An Iron Forge, after Joseph Wright of Derby
48.9 cm x 60.2 cm (19 1/4 in. x 23 11/16 in.)
(London, England, 1743 - 1822, London, England)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Leo Steinberg Collection, by exchange, and purchase through the Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 2004
Developed in late seventeenth-century Holland, but perfected in eighteenth-century Britain, mezzo tint was better than engraving and etching at simulating the tonal qualities of the paintings it reproduced. In mezzotint the artist painstakingly roughens the entire surface of the plate, creating a uniform black texture were the plate to be printed at this point. He then uses scrapers to remove and polish the roughened areas to be illuminated. Varying the degree of polishing, he works from dark to light and achieves a wide range of mid tones, or mezzotinto in the original Italian.
Richard Earlom, whose work is well represented at the museum, used mezzotint to its greatest advantage in reproducing paintings such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s Iron Forge, in which dramatic light is central to its meaning. Fascinated with advances in science and industry, Wright romanticized the early years of the Industrial Revolution. The artist’s use of light here was compared to the illumination that emanates from the Christ Child in medieval and Renaissance nativities. By analogy, the forge and other new technologies were posited as Britain’s salvation in the modern world.
Early and with its surface immaculate, this impression reveals the technique’s tremendous subtlety and inherent beauty.