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Aquatint: From Its Origins to Goya

Past Exhibition

October 24, 2021 – February 21, 2022
West Building, Ground Floor, Galleries 30–34

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the blossoming of a new printmaking technique—aquatint—vastly expanded possibilities for creating and disseminating images across Europe. Aquatints offered the unprecedented means to mimic the gestural brushstrokes and subtle tonal variations of ink, wash (diluted ink), and watercolor drawings. Produced in multiples, aquatints were avidly collected by enthusiasts as a form of visual instruction, an intellectual pursuit, and a social pastime.

Typically printed in an array of brown and black inks, these compositions engaged viewers with scenes of faraway places, scientific phenomena, and imaginary visions. The atmosphere of excitement and intrigue around the innovation of aquatint aligned with the Enlightenment period’s preoccupation with discoveries and advances in knowledge. Most of these selected works from the National Gallery’s exceptional collection of early aquatints have never been on public view. 

Explore Selected Works

Except where noted, all works in the exhibition are from the collection of the National Gallery of Art. 

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