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Modification of Market: John Smith and the Mezzotint Print in Eighteenth-Century England

  • Author(s): Ridel, Amanda-Nicole
  • Advisor(s): Baker, Malcolm
  • et al.

The starting point for this paper was Anthony Griffiths' short twelve page article, "Early Mezzotint Publishing in England--I John Smith, 1652-1743." Griffiths' focus in the article was a rather obscure artist of the late-seventeenth-early-eighteenth-century, John Smith (1652-1743). With a decidedly unassuming name, it is not difficult to imagine that such an individual might easily be forgotten to history. However, what Mr. Griffiths' rightly points out is that Smith was considered the premier artist of the mezzotint printing technique of his time.

Until this moment, the British struggled to establish themselves in the artistic world. The empire typically relied on expatriates of other nations and the imported techniques they brought with them to provide the nation with an artistic identity. Such was the case with the mezzotint technique. Popularized during the seventeenth-century by Dutch artists, mezzotint was well suited to the replication of portraits. It became so extensively used in England, that internationally it was known as la manière anglaise. With Smith, the English found themselves a national artist and technique.

Smith's earliest prints were completed under the direction of other print publishers. However by 1689, Smith acquired the workshop of his publisher, Isaac Beckett, and began a long-standing business relationship with the portraitist Godfrey Kneller. With the acquisition, Smith was no longer simply an artist. He was now both printmaker and publisher in absolute control of his market.

England's eighteenth century portrait print market is understood as a multilayered industry dependent on the cooperation of several autonomous key agents closely working together: the portrait painter, printmaker, patron, publisher and sitter. The complex roles of these individuals were often not clearly defined and generally complicated the market's business structure. This paper will focus on the question of the conception of authorship and originality that were possible in a market that encouraged the displacement of its structural order and dependent on multiplicity.

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