Last month’s post from me (your friendly neighborhood art historian) looked at trial proofs and progressive proofs (see Proof prints, part one). As promised, here’s a look at a third kind of proof in printmaking: proofs that aren’t really “proofs” as such, just “proofy,” to adapt Stephen Colbert’s terminology. Traditionally, a proof is a test impression of some sort, something not meant for sale. But print connoisseurs began to value proofs for their rarity, their unfinished aesthetic, and their fresh, unworn clarity. Writing in the 1690s, Roger North explained:
But above all a proof print is most esteemed. Which is an impression before the plate is finisht; done for the satisfaction of the graver, who perhaps while he is at work, will often roll off a sheet, to see how the draught proves, that he may mend or alter if he sees caus[e]. And these proof prints are known by some unfinished part, that appears. 1
Consider this unpublished proof of a design by Henry Fuseli, for instance:
- Roger North. Notes of Me: The Autobiography of Roger North, edited by Peter Millard. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000, page 247.
This is a Sketch by Fuseli himself for the Figure of Sly in the Play of Taming the Shrew, which he afterwards adopted with some slight alteration v. octavo Plate, Chalmers’s Edition.
This Plate was the Proof sent by Sherwin to Fuseli, before the engraving was finished: — Fuseli made it a rule in any capital Engraving made from Paintings or Drawings by him — to have Impressions taken from the plates in various stages of [it?] – v. the many Impressions taken from the Scene of the Witches’ meeting Macbeth on the Heath of which 5 proofs in different stages were in my possession, & make a part of my Collection, one of the having corrections by Fuseli himself for the Engraver.
- “India paper, n. 2. A soft absorbent paper originally imported from China and used esp. for high quality prints and illustrations.” OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/94407 (accessed June 25, 2013).
- Scratched letter proof: an unfinished print where the lettering is lightly etched in the lower margin, ostensibly as a guide for the lettering engraver.
- Remarque proof: a print where the etcher’s marginal designs, originally intended as tests, have not (yet) been removed. See, for example, Folger ART File S527 no.359 copy 3 and Folger ART File S898c1 no.108 copy 1.
- Joseph Maberly. The Print Collector: An Introduction to the Knowledge Necessary for Forming a Collection of Ancient Prints. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Company, 1880, pages 34-35.
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