Born to a leather seller in Holborn in 1769, William Henry Pyne showed an early talent for drawing and was entered into the drawing school of William Shipley, founder of what would become the Royal Society of the Arts. Pyne worked predominately in watercolour, concentrating on landscapes with humorous touches and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1790. At this time watercolours did not enjoy the same prestige as works in oil and feeling a lack of support and recognition from the Royal Academy, Pyne in concert with other artists left the RA and founded the Old Watercolour Society in 1804 now the Royal Watercolour Society.
In addition to painting Pyne began collaborating on publications using the aquatint process, an ideal medium to convey watercolours. The aquatint technique abandoned the hard lines of earlier processes in favour of gentler, tonal effects. Pyne’s publications were successful at home and abroad, and encouraged by this he embarked on the considerable work, The History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James’s Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House, and Frogmore …’ issued between 1816 and 1819. Unlike more popular publishers like Rudolf Ackermann, Pyne unwisely aimed largely for court circles with a price to match; he was unable to spread his costs effectively and suffered serious financial difficulties. Pyne retired from his artistic pursuits and instead wrote anecdotally on art and the artists’ life under the name Ephraim Hardcastle. A popular figure in artistic and literary circles, he eventually fell into obscurity where he remained until his death in 1843.
These remarkable aquatints serve as some of the only records of the Regency interiors of these Royal Palaces. The principal artists Charles Wild and James Stephanoff, with plates by Rev. Richard Cattermole and William Westall, and the chief engraver Thomas Sutherland assisted by RG Reeve, WJ Bennett and D Havell, were among the most skilled practitioners of their time, demonstrating a mastery of combining subtle gradations of tone with clarity of outline, which was then finished with sumptuous hand colour. It is a poignant irony that A History of Royal Residences was at once the apogee of aquatint engraving, and Pyne’s financial undoing.
Below are a few examples from this collection of original antique Pyne aquatints. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of views available, please do contact us.