McArdell of the Golden Head

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James McArdell (ca. 1728-1765) after a painting by Adriaen Brouwer (1605/06-1638), Untitled [A Blacksmith’s Forge], between 1740 and 1765. Mezzotint. Inscription: “Done from a Capital Picture of Brouwer in the Collection of B: Cleeve Esqr. by Jas. Mc.ARdell. Sold by J. Mc.Ardell at the Golden Head in Covent Garden. [scratched] Price 2s.” Graphic Arts GA 2011.00654.

“James MacArdell [sic] was born in Cow-lane (afterwards altered to Greek-Street) in Dublin about 1729,” writes John Chaloner Smith in his 1883 reference set British Mezzotinto Portraits . “His talents were duly appreciated by the great painters of his time, especially by Reynolds, who considered … that his own fame would be preserved by MacArdell’s engravings, when the pictures had faded away.” —(GARF NE 265.S6 1883 pt. 2)

Developed in Holland and perfected in Britain, the mezzotint is an intaglio process in which the copper plate is covered with holes so that when inked, it prints completely black. Then, the printmaker scrapes and polishes the marks away, uncovering the highlights within the image. “In etching … you make the shades; in metzotinto the lights.” —wrote William Gilpin in his An Essay on Prints (Ex NE850 .G42 1768).

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Barbara McArdell Redmond