy, half-length classical maiden crowned with an ivy wreath, mixed-method engraving (“Herkomergravure”), 510 x 410mm., signed in the plate, upper right, slight browning towards sheet edges, framed and lgazed in carved ivy motif frame, [Fine Art Society], .
Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A. (1849-1914) along with Norman Hirst (1862-1955) explored an inventive printing technique called Herkomergravure; a process of creating a monotype by applying ink by hand to a lithographic stone, then producing a photogravure of the result. It could be enhanced with additional mezzotint or etching to give definition to surfaces and outlines, but the overall result remains very free and spontaneous.
From My school and my gospel, on Mezzotinting, Sir Hubert von Herkomer explains,
“ The first work I was able to put into the hands of a student was in a department not taught in the school. It was neither painting nor drawing, but mezzotint engraving. I had been practicing etching or some years, and was just then endeavouring to revive the art of mezzotint engraving as it was done in the early days, on copper-a metal that was abandoned by engravers for steel, which would render more impressions than the softer metal. With the assistance of my printer, I succeeded in coating the surface of the finished engraving on the copper with steel-a process which, up to that time, had only been successfully employed on etched copper plates.
It was prophesied that the mechanical process of photogravure would kill mezzotint engraving. But the continued, and well-paid, commissions my former pupils have received clearly show that this was a false alarm. As I obtained no help from engravers in the technique of mezzotint engraving, I experimented on my own lines, and many of these experiments were successful. We then decided what tool should be used for the rocking of the ground, how many ways it was to be crossed (as the first texture always shows when the lights are scraped down); and with what variety of texture the subject should be treated. This change of texture made it possible to avoid monotony in passages that particularly required ‘crispness,’ a quality usually most difficult to obtain in mezzotint, as its specific characteristic is softness. "
Sir Hubert von Herkomer addresses the reader, “I fear I have just used technical terms that the general public will be unable to follow. But the province of this book is not to make the art of mezzotint engraving, any more than that of painting, clear to the layman; and I ask his indulgence for the sake of the practicing student, who will, I hope see and read these pages and he will understand.”
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