Deconstructing a 3-plate etching & aquatint by Hans Figura
Figura was one of the leading Austrian printmakers of the early 20th century who specialized in color etchings of European and North American scenes. He was influenced by Luigi Kasimir (1881–1962), pioneer of this difficult process.
We had the good fortune of finding this print– and the three original zinc plates from which it was printed– at separate auctions. The plates were accompanied by several sheets of notes and diagrams which help in understanding some aspects of the planning and execution of the print.
First, a bit of speculation: Let’s assume that Figura made photographs and sketches of this approximate scene during his 1930 trip to Holland, France, and Switzerland. It is unlikely that such a beautifully composed arrangement appeared ready-made before his eyes. More likely, he saw these elements in near proximity, and brought them together in on-the-spot sketches, or, later, in studio drawings. His on-the-spot sketches might have been in pencil with color notations, or he might have worked directly with color. There would have been one highly finished color drawing prior to making the plates. Gouache or pastel would have served the purpose better than watercolor or oil paint. We know that Luigi Kasimir made his final studies with pastel, so let’s suppose Figura did likewise.
Next came the strategic decisions that would place different bits of information on each of the three zinc plates.
Here is plate #1. The grey shapes are aquatint biting, which means that they have a fine, even, pitted texture to hold ink. The gold areas are smooth, and meant to be free of ink. (The actual plates appear more evenly grey than these photos, which were manipulated to help us see the different surfaces.)
Do you see that rougher texture of streaking just above/right of center? That was made with a roulette, a tiny, hard steel wheel that can roll rows of lines into the softer zinc.
The first impressions were printed by ??? Pfeifer on December 29, 1930. Franz Schönikle did the April 9, 1933 printing. Alois Schönikle (father, brother or son?) did several of the subsequent printings.
The final recorded printing of 11 impressions was done on November 5, 1957.