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Aquatint: From Its Origins to Goya

Upcoming Exhibition

October 24, 2021 – February 21, 2022
West Building, Ground Floor, Inner Tier

A new printmaking technique—aquatint—swept through 18th-century Europe, yielding an extraordinary range of works, from images of erupting volcanoes, amorous couples, and mysterious tombs, to Russian exotica, biting caricatures, and moonlit vistas. The first American exhibition to survey the medium’s development in France, England, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, Aquatint: From Its Origins to Goya presents some 100 early and exceptional impressions, many of which have recently been acquired by the National Gallery of Art. By supplementing the line work of etching, aquatint offered an exciting method for multiplying ink-and-wash drawings that render tone in subtle ways.

Aquatint flourished outside the official circles of European art academies in the hands of three kinds of artists—professional printmakers, amateurs (art lovers), and peintre-graveurs (painter-printmakers). Each played a distinctive and significant role in publicizing, disseminating, and advancing the aquatint medium. Professional printmakers combined it with other intaglio printmaking techniques to reproduce highly prized drawings by old master and contemporary artists. Amateurs, an elite group of like-minded collectors, embraced drawing, etching, and aquatint to not only expand their art-historical and connoisseurial knowledge, but also cultivate relationships with artists. Peintre-graveurs revisited, re-created, and circulated their designs through aquatint to build their reputations and broaden their audiences, dramatically expanding the formal vocabulary and expressive potential of the medium.

Selected Works

Supported by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust and written by Rena Hoisington, curator and head of old master prints at the National Gallery of Art, a book illustrated with rare works from the National Gallery’s collection of early aquatints accompanies the exhibition. It provides an engaging narrative about the medium’s flourishing as a cross-cultural and cosmopolitan phenomenon that contributed to the rise of art publishing, connoisseurship, leisure travel, and drawing instruction as well as the spread of neoclassicism.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

The exhibition is curated by Rena M. Hoisington, curator and head of the department of old master prints, National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust.

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Paul Sandby, Caernarvon Castle (Night), 1776, etching and aquatint printed in brown on laid paper, Gift of Ruth B. Benedict, 1994.60.58