Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research
02.2010news painter

Now Live - Royal Society of Painters and Printmakers online archive

Database launch
venue: www.archives.uwe.ac.uk
dates: February 2010
produced by: dr paul thirkell and vikki hill
funded by: ahrc
print: edgar holloway self portrait, 1932

Senior Research fellow Dr Paul Thirkell and Research Associate Vikki Hill have completed a Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Diploma collection Archive. Paul was the principal investigator on the AHRC funded project ‘Creating an On-line Interactive Database to Aid Research into Historic Printmaking Processes and Techniques’, which started in 2007 in partnership with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Bankside Gallery in London. This is the 3rd in a series of CFPR databases that has been produced using data generated by Thirkell‘s research. Previous databases include the collotype database 2003, CFPR web and the Woodburytype Database 2004.

Paul Thirkell and Vikki Hill have documented most of the RE Diploma Collection which is currently stored at the Ashmolean Museum and have created a searchable database of images, technical processes and biographies which quantifies the history of Printmaking within the social context of a Royal Society spanning 125 years.

The importance of the collection of the Painter-Printmakers lies in the fact that it contains examples from a very diverse range of printmakers, including both established and emerging artists, and so gives an accurate representation of the differing technical trends and aesthetics throughout the history of printmaking. It also contains examples of all printing process and prints. The aim of this proposal is to create a valid social and historical context for these prints to be viewed through. The structure of the database will be such that it will provide a context for both the technical aspects of the various printing processes as well as supplying a historical context relating to the issue of whether the work produced by these printmakers was original or reproductive in nature.

The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, originally known as the Society of Painter-Etchers, was established in 1880 by Francis Seymour Haden, one of the most renowned British printmakers of the time. The society was set up in answer to the grievance felt by printmakers at their exclusion from the Royal Academy, founded in 1768, which limited its members to painters, sculptors and architects. Printmakers were excluded as they were seen to be primarily reproductive artists whose greatest achievement was ‘in translating with as little loss as possible the beauties of ‘Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.’’1 Although the Royal Academy created a new class of Academician Engravers and Associate Engravers for printmakers reproducing the work of the painters in 1853, there was no recognition of original etchers. There were a few reasons for this, mainly that the original etchers of the time were regarded as being ‘rebels such as Barry, Blake and his followers, or caricaturists, who were regarded as below the salt, or provincial artists like the Norwich School, or Scots, most notably Wilkie and Geddes.’2 Haden wished to form a society that recognised and promoted artists who created “original” and creative etchings.

At a preliminary meeting a resolution was passed to hold an exhibition ‘as comprehensive as possible of the works of the best living etchers’ in order to obtain an adequate representation of the art of original engraving in all its forms as it exists at present’3, in order to ascertain whether ‘the material existed for the formation of a Society having for its further promotion.’ The second purpose of this exhibition was to provide a constituency to elect the first fellows to this society. The only exclusion to the exhibition was that etched copies of artworks could not be accepted although original works by copyist etchers could be submitted. The Society has held an exhibition of members’ works every year since its inception. The Society’s archives include portfolios of work by three past Presidents, Seymour Haden, Frank Short and Robert Austin, a pen and ink drawing by James Tissot, letters to the engraver Thomas Lupton (1791 - 1873), letters and photographs of Malcolm Osborne PRE in service in Egypt and Palestine 1917 - 1918, and the scientific papers of Sir Frank Short PRE amongst which is an account book of JMW Turner’s engraver, WB Cooke.

Since the formation of the Society it has built up a collection of elected members work, this collection is currently held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Link on Bankside Gallery, RE website

Stand-alone versions of the database, which can run on any computer and do not require the user to have the software used to build the database on their computer can be created on CD, these can be requested and supplied to researchers who wish to study the collection in depth.


Further information on the cfpr website:
To access the Printmaker archive, click on the following link, and enter 'print' as both the Username and Password.
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