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Aquatint is a variety of etching used to create tonal values and is named for the effect it creates as the finished prints look like ink or watercolor washes. Jan Van de Velde, a printmaker invented the technique “aquatint” around 1650 in Amsterdam and it was coined by Paul Sandby in England to measure the channel’s capacity to produce the effect of color on the plate. After the plate is dusted with finely powdered resin, it is heated until the resin melts and hardens after cooling. Aqua fortis or acid is then applied to the metal plate as it bites the gaps around the resin grains. This allows dark tones to furnish depending upon how deeply the acid has penetrated the plate. Aquatint as a method became popularized in the late 18th century and the Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya is considered the master of this method. Artists like Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt also experimented with this technique in their works.


Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos), 1799, Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and burin; Image: 8 7/16 x 5 7/8”.