Etching: history of origin and varieties

Etching: history of origin and varieties

Etching: history of origin and varieties

Etching (fr. eau forte – strong water) is a type of engraving made on metal by etching with nitric acid (for iron) or ferric chloride (for copper). A kind of gravure printing.

A special primer (etching varnish) resistant to acids is applied to a polished metal plate (zinc, steel, copper) . Next, a drawing is scratched on the "board" with a special engraving needle. The reverse side of the plate is protected from the reagent by bitumen varnish. After that, it is placed in acid for etching. At the same time, indentations appear in the scratched places . From time to time, the plate is removed to dry and cover part of the image with varnish, and then again placed in the reagent. By changing the time the "board" is in acid, the depth of the etched contours is adjusted. After the etching process is completed, the varnish is removed using a solvent. Next , the plate is coated with a dye and wiped. The result is a ready-to -print "board". This method, as you can see, is easier than those, which are used for carved metal engraving or woodcut ( woodcut). If necessary, strokes of different widths and depths can be obtained, which makes it possible to perform the most detailed image, practically without spending any effort, since acid takes over the main work .

The method described above is called "etched stroke" and is considered the most common. Initially , the engravings were made only in this way. However , other etching techniques have been invented at various times.

Soft varnish is a method that appeared in the XVIII century. Allows you to get a freer and lighter stroke, not as sharp dry as when using a needle. The plate is covered with a soft etching varnish, which allows the use of a sufficiently weak acid. Next, paper is superimposed on it, on which a drawing is made with a pencil. At the same time, the master can use a hard or soft pencil, as well as change the pressure force. As a result, the varnish in the places of the contour of the image sticks to the paper from the reverse side. This technique is the fastest.
Aquatinta (fr. aquatinta – colored water). Invented in 1760 in France by Jean-Baptiste Leprance. When performing engravings, the plate is partially covered with rosin and placed in acid. Then it is removed and partially covered with acid-resistant composition again. The technique allows you to create tonal planes of a large range. It is considered the most common way of performing tone in etching.
Lavis (fr. lavis – shading). Also invented by Leprance in the XVII century. On a polished surface, covered with with aquatint, a drawing is applied with an etching compound, which includes a strong 40% acid and a coloring agent that allows you to see the drawing in the contours and determine it by the depth of tone. Drawing is done with watercolor brushes or fiberglass brushes. The thicker the etching compound is laid, the deeper the strength of the tone. Drawing is free, without the need for acid-resistant varnish coating, which eliminates the appearance of hard borders on the impression of tone spots. With high-quality printing, a print run creates a complete impression of a unique watercolor drawing. The substitution of one graphic technique for another is not always indisputable, and artists working in this manner use different methods of applying a rosin layer in order to obtain a different texture, which gives the impression originality and leads to undeniable artistic results. In the end, modern lavis is very close to aquatint in its external visual characteristics, but differs from it in the watercolor of the tonal spot, the softness and blurriness of the outlines of the drawing strokes. Just like aquatint, lavis is used in combination with other etching techniques, for example, with a dry needle. The technique requires special care and allows you to get a limited number of prints.
Reservation (fr. reservation – saving). The method was invented by the Frenchman F. Gillot in the 1850s. Drawing on metal is made by means of ink mixed with sugar, applied with a brush. Then the plate is covered with etching varnish and placed in warm water. As a result, the ink swells and raises the varnish particles. The acid - resistant composition is not difficult at the same time delete in places of contours. The "board" prepared in this way is lowered into the acid in the usual way. Finished prints resemble brush sketches.
Mezzotint (ital. mezzo tinto – moderate tinting). The technique was invented by the German Ludwig von Siegen in 1642. Another name is "English manner" or "black manner". The drawing on the plate processed by a special method is performed by highlighting individual sections. A special rocking tool is used to process the board. The drawing is applied using a triangular scraper. The technique allows you to transmit a picturesque manner and imitates a brushstroke.

For the first time, the technique of engraving by etching with acid was used by the Augsburg master Daniel Hopfer in 1501. Around the same time, another artist, Albrecht Durer, performs six etchings using a steel board. The most famous of the first engravings of this master is considered to be the "Big Cannon". These engravers used steel plates. However, already in the first half of the XV century , the techniques of etching on copper became known, after which this metal for a long time time becomes the main one used for engraving.

As an art form, etching reaches its heyday only in the XVII century. At this time, this technique is actively used mainly by French, Italian and Dutch masters. In Holland, this type of drawing is equated even with real painting. A great contribution to the development of etching and its exceptional recognition was made by Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1606-1669). The works of this master are still considered unsurpassed examples of graphic art. At the same time as Rembrandt, such masters as Me work in the etching technique. Livens, A. Ostade, K. Bega, E. Velde and many others. It is particularly worth noting the portrait engravings made by etching, by A. van Dyck. Along with these masters , Zh . also contributes to the development of etching . Callo, one of the most famous engravers today, who has completed more than one and a half thousand works in this technique. The modern technique of engraving of this type is distinguished by an extraordinary variety of manners. Artists are constantly improving it and experimenting, creating more and more new methods.

Etching (translated from the French "strong water") is a kind of printed graphics. The technique involves creating a pattern on a metal surface by etching lines and other elements of the image with nitrous acid, after which paint is applied to the printing plate and special paper is applied. The durability of the metal makes it possible to repeat the printing process an infinite number of times. For centuries, etching has been actively used by European masters to create illustrations and independent works of art.


The first etchings were made at the beginning of the XVI century. The new technique became an alternative to the traditional engraving, which was made with the help of incisors. The know-how was a real breakthrough: now the master worked only with a layer of acid-resistant varnish applied to the surface of a metal board, and nitrous acid did the rest for him. The use of new technology enabled engravers to create complex images in large print runs.

According to the text of the noble charter of Emperor Rudolf II, The author of the first etchings was Daniel Hopfer from Augsburg. He owns a whole series of printed graphics (portraits, landscapes, mythological and religious subjects). Hopfer's work was recognized by his contemporaries, so even during the master's lifetime, etchings became collectibles. After the first successes of the new technology, it was adopted by Albrecht Durer. He created many works on metal and copper plates, famous for their compositional perfection and careful elaboration of details.

In parallel with the German engravers , the etching technique was developed and in other European countries. In Holland , the greatest successes were achieved by X. Segers, p. Potter and Rembrandt. Here etching was used both when creating portraits of aristocrats and printing panoramas of the countryside to decorate the houses of merchants. In Italy , the technique was mastered by the masters of urban landscape J. B. Tiepolo, J. B. Piranesi. With its help, they created a large print run of Veduta pictures depicting architectural panoramas of Venice and other cities. The artistic value of such creativity was not high, but tourists willingly bought them as souvenirs.

Etching received a new impetus to the development after the emergence of Impressionism. The possibilities of the etched stroke technique were highly appreciated by O. Renoir, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and others. Separately , we should also mention the English engraver W. Blake. He managed to give the printed images even greater depth and expressiveness thanks to a combination of the principles of deep and high printing, as well as post-printing coloring of sheets. Since the twentieth century, etching has been giving way other types of printing, increasingly becoming a curiosity. Today it is used together with other techniques to create original works of art.


A copper or zinc plate is used as a blank for the printing plate . First, it is leveled, eliminating all irregularities. Then the surface is covered with a layer of acid-resistant varnish. On the surface, the engraver makes a drawing and scratches it out with needles. The thicker the line should be, the deeper you need to scratch the stroke. After that, the workpiece is placed in a bath with nitric acid and wait for several hours until it etches the metal in the places of scratches. To create complex compositions, the process of varnishing and etching can be repeated several times.

At the final stage of preparation of the printed form, its surface is cleaned of varnish and dried. After that, using a squeegee , special ink is applied to the surface of the plate, and then it is covered with etching paper. The printed sheet is carefully removed and dried. The process can be repeated an infinite number of times, but it should be remembered that each new the print will be slightly different from the previous ones. In the art market , the first printed copy from a new form is most appreciated.


Mass fascination with technology was observed until the invention of more modern methods of printmaking based on the use of new materials. Despite this, even in the twentieth century, famous artists continued to create etchings.

Pablo Picasso

The famous Spanish artist was famous for his love of experimenting with various techniques of fine art. Not surprising, that in his creative heritage you can find a lot of interesting engravings made in the etching technique. An idea of the master's style is given to us by one of his engravings entitled "A Woman with a tambourine" (1939). Picasso's work in the Nude style clearly traces the influence of the artistic principles of Cubism and Surrealism. Etching has become another milestone in the creative path of the master.

Edgar Degas

Even in the technique of etching, the artist remained faithful to the principles of impressionism. This feature of Degas' style is most vividly illustrated by the engraving "Portrait of Marguerite de Ga" (1865). Thanks to the etching of cross strokes the master managed to create the effect of the depth of space and enhance the contrast between the dark background and the bright face of a young girl. In the etched stroke technique Degas created portraits and landscapes.

Francisco Goya

With the help of gravure printing, Goya created a series of interesting works called "Caprichos". It included about 80 engravings, printed no later than 1799. With the help of fantasy plots and creatures, Goya invites the viewer to reflect on the paradoxes and bizarre twists of the human lives. The engravings bear the imprint of the artist's gloomy worldview.

Albrecht Durer

The German master worked out every detail of the print with special care. The result of his efforts were hundreds of magnificent engravings on religious and secular subjects. The idea of Durer as an engraver is given by a series of works called "Apocalypse". It included 15 large sheets with images and texts on the reverse side. The choice of subjects was not accidental for Durer. Apocalyptic stories were very popular in Germany XV-XVI centuries. in connection with the political fragmentation and social instability of the German principalities.


Etchings for Rembrandt became the love of his life. In addition to his works, he also collected engravings by other masters. The fanaticism with which the artist approached art classes did not allow him to present etchings to the public, which, in his opinion, were far from perfect. Because of this, he could alter the printed form many times, carefully working through each stroke. For example, above the etching "Christ healing the sick (A sheet of one hundred guilders) " the master worked for 7 years. To date , 289 works by Rembrandt are known.

William Blake

The author of the technique of relief etching in the eyes of his contemporaries looked like an eccentric romantic. But this unfortunate circumstance did not interfere Blake to devote himself to engravings with an intricate plot. With great patience and care, the master worked through every detail. Blake's efforts were rewarded with stunning engravings in their depth and quality, as far away from the print mainstream as possible. Blake used his knowledge and skills to creating an author's book. Printed in it were not only images, but also texts. To enhance the expressiveness, the prints were additionally painted with watercolor paints. After Blake , other artists began to create their own books.

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