Plate IIII from “XII Views in Aquatinta from Drawings taken on the Spot in South-Wales Dedicated to the Honourable Charles Greville and Ioseph Banks Esquire by Their Grateful and much Obliged Servant Paul Sandby. R.A. MDCCLXXV”
These important sheets (together with Two Brigands Frightening Three Fisherfolk, 1771) date to the dawn of aquatint printing in Britain. Aquatint is an intaglio (“recessed-line”) printmaking process that uses an etching ground composed of particles of resin to incise the plate. Its ability to replicate the tonal effects of ink washes made it especially popular in late-eighteenth-century Britain, as painting in watercolor began its ascendency.
North West View of St. Donats Castle in Glamorgan Shire was made by Britian’s best-known early practitioner of aquatint, Paul Sandy, who adopted the technique in 1774, and published his first set of aquatints—to which the present example belongs—in 1775. The often-repeated story that Burdett sold the secret of the aquatint technique to an associate of Sandby, who in turn taught it to Sandy, may be exaggerated: since Sandby’s aquatints bear no technical resemblance to Burdett’s, the traded information more likely concerned hints for preparing or printing a plate.
Sandy—a military draftsman and fine artist who helped establish the stylistic conventions for landscape painting in watercolor—would name and popularize the aquatint technique. St. Donats Castle presents a view Sandby recorded during an innovative sketching tour of Wales, whose picturesque scenery was still unfamiliar to most artists. The printed washline mount replicates the hand-painted framing apparatus used for watercolors. The virtuosic contrasts of white paper with subtle passages of tone seem to animate the clouds.