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Portrait of Paul Sandby Drawing at an Open Window. Mezzotint after Francis Cotes. 39.2 x 27.8 cm. (1763). Le Blanc 21.
Edward Fisher, who had been working as a mezzotint engraver in London since 1758, was admitted to the Society of Artists in 1766. He soon won high esteem as a reproductive engraver. In 1762, Horace Walpole mentioned him in the same breath as Richard Houston and James McArdell, holding up the three of them as innovators of the mezzotint technique. Fisher first won popular acclaim with reproductive engravings after paintings by Joshua Reynolds, who dominated the London art scene at the time.
Fisher exploited the mezzotint technique to the full. In his work, fine craftsmanship and mastery of drawing combine to produce evocative prints such as this sensitive portrait of Paul Sandby, who was almost the same age as the artist and destined to go down in history as the "father of English water-colour painting". English portraiture of the Georgian period is distinguished by a high degree of sophistication, which is expressed not only in a very refined style of painting, but also in the iconographical subtlety of its aristocratic imagery. The Portrait of Sandby is a good example of these multiple levels of interpretation. It is at once formal and informal, and this deliberate ambivalence lends the portrait its peculiar charm. On the one hand we see a man of rank, who is dressed like a nobleman. The artist is sat on a window bench drawing a motive after nature that has caught his eye outside. The carefully dressed hair, expensive clothing and the fine lace-trimmed shirt with the fashionably frilled cuffs indicate his social status. Despite this concession to the decorum of his day, however, the pose is studiously casual and nonchalant, and here we see Sandby the artist. His coat and waistcoat are unbuttoned so as not to hinder him in his work. He leans out of the window, notes down what he sees in his sketchbook and communes in creative concentration with the natural world around him. Fisher’s mezzotint technique turns out to be the right instrument for capturing the gentle lyricism and intimacy of the scene. The smooth fabrics and folds of the elegant clothing are rendered with subtlety, and Sandby’s observant, fine-featured face is also depicted with great sensitivity. Soft light illuminates the artist’s upper body, countenance and hands, imbuing the scene with a poetry of its own.
A very fine, delicate and harmonious impression with margins around the platemark. Minimal aging, otherwise in impeccable condition.