Aquatint (derives from the Italian words aqua — water and tinta — tint) is one of the varieties of etching technique visually resembling watercolour paintings. This type of engraving was developed around the 1770s and was used to create mass production illustrations. Aquatint is a very laborious art based on gravure printing technique. The resulting image is composed of many tiny dots.
Aquatint is created by applying a pattern to a copper or zinc plate using a dry needle or etching technique. Next, the plate is covered with rosin or asphalt dust and heated before acid etching. The artist covers areas of the image to be re-etched with an acid-resistant varnish. Thus, the image becomes “deeper” and the number of etchings can reach twenty.
In the etching technique, detailing and contouring are added to the image. The paint is transferred to the paper from the recesses on the plate: moistened paper and a piece of soft cloth are placed on the wiped matrix, all of them are placed under the press machine. On the finished aquatint, there appears a tone pattern effect. This type of engraving is attractive because it conveys a wide range of shades of the same colour. One matrix made using the aquatint technique can produce up to 300 impressions.
It is believed that the aquatint technique was invented by the French painter and printmaker Jean-Baptiste Leprinse (1734—1781), the creator of the famous series of etchings, Cris de Moscou, or Russian types. He also invented another engraving technique, copperplate. However, Francisco Goya is considered the main maître of aquatint; he used this technique for most of his prints, including the famous Caprichos.
In the 18th century, works in the aquatint technique appeared to use several colours printed from several matrices. During the 19th century, techniques for creating original matrices for the engravings were developed. Experiments with salt and sugar, soil and emery were used. Today aquatint is rarely used as an independent etching technique.
Famous artists who worked in aquatint:
Jean-Baptiste Leprince, Francisco Goya, Alexis François Girard, Jean-François Janinet, Friedrich Fleischmann, Karl Kunz, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Max Klinger, Maria Yakunchikova, Ignatius Nivinsky, Pablo Picasso.
Famous aquatint engravings:
Morning Farewell, 1787 by Philibert Louis Debucourt
Caprichos series, 1799 by Francisco de Goya
Sleeping Cat, 1890s by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen
Winter Moonlit Night, 1892 by Ivan Shishkin
The Dream and Lie of Franco, 1937 by Pablo Picasso