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Knowing the Difference...p.3


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The famous Robert Burns poem "Highland Mary" (1792) was pictorialized countless times in countless versions throughout the 19th century. Above mezzotint (uncredited, most likely a follower of Sartain) was used in vignette for T.S. Arthur's gift book frontis-piece in 1856. The mezzotint process was ideal for the small gift books of mid 19th cen-tury; the smooth texture and high contrast, without too much loss of detail (the vignette is actually 3 1/4" by 2 1/2") lent greater ap-peal to a sentimental subject. Above depic-tion is an American"borrowing" (in reverse) again, uncredited, from an earlier painting by the English painter John Masey Wright. 


This enlargement clearly shows less refine-ment than if had been done by Sartain, but most never see this image up close, and the overall appeal of Wright's original painting is still accomplished when you consider the miniature scale by which this mezzotint was engraved... 


The comparative skill of any two engravers can only really be appreciated upon exami-ning two or more engravings side by side. Here we repeat the A.B.Dick line & stipple to compare with the Gimbrede line & stipple from the first page...


...And even more apparent, when the two mezzotints are placed side by side, the Sar-tain on the right (from our first page) virtual-ly glows with fine surface finish when com-pared to the above uncredited mezzotint...



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"The Golden hours, on angel wings,
     Flew o'er me and my dearie;
For dear to me, as light and life;
     Was my sweet Highland Mary."
Some may suggest that the above line, stip-ple & etched engraving, by A..B. Dick, after the Massey painting, is a little more refined ( the print is  larger, 5 5/8" x 4 1/4", than the mezzotint ). While it is definitely more skill-full than the Gimbrede engraving on the first page, when you actually lay these two prints together, side by side, both have equal ap-peal and it would be this side of impossible to say which is the more technically accom-plished. I will say the add-ed Burn's verse to the above engraving helps, but visually I really could not choose which the better. Above rendering was published by the "La-dies Companion", Cincinnatii, Ohio, 1840.


...and although the above line & stipple, nearly twice as large as the mezzotint, may be a little more refined and technically accu-rate in depicting the original Wright painting, both prints are about equal in market value, as mezzotints, provided they are done well, are generally more rare than line & stipple engravings. When the technical arguments come this close they are rendered moot as the ultimate value is resolved by the buyer's choice.


...although this blowup of the Gimbrede is a larger, more restricted area of the print, the figurative form is clearly not as well execut-ed as the figures in the A.B. Dick line & stip-ple.


It is no accident that Sartain is regarded among the best of only a handful of 19th century American mezzotintists, and the value of any academic work of art is gener-ally dependent more on the comparative skill of the artist rather than the age or con-dition of the work. The intuitive skills of the experienced collector can usually discern these differences.



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