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April 2011: J.M.W.Turner's Liber Studiorum, 1807-1819


Turner’s Liber Studiorum first appeared in 1807 and throughout the next twelve years 71 of an intended 100 prints were irregularly issued. It was planned that Turner should do the preliminary etchings and that the mezzotint should be added under his direction, by Charles Turner, one of the foremost mezzotinters of the day. Unfortunately a difference of opinion after only 20 plates meant that to complete the remaining 51 prints, Turner had to employ eight more engravers as well as mezzotinting 11 plates himself. They are of the greatest significance being, apart from eleven works for the ‘Little Liber’, the only finished prints totally by Turner. They show the artist’s absolute mastery of the medium and stand amongst the most innovative mezzotints in the history of printmaking. Such experience was invaluable when it came to Turner’s supervision over his engravers. His involvement was fully appreciated by W.G. Rawlinson who wrote, ‘Turner was in the habit of constantly visiting Lahees’ printing office to watch the effects of new plates, and the results of his alterations and repairs of old ones. Standing by the press he would examine each impression as it came off, and with a needle, scraper or burnisher make such changes or retouches on the cooper as thought desirable, sometimes, indeed, getting the plate in such a condition that it had to be entirely reworked”.

Thus the format of a preliminary etched design by Turner with mezzotint added under his guidance came into being, and the prints were issued under the following classifications: Architectural, Pastoral, Marine, Historical and Mountains. The corresponding initial letters, A., P., E.P., M., H., Ms or M appear on each plate above the subject.

Ignoring its financial failure and its untimely end, the Liber Studiorum was a complete success in displaying, as intended, the artist’s full powers of expression and richly deserves the accolade bestowed upon it by W.G Rawlinson, “For all time it will be regarded as a monumental work of art, and it will take rank with the highest productions of the greatest landscape painter which the world has yet seen”.

Mezzotints by Frank Short

The last twelve items in this exhibition comprise the work of Frank Short who devoted a large part of his career to reproducing work from the 'Liber Studiorum' and in so doing resurrected the art of mezzotint in England. Apart from copies of published prints he created sixteen new plates some of which reproduced Turner's unpublished works, of which only a few proofs existed. Others designs for the series, which Turner had never committed to copper, were made into etchings and mezzotints by Short. These were exhibited by Dunthorne, in 1897, and the catalogue was prefaced, 'New Mezzotints by Frank Short completing the Book as arranged by Turner'. These included a large proportion of Turner's finest and most characteristic subjects.

Short's 'Liber' was received with enthusiasm by all the lovers of Turner's art, including Ruskin who helped the young artist in creating these exquisite prints.

'Dear Mr Short, - Are these lovely things really for me to keep? Any one of them would have been a dazzling birthday present for me; but above all gifts, the pleasure of seeing such work done again, and knowing that the worker is as happy as he is strong in it, lights the spring of the year for me more than the most cloudless sunshine on its golden hills. You are doing all these things as well as they can be done - and I believe Turner has got through Purgatory by this time, and his first stage in Paradise is at your elbow..' - J. Ruskin.

The dates of all the works are when published and not date of creation. Several of the prints are in original condition and a description will be suppled on demand. Any necessary restoration will not be charged for.

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Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Interior of a Church', 1819.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey', 1812.
Turner, J.M.W (1775-1851), 'Berry Pomeroy' or 'Raglan', 1816.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Bridge and Cows', 1807.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Jason', 1807
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'The Castle Above the Meadows', 1808.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Frontispiece', 1812.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Mt. St. Gothard', 1808.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'The Bridge in the Middle Distance', 1808.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Dunstanborough Castle', 1808
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851) 'The Farmyard with Cock', 1809.
Turner, J. M. W. (1775-1851), 'Drawing of the Clyde', 1809.
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