Artist-etcher James McNeill Whistler’s most important contributions to the Etching Revival was his ability to create tone, not just through fineness and density of lines but also by various means of expressive inking and wiping of the printing plate. His cultural and aesthetic impact on J.C. Annan’s etcher friends D.Y. Cameron and William Strang, and A.L. Coburn’s etcher mentor Frank Brangwyn, created a productive relationship between the etching and the pictorial photograph through its etched equivalent, the photogravure (Hammond).
Born in Dumbarton, William Strang was briefly a clerk in the family shipbuilding firm before he entered the Slade School of Art in London in 1876. At the Slade he was deeply influenced by the teaching of Alphonse Legros, particularly the etching class which Legros instituted in 1877. The subject matter of Strang’s etchings, largely produced between 1880 and 1900, ranges from intense portraits to scenes of working-class life and imaginary grotesques.
Annan’s interest in his own photography printed in photogravure was intensified by the revival of the art of etching and particularly the work of James McNeill Whistler. Annan traveled and collaborated extensively with his close friends, D.Y. Cameron and William Strang – both leading etchers in Britain at the turn of the century. By employing the techniques of the etcher when working the photogravure plate, Annan could create tone, enhance movement, and subjugate unwanted detail – simplifying his images and rendering mood. Annan’s unique approach to the pictorial photograph was through its etched equivalent, the photogravure.