The start of a revival for etchings?

You see something new and unusual once, and it sticks in your mind. By the time you see it a third time, you’re thinking that there’s something more going here than a chance encounter. I’ve collected etchings since I was a geeky schoolboy, when I used to visit a couple of dealers in Guildford’s town centre during free periods and lunch hours. As my budget expanded, I was able to leave cheap ready-made frames, mount board and a Stanley knife behind, and have my affordable treasures framed professionally. Over the past two decades my collection has expanded and developed, and now many of my walls are carpeted with etchings from the 19thC onwards, from huge to tiny, portrait to landscape, frilly gilt frame to modernist black frame, from £1 to £30. A few I regret buying a little, but it’s the ones I remember not buying that I regret the most!
I’ve always thought that they made a really affordable way of decorating your walls in an individual and unique way – after all, just think what a mass-produced poster print everyone may have will cost in Ikea. But, established collectors aside, it looks like that I’m no longer the only one. Sipping a Mojito in a trendy Shoreditch bar one hot evening last week, I realised why I felt strangely at home – all the walls were covered in Victorian and later etchings. And some of the directionally-haired crowd seemed to react to them, and favourably too! I had noted similar effects in other eateries and bars around and about before, so clearly the bar owners had spotted the fact that these affordable antique prints can be found for a couple of pounds, and variety abounds. Quirky characters, portraits with freaky facial expressions, calming landscapes, and authentic advertisements jostled for space and attention with Hogarth’s legendary ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ – how apt for a bar.
Wandering around Ardingly Antiques Fair last week, I realised quite how many there are out on the market. Sheaves of them could be found in ignored portfolios or boxes, or in frames stacked out of sight against table legs. Prices ranged from £1 upwards. Unless you’re a serious collector looking for sought-after names or rare ‘states’, visual appeal is all. Buy something that makes you smile, laugh, or reminds you of something (or someone!) you love. Since I studied them at university, I’ve been fond of Rembrandt’s etchings, but they’re simply way to expensive for me to afford. Although I had spent my budget on the day, I thought the small landscape above was a bargain at £3. I have no idea who it’s by yet, or even if it’s a copy of a Rembrandt, but I feel it’s certainly inspired by his work. The curving lines in the tree not only suggest the foliage, but also recall the wind moving it – I can almost hear it when looking at it. Furthermore, the free and sketchy way it’s executed is almost ‘modern’. I think it’s charming and personal to me, and I’ll enjoy finding out who made it…..all for the price of a greetings card!

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