A Book of British Etching: From Francis Barlow to Francis Seymour Haden

By Walter Shaw Sparrow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE ETCHING CLUB AND ITS INFLUENCE, 1838-1880

I

IT was an original idea that suggested an Etching Club. It came to a group of young artists whose aims, within chosen limits, "were quite English, you know," and whose initial work was contemporary with The Art Journal's first efforts, which began in 1839 under S. C. Hall's editorship. These two enterprises, the Etching Club and The Art Journal, were ahead of everything that the French were doing then, but they had no congenial help to expect if they failed to comply with ruling fashions, social and artistic.

Both made mistakes, of course. The Club's attitude towards profits, which might come with Fortune as a friend, was a bad blunder in principle, whatever it may have been in practice. Members agreed that profits would be shared on the visible or apparent amount of time which they had put into their published plates. They were thinking here of production costs, arguing that time occupied with etching withdrew them from their work as painters, and claimed from them also different proportions of those daily living expenses which continued throughout the year. But artists cannot weigh and measure Merit by the time it has taken to produce, as tradesmen do, because a fine thing in Art achieved swiftly, perhaps in a day, or less, ranks higher than any inferior piece of work that devours time as greedily as do debates on a Budget. Merit in Art is a conquest over Time, present and future. So little has it to do with its author's living expenses that its recognition may not begin till its author is dead, as in J. S. Cotman's case.

When the Club's first volume was brought out, in 1841, it offered book-lovers a style of idyllic prettiness which would be very difficult

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