James Craig Annan Strang, William  (British, 1859-1921)

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. [1]

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.

When Dudley Johnston requested a portrait in 1924 for an exhibit with the Royal Photographic Society, Annan supplied this Strang engraving accompanied by these notes…

22nd October, 1924 Dear Mr. Dudley Johnston, Esq.,
As regards the portrait I am in rather a dilemma. I have no recent photograph… The best portrait I have is an engraving done by the late Wm. Strang R.A., An impression reposes in the British museum and another is among the choice selection of Black and White shown in the Scottish National Gallery. If a portrait by a sister art is not considered out of place in Russell Square I shall be glad to send one for the Society acceptance.
With Kind Regards. I am, Yours Sincerely, J. Craig Annan

28th October, 1924Dear Mr. Dudley Johnston, Esq.,
Your letter of 25
th October duly came to hand and I have much pleasure in sending the Strang engraving … I have no duplicate of this but it will probably be safer in your custody than mine.
In case any members of the society may be interested in the production of the Strang portrait I have written a few particulars on the double mount. It is there mentioned that the plate was engraved direct from life. i.e. there was no intermediate drawing, the copper plate was placed on an upright or slightly sloping easel and the lines cut onto the plate with a hook burin. From the point of view of technique this is a remarkable feat. I do not know of any other who has practiced it. The difficulty of course is that considerable force requires to be exercised in cutting the lines and few persons could guide the tool with the exactitude required for such subtle draughtsmanship. With Kind Regards. I am, Yours Sincerely, J. Craig Annan [2]

Reproduced / Exhibited

Buchanan, William. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994. p. xx.

Naef, Weston J. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. New York: Viking Press, 1978. p. 259

Annan, J C, and George A. Oliver. Glasgow Portraits by J. Craig Annan 1864-1946, Photographer. Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council, 1967. (cover)

National Gallery of Scotland Accession number: P 263

Annan J. Craig George A Oliver and Scottish Arts Council. 1967. Glasgow Portraits by J. Craig Annan 1864-1946 Photographer. Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council. (cover)

Fine Art Museums of San Francisco Accession Number: 1963.30.11724


[1] Hammond, Anne Aesthetic Aspects of the Photomechanical Print, Weaver M. British Photography in the Nineteenth Century : The Fine Art Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1989.

[2] From the verso of the print currently held at the V&A RPS collection