OWEN, William (1769-1825)
The Road Side. From an original Picture in the Collection of Thos. Lister Parker Esqr.
London: W. Say, 12 May 1808. Mezzotint, printed in colours, with touches of hand-colouring, by William Say (cut to plate mark and expertly re-margined to top and sides). Title margin fo. Image size (including text): 18 x 14 inches. Sheet size: 19 1/2 x 14 inches. Gold leaf frame.
A beautiful composition expertly rendered by one of the greatest mezzotinters of his time.
William Owen "was sent in 1786 to London, where he became a pupil of Charles Catton, R.A., the coach-painter. Soon afterwards he attracted the notice of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose picture of Perdita he had copied, and he was indebted to Reynolds for some valuable advice. He entered the Royal Academy as a student in 1791, and his earliest exhibited works... appeared in the exhibition of 1792; and in each succeeding year, except 1823, he contributed portraits and occasional rustic subjects. Some of the most eminent men of the day were among his sitters, and his portraits were truthful and characteristic...Owen was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1804, and an academician in 1806... In 1810 he was appointed portrait-painter to the Prince of Wales, and in 1813 principal portrait-painter to the prince-regent, who offered him the honour of knighthood, which he declined.."(DNB). William Say (1768-1834) came to London at about twenty years old "and obtained instruction from James Ward (1769-1859), who was then practising mezzotint engraving. Say became an able and extremely industrious engraver, working entirely in mezzotint, and between 1801 and 1834 executed no fewer than 335 plates, a large proportion of which are portraits of contemporary celebrities, from pictures by Beechey, Hoppner, Lawrence, Northcote, Reynolds, and others... Say was one of the engravers employed by Turner upon his Liber Studiorum, for which he executed eleven of the published and two of the unpublished plates... In 1807 he was appointed engraver to the Duke of Gloucester....An almost complete set of Say's works, in various states, was presented to the British Museum by his son in 1852' (DNB) The implied narrative is of a mother and her young family on a long journey on foot, who have found a place to rest and nurse the baby. But the message of the image is not about rural poverty but rather about familial union. Everyone is asleep or nearly, exhausted and vulnerable, and yet safe and protected in their togetherness. The white clothing and pink faces make a radiant diagonal rounded into a self-contained unit by the little girl at her mother's feet and the drowsy boy above, in sharp contrast to the dark plants, rocks and sky beyond them.