Girtin’s soft-ground etching (see the print after, above) was published separately from the finished aquatint, on 28 June 1802. To create this autograph print, the artist first traced his own drawing, reversing the image in the process (see figure 1) and then, using the tracing as a template, impressed the lines onto an etching plate coated in a tacky ground of an acid-resistant mix. Lifting the tracing and taking away the ground where the lines had been pushed in, he would then have immersed the plate in acid, which would have bitten into the unprotected areas. Cleaned up, the plate, with the etched lines now according with the direction of Girtin’s original drawing, could then be used to print from. Such a complex procedure employed by a novice printmaker like Girtin no doubt required a number of proof stages. The impression that has survived of this print includes changes marked by Girtin in pencil (see figure 2), notably on the carriages on the quay to the left and on the buildings to the right.
The view south east from the Pont Neuf is centred on the seventeenth-century bridge that linked Place Saint Michel on the left bank of the Seine to the Ile de la Cité. The old Pont Saint Michel consisted of four spans of circular arches that were surmounted by two rows of houses that were to be swept away in 1808. In contrast to the areas shown in the views of the Louvre and Tuileries seen in plates one and two (see prints after TG1862b and TG1864a), the medieval heart of Paris, centred on the cathedral of Notre Dame, was much more crowded, and, conceived on a more human scale, it offered the artist a suitably picturesque subject. Girtin, it seems, had already made a similar watercolour from a nearby position on the Pont Neuf (TG1867). However, finding the practice of sketching ‘on a Large scale, and to Colour on the spot’ to be ‘tedious’ and impractical for the twenty scenes that were to make up the print series, he made this second drawing in pencil, including the wealth of architectural detail needed for an etching (Girtin, Letter, 1802).1
The Pont Saint Michel, from the Pont Neuf: Colour Study for Plate Four of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Quai d’Orsay: Colour Study for Plate One of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
The Louvre and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Pont Neuf: Colour Study for Plate Two of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
Paris: The Isle de la Cité and the River Seine, Taken from the Pont Neuf