Girtin’s soft-ground etching (see the print after, above) was published separately from the finished aquatint, on 16 June 1802. To create this autograph print, the artist would have 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, and one such print survives for this work, with the artist adding a flag in pencil as well as notes to himself: ‘down’; ‘col this down’ (see figure 2).
It is not known in what order Girtin produced his drawings for the twenty Picturesque Views in Paris, but there was a logic in publishing this as plate one given the interest amongst British visitors to the city in everything to do with Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). The Tuileries Palace, located between the two arms of the Louvre, was then home to the First Consul, and the view from the Quai d’Orsay gives a sense of the grandeur of Napoleon’s ambitions, though other British visitors may have concentrated on it as the site of the arrest of the French royal family in August 1792 at the hands of a ‘lawless mob’ (Eyre, 1803, p.69). The palace was demolished in 1871 after being set alight during the Paris Commune. The south bank of the Seine is unusually quiet in Girtin’s drawing, suggesting that the view might have been taken on a Sunday, when the barges were moored up along the riverbank. For visitors such as the actor and dramatist Edmund John Eyre (1767–1816), the river Seine, even in the vicinity of the Louvre, was ‘inferior to the Thames’, being ‘muddy, and ungrateful to the eye’ as ‘neither its depth, nor breadth will allow ships of burthen to approach its banks’ (Eyre, 1803, p.82).
The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Quai d’Orsay: Colour Study for Plate One 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’