John Smith, Madam Elizabeth Brownlowe, a mezzotint after a painting by Willem Wissing

London, England, AD 1685

The first, English, mezzotint artist to achieve international fame

The mezzotint process was invented during the seventeenth century. Relying upon gradations of tone rather than line, it was valued as a way of reproducing the effect of oil paintings. John Smith (1654-1742) was one of the first significant exponents of this technique and he subsequently became the first English artist to achieve fame across the continent. During the eighteenth century, mezzotint became known to Europeans as the manière anglaise ('the English manner')

Mezzotints could be made quickly and for this reason were relatively cheap. This made them ideal for portraits of people whose fame did not justify a huge edition, such as young Miss Elizabeth Brownlowe. The painting is at Belton House in Lincolnshire, the family home of the Brownlowes, just visible in the background of the print, which is now in the care of the National Trust. The print was probably commissioned by her parents and would have been given to friends. Some examples, however, were collected by admirers of Smith's art and placed in albums with other works by the engraver. These were often signed by the artist, like this one. First proofs were (and are) considered better for their quality since the plates have not yet worn. In this case, the absence of engraved lettering (which has not yet been added), shows that it was one of the first examples to be printed.

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More information


A. Griffiths, Prints and printmaking: an int, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

A. Griffiths, The print in Stuart Britain, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)


Height: 340.000 mm
Weight: 246.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1902-10-11-4431



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