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John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints and The Mainstone Press

December 9, 2019

John Piper was one of the leading artists of the 20th century Modern British Art Movement. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, ceramicist, writer, designer and printmaker. Piper’s 1939 illustrations for the book ‘Brighton Aquatints’, have been credited with the revival of the aquatint as a 20th century print medium in Britain.

The book consists of twelve aquatints of Brighton.

Two hundred standard copies were printed and a further fifty-five copies were hand-coloured by the artist.

The prints were not signed, although Piper did sign and dedicate some copies of the book. Modern auction house sales have reached between £2000 and £8000 for rare or signed editions.

The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

This YouTube video tells us more.

Issued in the first months of the Second World War, Brighton Aquatints with it’s luxurious limited edition of 250 copies, was both strangely inappropriate and perfectly on cue for its time.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the book, Norfolk publisher, The Mainstone Press, has released a new, updated edition with an extended Introduction by Alan Powers – the noted historian of graphic arts of the mid-century – to dig deeper into the story behind the book.

It’s a lovely volume, with over 100 pages detailing each of the prints and additional insights into the spirit of the late 1930’s as a remarkable period of transition.

If you would like to purchase this fabulous book you can do so here at The Mainstone Press. Another fascinating piece of history now available to own.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Day permalink
    December 23, 2019 8:29 am

    Happy Christmas !
    Many thanks for all your wonderful posts through the year.

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