Aquatint Worlds: Travel, Print, and Empire

Friday, March 18, 2022
10 am | Virtual

Douglas Fordham, Professor of Art History, UVA, 2016-2017 Mellon Fellow

Respondent: Tom Young, Lecturer of Art History, University of Warwick

In the late 18th century, British artists embraced the medium of aquatint for its ability to produce prints with rich and varied tones that became even more stunning with the addition of color. At the same time, the expanding purview of the British empire created a market for images of far-away places. Book publishers quickly seized on these two trends and began producing travel books illustrated with aquatint prints of Indian cave temples, Chinese waterways, African villages, and more. Offering a close analysis of three exceptional publications—Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery (1795–1808), William Alexander’s Costume of China (1797–1805), and Samuel Daniell’s African Scenery and Animals (1804–5)—this volume examines how aquatint became a preferred medium for the visual representation of cultural difference, and how it subtly shaped the direction of Western modernism.

Fordham's book takes a particularly close look at the representation of the cave temples of western India, the indigenous and white settler communities of southern Africa, and the Macartney expedition to Qing China. Artists in each of these locations returned to London to collaborate with a team of printmakers, hand-colorists, booksellers, and distributors to produce some of the most beautiful and innovative picture books of the modern era.