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Richard Earlom
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An English reproductive printmaker and draftsman, Richard Earlom is best known for his inventive combination of two printmaking techniques, etching and mezzotint, in creating 300 plates after drawings by Claude Lorrain (1604-1682) and other prints reproducing paintings in the collection formed by Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), known as “The Houghton Gallery” after Walpole’s Houghton Hall. Earlom was born in 1743 in London, the son of a church clerk. A precocious artist, he won a prize for drawings by children from the Society of Arts in 1757, and went on to win prizes from the Society annually through 1766. His drawing “A Dancing Faun” won a prize in 1762 from the Free Society of Artists. Earlom studied under the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785), who was then working in London, but the dates are uncertain. Supposedly Earlom so admired Cipriani’s decorations on the coach of London’s Lord Mayor that the young man persuaded his father to let him study with Cipriani. By 1764 Earlom was working for the London publisher and print dealer John Boydell (1719-1804), who published six reproductive prints by Earlom in 1766, three etchings and three combining etching and mezzotint. Earlom also worked on drawings and plates for Boydell’s multi-volume series, “A Collection of Prints Engraved after the Most Capital Paintings in England.” The series eventually included 571 prints, published between 1769 and 1792. Earlom provided designs for some 34 of the earlier prints, engraved by others, in addition to nine he engraved himself. Probably in 1773 Earlom and other artists were sent to Houghton Hall to begin preparing detailed drawings for The Houghton Gallery series, which the artists later used to create the plates. They had completed their preparatory drawings by 1779 when the Houghton Hall collection was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796). Of the twenty-six plates created by Earlom for the series, perhaps the most famous is “Flower Piece” (1778, Rubinstein 1-60) after a painting by Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), which combines complex and detailed etching with subtle mezzotint. Other notable prints in the series by Earlom are four prints depicting Frans Snyder’s (1579-1657) still-lifes of game and other foodstuffs displayed in food markets. Earlom worked for other publishers during the 1770s, such as Robert Sayer (1724-1794), but continued working with Boydell. In addition to the Houghton Gallery, projects included two prints after paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), “Blacksmith’s Shop” (1771, Wessely 122) and “An Iron Forge” (1773, Wessely 121). But the major project was Earlom’s creation of the “Liber Veritatis” after the sketchbook of 195 drawings Claude made as a record of his paintings, owned by the Dukes of Devonshire. Sometime in the early 18th century the sketchbook was disassembled, the drawings mounted and five drawings were added. Beginning in 1774 Earlom created 200 plates of etching and mezzotint to reproduce the drawings. The prints were published in two volumes in1777, entitled “Liber Veritatis,” the title that the drawings (now in London’s British Museum) are known by. Earlom worked exclusively for Boydell from 1781 until 1789. In addition to finishing his work on The Houghton Gallery, he created 43 prints after drawings of his teacher Cipriani. Boydell embarked on another major project in 1786, to publish a new edition of the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), commission paintings of scenes from the plays by leading artists (such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792) to be shown in a public gallery, and publish a portfolio of prints reproducing the paintings. He employed a number of printmakers for the project, paying them high fees. Earlom created only stiple engraving, “King Lear, Act I, Scene 1” after a painting by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), for which Earlom was paid the enormous fee of 420 pounds sterling. The project nearly drove Boydell to bankruptcy. Earlom reproduced the work of British artists during the 1790s, notably a set of six mezzotints reproducing William Hogarth’s “Marriage a la Mode.” (1795-1800, Chaloner Smith 46). Earlom returned to Claude Lorrain in 1802, when he went about creating a third volume of prints after other Claude drawings (not in the Liber Veritatis). After he finished the 100 plates in until1817, they were published in by Boydell’s firm in a single volume in 1819. By this time Earlom was suffering from poor eyesight and created no further prints. Over his long career he created some 540 mezzotints, etchings and engravings. Earlom died a prosperous man in 1822, leaving an estate worth some 14,000 pounds sterling. (TNB 4/2015) Selected bibliography: Rubinstein, Gregory M. “Richard Earlom (1743-1822) and Boydell's ‘Houghton gallery’,” Print Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 1 (March 1991), pp. 2–27. Wax, Carol. The Mezzotint: History and Technique. Pp44-46 New York: H. N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1990.