The Mezzotint Man sets out the story of David Lucas, a young farm hand who left the countryside to become an engraver of mezzotints in the great metropolis of London. His skill at converting the painter John Constable’s unique and innovative images into black and white prints built a close relationship between them. It also played a crucial role in building the artist’s fame as one of Britain’s greatest landscape painters.

Yet David Lucas himself has been almost forgotten. Among art historians, he has been described as lazy, weak, a drinker, a man who abandoned his talent and failed in his duty to art. It’s time to set the record straight…


The links below connect to the images and illustrations discussed in the book so that readers can see high quality copies and access full information about them.
The Mezzotint Man

Part 1 - Bright Visions

Chapters 1 - 4

Countryside near Brigstock on a July day

A hot July day in the English countryside. A man walking along a dusty road stopped at a farmhouse door. Looking for refreshment, he received a friendly welcome. As he relaxed with his drink, he noticed a number of drawings, skilful representations of country scenes, people and landscapes. The artist was David, a farmhand with undeniable talent. The visitor was a London-based engraver with a grand project but a small team that needed more members. He took the young man out of his rural home and into the fast-expanding metropolis of London and the world of art.

In 1820, David Lucas joined the workshop of the erratic Samuel William Reynolds, a leading engraver with a thriving business and a growing team of apprentices: among them Samuel Cousins and Thomas Goff Lupton, who were to become two of the most successful mezzotint engravers of the century.

The art print trade was flourishing in London and across Britain. Mezzotints were the ideal medium for copies of paintings to be sold to collectors, published in books or even pasted on domestic walls as decoration. The print shop were they were displayed for sale was a gathering point on the streets, a place where news, entertainment and celebrity images kept the crowds amused day by day through the year.

Although Reynolds had struggled through the war years, he had fortunately been hauled out of difficulty by an aristocratic patron, Samuel Whitbread. Relaunched in the 1820s, with businesses in both London and Paris, he was the ideal engraving master for a country boy with talent but no contacts. Arriving in London, David Lucas was launched on a career that would keep him occupied until his death in 1881.

Illustrations

David Lucas as a young man, about 1820, attributed to Robert William Satchwell, National Portrait Gallery

Samuel William Reynolds, painted by his daughter Elizabeth, about 1830, National Portrait Gallery

The Caricature Shop – selling engravings to the public, 1801 – Metropolitan Museum of Art

Outside of a Humble Print Shop, 1828, George Cruikshank, Victoria & Albert Museum

Displaying engravings at home – a print room at Castletown House – Anna O’Regan

A popular travel guide, Finden’s Ports, Harbours and Watering Places with engraved illustrations

Edmund Kean, drawn by Samuel Cousins, 1814, National Portrait Gallery

A portrait by John Opie, engraved and published by Elizabeth Reynolds, 1814, British Museum

A French landscape, painted by Samuel William Reynolds, Conde Museum

An English landscape, painted by Samuel William Reynolds, British Museum

Samuel Whitbread Senior, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, engraved by Samuel William Reynolds, 1803, Victoria & Albert Museum

Samuel Whitbread, MP, painted by John Opie, engraved by Samuel William Reynolds, 1804, National Portrait Gallery