I rate Colin Wiggins one of the best lecturers I have heard for the last few years.

He is excellent and makes his subjects absolutely fascinating.  His passion, he says, if for the art of Prints and Printmaking.

Colin is Curator of Special Projects at London’s National Gallery, and was previously Head of Education.  In his lecture earlier this year, he dealt with the prints produced during the early years of the technique, Medieval and the early Renaissance, in particularly in Germany and Italy.


We were shown slides of wonderful Rembrandt etchings,  demonstrating how he created tone  with minute crosshatching. One of his prints is a self-portrait wearing a floppy beret, the archetypal artist’s beret.  A later slide showed us a print of Sir Joshua Reynolds wearing just the same kind of floppy artist’s beret.  


This was known as La manier anglais.  The prints were very popular with all the English Milords, who had done the Grand Tour of the continent, and had a portfolio of prints of famous oil paintings to show off to guests.  The Mezzotints apparently sold in their hundreds.  There are some beautiful examples still available to buy, if you are lucky in your search.

We saw some examples of the finished Mezzotint, which is a ‘black to white’ process, i.e. the plate prints black except where the white areas have been burnished.  It is the opposite method from an etching.

The various methods were explained, in particular it appears that the Mezzotint requires a very painstaking procedure, using a rocker to cover the plate all over with tiny marks. These hold the ink and print the image on the paper as black. The laborious process was the task of the apprentices.  To get the white bits the plate was burnished with steel, thus holding less ink and printing pale grey or white.  More about Mezzotint from this information provided by the National Portrait Gallery, London


He was also a very competent printmaker, using a soft-ground etching –  luckily I have done quite a bit of etching so know what the soft-ground and the hard-ground etching is, as well as an aquatint. A good place to find out more is the British Museum Print Room, which you can visit and ask to see the boxes of prints done by various artists, including Goya, as there is a marvellous collection


Colin talked at length about the work of Rowlandson, and showed us a lot of various images. They were full of humour. Some of the prints were hand-coloured.  The colour was usually applied by women, apparently, in a kind of conveyor belt system, i.e. one person doing all the yellows, one doing all the reds.

There is a an exhibition of the work of Thomas Rowlandson at present in the Royal Collection, The Queen’s Gallery Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Scotland.  Here is a link about it.

We laughed at ‘Exhibition Stare Case‘ with its voluptuous nudes falling down the stairs, to the delight of the men.  Colin pointed out the Rowlandson is never vicious.  By comparison we looked at:


His work is often very vicious and the work had little or no humour,  we looked at one called French Liberty – British Slavery, showing an emaciated Frenchman, with long toenails because he never cut them, and in the back a pot of snails, and opposite a grossly fat Brit eating roast beef.  We also saw images of the Prince Regent, as a ‘Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion’, and ‘The three Mr Wigginses’, which Colin said might be distant ancestors!  The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a fine collection of Gillray prints.


We saw a print of an etching from Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington apparently hated the painting and would not display it.  Goya’s early etchings show the superstition rife in Spain, for instance the gruesome one ‘There is plenty to suck’. This is apparently in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.  Later, Goya made prints of images of the famous people he had painted such as Manuel Godoy, the evil and wicked minister, and the Duchess of Alba; the original portrait of her is in New York now.  The famous prints of the series, Disasters of War were produced post-Napoleonic war.

These are, we were asked to agree, a much more powerful statement than photographs, of war.

COLIN WIGGINS repeated that he is a huge champion of the art of printmaking.  He recommended we visit the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, of Whistler, which includes some lovely etchings, particularly of the Thames.  NOTE TO SELF: This I must do!

We look forward to another lecture, as soon as possible, bring the history of printmaking up to our present time.  Meanwhile, there is always the BRITISH MUSEUM PRINT ROOM  to visit!