Girtin’s soft-ground etching (see the print after, above) was published separately from the finished aquatint, on 6 July 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 working proof that has survived for this scene is annotated ‘very faint’ next to the towers of St Sulpice and ‘not quite so much’ alongside the building to the right of the bridge, and other areas have been rubbed out with white chalk (see figure 2).
This view, one of two taken from the Pont de la Concorde (the other being TG1885), which effectively create a 180-degree scene if joined together, is similar in content to plate one (TG1862a), the viewpoint for which, the Quai d’Orsay, can be seen to the right here. Balancing the Tuileries Palace, the view of the opposite bank features an impressive range of the city’s monuments, including the west towers of Notre Dame, the Palais de l’Institut de France, the Panthéon and the twin towers of St Sulpice. Just as impressive for British visitors were the quays that lined the Seine, which, in contrast to the largely unembanked Thames in London, tamed the river and provided a fine promenade for Parisians, and the myriad figures included by Girtin emphasise both the monumental scale of the project and its social benefits. All of this is in stark contrast to the opposite bank, which, as so many British visitors to Paris were quick to point out, juxtaposed scenes of squalor with public magnificence. ‘The view up the river, from the centre of the Pont de la Concorde’, wrote John Carr (1723–1807), combines ‘the most complete melange of filth and finery, meanness and magnificence, ever beheld’ (Carr, 1803, p.97).
The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Pont de la Concorde: Colour Study for Plate Six of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
The Village of Chaillot, Taken from the Pont de la Concorde: Pencil Study for Plate Seventeen of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’
The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Quai d’Orsay: Pencil Study for Plate One of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’