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Elizabeth Beauclerk (1766–1793)

P.124-1943 Elizabeth was the daughter of Diana and Topham Beauclerk (pronounced 'Bo-Clare'). Their combined lineage forms an impressive family tree: Elizabeth's great-great grandparents on her father’s side were Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn, and on her mother’s side Elizabeth was connected to two of the greatest aristocratic families in the country. Diana Beauclerk was the eldest daughter of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough and Diana’s younger sister, also called Elizabeth, married into the Herbert family, Dukes of Pembroke. In 1787 the bonds between the two families were strengthened further when Elizabeth Beauclerk married her first cousin, George, Lord Herbert. In 1794 George inherited his father’s titles and became 11th Earl of Pembroke and 8th Earl of Montgomery, and Elizabeth the Countess.

Diana Beauclerk was an amateur artist whose designs became well-known through the bas-reliefs of Josiah Wedgewood. Her work also reached the print-purchasing public, as her designs were reproduced using the newly-invented stipple printmaking technique. A double portrait of Diana’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, was reproduced in stipple by the printmaker Francesco Bartolozzi, who was the dominating figure in the history of stipple printmaking in the period.

This print featured this month is a stipple by an artist called Thomas Watson (1748-1781) (who is actually more widely known for his mezzotint prints). Stipple is an intaglio technique, meaning that like engraving and etching, ink is printed from a metal plate from incised marks. In practical terms, stipple is the same as etching, as the printmaker creates the image by exposing the metal beneath an etching ground. The printmaker might draw a line outline of his design with an etching needle, but the main work is done by building up areas of tone. For this the printmaker uses a special tool with a flat head covered in a random pattern of protruding dots or curves, which he or she presses into the etching ground. Thomas Watson was also a printseller, with a shop on New Bond street which he managed in partnership with Wililam Dickinson. As well as selling mezzotint portrait prints pulled from Watson’s own plates, they also sold stipples of popular designs after artists such as Henry Bunbury and Angelica Kauffman.

Not only was there a good market for stipple prints, but also for impressions printed in colour, such as this print by Watson. Colour printing is a feature of the period at the end of the 18th century. The term refers to coloured inks being applied to the metal plate, rather than colour being applied by hand after an impression has been taken. The same printing plate was used for impressions printed in a single colour as those printed in multiple colours, which means that to print a coloured impression the printmaker would need to ‘paint’ the printing plate. The printmaker or printer would decide on a dominant tint with which to ink the entire plate. He or she would then wipe most of the inks out of the incised lines, leaving just enough to harmonise the overall effect of the other various coloured inks which would now be applied. This required utmost care and precision of application. The utensil required for applying and blending the inks was a rag on a stick, which resembled a rag doll, which in French is a poupée. Coloured inks applied in this way are called à la poupée. After an impression had been taken from the plate, the inks would have to be freshly applied for the next printing. This means that coloured impressions always differ from each other.

Watson’s print is after a painting by Joshua Reynolds who was president of the Royal Academy and one of Topham Beauclerk’s close friends. The print was published in 1782, two years after Topham’s death and one year after Watson’s. Reynolds painted this portrait of Elizabeth represented as Una, one of the figures in the late 16th century epic poem The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser. Una, her companion the Redcrosse Knight and the other figures they encounter are allegories for institutions or abstract concepts. Una, who at one point in the poem meets a lion which willingly submits to her because is senses her goodness, stands for Truth and Protestantism. This seems to have made the figure a popular choice for the representation of young girls: George Stubbs’ painting of the 16-year old Isabella Salstonstall as Una was painted in the same year as Watson’s print was on sale, see PD.45-1971

See other objects in the collection relating to Una and the Lion:
Mid-nineteenth century porcelain figure group of Una and the Lion C.1-1973
Agnes Miller Parker for the book published by the Limited Editions Club, New York 1953 P.249-2003

Click here to see prints after Diana Beauclerk
Click here to see prints after Joshua Reynolds
Click here to see other stipple prints in the collection

Museum Number P.4801-R

A selection of colour-printed stipples and mezzotint prints from the reserve collection will be on display in Gallery 16 until mid September 2009.