Accession #: 1984.0076
According to one historian, “a mezzotint is a distinctive tonal print made using a copper plate that is worked or ‘grounded’ using a semi-circular fine-toothed hand tool known as a ‘rocker’ so that the entire surface is roughened by tiny pits.” The plate can then be covered with ink before being pressed against paper to produce a print. According to the dictionary, a mezzotint is the method referred to as well as the print produced from such a plate.
This mezzotint, one of two in Wilton's collection, was made from an engraving by John Sartain in 1840 which he based on a painting by Edward Savage completed in “Philadelphia in the year 1796." Under the proper right corner of the print is: “Painted by Edward Savage," in the center “Published by Wm. Smith 3rd St. Philadelphia,” and under the proper left corner of the print: “Engraved by J. Sartain.” Underneath the print are the names of those depicted in painting, from the viewer’s left to right: George Washington Parke Custis, General George Washington, Eleanor Parke Custis, Martha Washington, and William Lee. The print depicts Washington as he sits at a table with his right arm resting on the shoulder of George Washington Parke Custis, who stands behind him. Across the table, on which is a map, sits Mrs. Washington pointing a folded fan to part of the map. Standing to her right is Eleanor Parke Custis. Standing behind Mrs. Washington is “Billy Lee, who was Washington’s body servant throughout the war” and “in the background is the noble aspect of the Potomac River as seen from Mt. Vernon.” The mezzotint is lacking in a detailed view of the Potomac River, as is the case with the print from which it was produced.
John Sartain was born in London in 1808 and began as an apprentice to John Swaine in 1823, from whom he learned heraldry and letter engraving. In 1830, after marrying John Swaine’s daughter he moved to Philadelphia, Pennslvania. From there, he produced engravings for Graham’s Magazine in 1841. Eight years later, Sartain started publishing his own magazine, Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Alan Poe were among some of its notable contributors.
Savage had been commissioned by Harvard College to paint a portrait of Washington from life while the president was in New York and in the winter of 1789-90 he painted George and Martha Washington. Savage’s grandson, “supposes that he [Savage] used these portraits of George and Martha Washington for the family group [painting].” The engraving of the Washington family was done by Sartain from a lithograph of the work by Savage and not from the actual painting. Details in Savage’s work are not included in Sartain’s engraving, which a journalist for the New York Times, writing in 1892 about the works by the two, states, “prove that Sartain must have worked without the aid of painting or engraving.”
|Original painting by Edward Savage|
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“Mezzotint”. Dictionary.com. 24 August 2012.
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