Dedication Page to ‘Etchings by John Sell Cotman’

Dedication page
John Sell Cotman
Dedication Page to ‘Etchings by John Sell Cotman’, 1811
Private collection
Photograph: Professor David Hill

Dedication Page for ‘Etchings by John Sell Cotman’, 1811

Line etching, image size 299 x 222 [irregular] mm on plate 304 x 225 mm, printed [as published in D.B.Murphy volume; see below] in black ink on heavyweight, soft, wove paper, watermarked ‘1810’, 475 x 340 mm

Inscribed in plate as part of image as if written on a large scroll ‘To/ Sir H C Englefield Baronet / Vice President of the Society of Antiquaries and Fellow of the Royal and Linnaean Societies [ampersand]c [ampersand]c [ampersand]c. / Dear Sir / The favour with which the public have honoured these first efforts of my graver, and the kindness with which you yourself have been pleased to receive them, have so far exceeded my expectation tht I have been induced to take a liberty I should not otherwise have thought of, that of sending them out under the sanction of a Dedication to you. I am aware Sir, that your character is too well established as a most liberal and enlightened patron of everything that appertains to the arts for any praises of mine to add to it, but to me it is material that it should be known that through life I have uniformly been honoured with your patronage and thus, while I discharge a debt of gratitude, I most effectually serve my interest and gratify my vanity / I have the honour to be Dear Sir / your most obliged and most devoted Servant / John Sell Cotman / London / July 1st 1811’; and faintly on scroll to right: ‘ETCHINGS/ By/ John Sell Cotman’, on plate bottom centre of subject on palette ‘THE…/?TONG…/PA../S’; and in plate in script lower left: ‘J.S.Cotman Inv & Sc’

Collection: Examples in various collections, e.g. Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM :

References: Popham, no.2

This is a decorative capriccio, showing a double-headed eagle carrying an armorial shield, and a sprig of laurel, alighting on a large scroll bearing the legend ‘ ‘To/ Sir H C Englefield Baronet / Vice President of the Society of Antiquaries and Fellow of the Royal and Linnaean Societies [ampersand]c [ampersand]c [ampersand]c. / Dear Sir / The favour with which the public have honoured these first efforts of my graver, and the kindness with which you yourself have been pleased to receive them, have so far exceeded my expectation tht I have been induced to take a liberty I should not otherwise have thought of, that of sending them out under the sanction of a Dedication to you. I am aware Sir, that your character is too well established as a most liberal and enlightened patron of everything that appertains to the arts for any praises of mine to add to it, but to me it is material that it should be known that through life I have uniformly been honoured with your patronage and thus, while I discharge a debt of gratitude, I most effectually serve my interest and gratify my vanity / I have the honour to be Dear Sir / your most obliged and most devoted Servant / John Sell Cotman / London / July 1st 1811’; and faintly on scroll to right: ‘ETCHINGS/ By/ John Sell Cotman’, on plate bottom centre of subject on palette ‘THE…/?TONG…/PA../S’; and in plate in script lower left: ‘J.S.Cotman Inv & Sc’ and in graphite by unknown hand ’70’ [the plate number as bound in that particular volume].

This is the second in the sequence of 26 etchings published together by Cotman in 1811 under the title: ‘Etchings by John Sell Cotman’. It is, however, the last dated of all the plates.

The series as a whole shows Cotman’s development from modest and sometimes faltering beginnings to some degree of mastery of his craft. One endearing feature is that many of the plates have mistakes in the lettering – which is particularly difficult in etching since it all has to be inscribed in reverse. This plate was particularly high-risk, but Cotman carries it off faultlessly. It also exhibits Cotman’s lifelong fascination with literary, antiquarian and armorial conceits. The double-headed eagle here is really rather splendid.

Sir Henry Englefield (1752-1822) was a prominent connoisseur and collector, and a prestigious supporter and patron to Cotman especially in his earlier years. He was probably the most distinguished dedicatee available to Cotman at this time, and the dedication is elegant, if not to say positively noble, in expression.

The general idea is in many ways comparable to Turner’s antiquarian and illustrative designs on the theme of ‘Fairfaxiana’, which he made just a few years later for his patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall.

In 1835 Cotman sold the majority of his remaining stock of his copper plates to the publisher H.G.Bohn. Bohn specialised in turning a profit from stalled or failed printmaking projects and in 1838 produced a two-volume edition of two hundred and thirty eight Cotman etchings under the title of ‘Specimens of Architectural Remains in various Counties in England, but especially in Norfolk. Etched by John Sell Cotman Esq., with Architectural Observations by Thomas Rickman Esq.’. These were finely printed on good quality paper.

Bohn dedication page
John Sell Cotman
Specimens of Architectural Remains in various Counties in England, but especially in Norfolk: Dedication page to Volume 1, 1838
Private collection
Photograph: Professor David Hill

Bohn reworked some of the plates, mostly lightly where he thought they needed touching up. In this case this plate was used as a dedication plate to the new edition, binding it immediately before the printed title page to volume 1. In this case the reworking is significant. Most obviously the Englefield shield has been reworked. The new crest is more in line with the Englefield crest as most commonly given, and Bohn presumably felt that a correction was necessary. On the other hand it is hard to see that Cotman can have been mistaken. He presumably took the guidance of his patron, who was after all, vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries. Possibly the answer lies in Sir Henry Englefield’s death in 1822, when the baronetcy of Wooton Bassett that he held, became extinct. The double headed eagle has also been extensively reworked to deepen the tone throughout. The new work is not entirely a success. There is a small but unsightly patch of foul-biting behind the eagle’s right head.

Dedication page detail
Detail of shield from 1811 impression
Bohn dedication page detail
Detail of shield from 1838 impression

It also has to be said, however that Bohn worked the plates very hard, taking several hundred impressions from each, and there is a perceptible lightening and weakening between early and late impressions.

Summary of known states:
First published state, as issued by Cotman 1811. Examples in various collections e.g. Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : FAP211
Second published state, as issued 1838 by H.G.Bohn as dedication page to Volume I of ‘Specimens of Architectural Remains in various Counties in England, but especially in Norfolk’, with reworked shield and darkened eagle. Various collections

Last update by Prof David Hill, 07 March 2019

Dedication page detail tailpiece

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