The Genesis of Modern Drawing Paper

From The Whatmans and Wove Paper, Appendix V, pp. 242-247

Contents of the whole Appendix

Introduction, Koschatsky's assertions
Measures to re-instate the art of drawing in England
Factors affecting this re-instatement
Drawing Paper
Wove Paper
Orders for and Distribution of Drawing Paper
Demand from Professional and Amateur Artists
Romanticism and Watercolour Painting
The Instruction Book and the Age of Recipe
Diversification of Draughtsmen's needs; Pressure on Paper Manufacturers
Paper Properties to meet Consumers' modus operandi
The Act of Drawing
Precision Drawing
Artists' Drawing Papers
Evidence of Artists' use of Wove Paper
Joshua Cristall (1768-1847)
John Constable (1776-1837)
John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
The Relative Importance of British Landscape Painting

Introduction, Koschatsky's assertions

In his history of Watercolour painting Koschatsky (Bib.9), formerly Director of Prints and Drawings in the Albertina (Vienna), stated that:-

It was in England that the technique of Watercolour developed into a new means of expression.

Up till and including much of the 18th C. papers were not made in adequate qualities for the most refined effects. The absorbency was either too great or too little and uneven in any one sheet of paper.

When English Papermakers learnt how to manufacture suitable paper, they stole a march of half a century on Continental production and thus in painting too....

This passage refers to the use of paper for watercolour painting, and undoubtedly suitable papers that fit Koschatsky's description were manufactured in England during the latter part of the 18th C.  However, can this application be associated with the development of wove paper; and is the same claim true for papers used for drawing ?  Or was the general improvement in the quality of the paper a more important factor in extending the scope of these two pursuits ? The answer to these questions is to some extent yes and no.

Obviously, one cannot say that an improved paper would automatically lead to a higher artistic level in either medium. Rather, the improvement in the quality of the support might have provided more opportunities in the case of watercolour for the artist to control his work and enhance its significance; but for the purpose of drawing the circumstances were quite different and, in fact, led in the end to a new class of product.

Watercolour had, for most of its history, been a Cinderella among the media. But there is no question that from the latter half of the 18th C. onwards it emerged in England as a powerful new means of expressing publicly, on a par one might say with oil painting, an artist's feelings, particularly in the field of landscape. It should be said at once that the practice of watercolour painting is a very ancient one and had already excelled in many different fields, such as flower painting, for example. However, in the development referred to above, the technique now moved into a new domain and it came to be used as a means of expression less private than formerly, taking its place on a near-equal footing with more forceful and magnificent works of art painted in other media, such as fresco, tempera or oil, but still in the main an intimate art form more suited to the smaller purse and living room.

Quite apart from the quality of the paper, it has been said that the climate and colours of the landscape of this island particularly favoured the furtherance of watercolour painting. As it developed and reached new peaks, its success impressed others. English watercolourists, for instance, profoundly affected the French Romantics. Boime, in a letter to the author, wrote "Watercolor is a liberated form of painting, and its special appeal in France coincides with the collapse of the traditional two-fold approach in painting. While the generative and executive phases do not really apply in watercolor technique, its popularity has to do with the emphasis on spontaneity and freshness and thus can be linked with the ascendance of the generative stage". There are many other aspects of the method which encouraged its expansion, and some of these will be discussed later. The reason for mentioning watercolour at all at this point is that the popularity of the medium can be associated directly with the theme of our Appendix, namely, the genesis of modern drawing paper.

In exploring the subject of drawing paper, one has first to make a distinction  between "Paper for drawing on" and "Drawing Paper", the latter being a product manufactured and sold in its own right; the former, a sheet of paper, supplied by a Stationer, which was used by an artist for drawing on. The second point to note is that the demand for a paper for drawing on in the past was so small that it would not have warranted a paper maker manufacturing an article of this kind. An artist might have selected a particular sheet that he thought would suit his purpose, but which was otherwise unspecific; he had to take whatever kind of paper was available, albeit he may have treated it afterwards to accommodate the use of a particular kind of stylus, e.g. a lead or silver point.

It is not proposed to try and trace here the history of drawings made on paper. There are a number of works that deal with this subject. Rather the intention is to assess the state of drawing in England before the invention of wove paper; and, further, to see if the latter had any impact on it or whether the practice of drawing developed under its own impetus, leading in due course to a demand for a separate class of paper, whether wove or laid in character.

Measures taken to re-instate the art of drawing in England

Up to the middle of the 18th C. there was no equivalent in Britain to the education artists received, for instance, at the French Royal Academy. To put it simply, there was a more or less unbroken tradition in France, dating from the 12th C. to modern times, for training artists. This grew out of the monastic system of dividing work into specialized areas of artistic production. As it developed through the Romanesque and Gothic periods it incorporated secular talent and, ultimately, was organized into an increasingly rigid hierarchy comprised of Masters, Journeymen and Apprentices. This arrangement was eventually adopted by the Academy, a body which emerged from an earlier Corporation and which finally received Royal Sanction in 1655.

In different guises the Academy survived the French Revolution, emerging as the Academy again in 1816. But it now had to contend with the École des Beaux Arts, although the Academy continued to dominate the scene until 1863. During the 19th C. non-academic trends crept into the curriculum such as Landscape and Romanticism coupled with greater emphasis on the "Sketch". But the student was still subjected to a long period of instruction in drawing, first copying engravings (down to the last line) and plaster casts, with pencil the preferred medium. Later, he would progress to the Life class where he would stay until he had an unshakeable confidence in his ability to draw. It was only when he had accomplished all this, that he was allowed to proceed to activities involving composition and the preparative stages required for a finished painting.

Another general difference which might be noted at this point was the continental practice of using coloured papers for drawing. The colouring, which was usually a neutral tint of grey, brown or blue, was used for the middle tones (demi-teintes) of a drawing; a crayon, pencil or charcoal providing the dark tones and shadows; and white chalk or pigment the highlights. There were clearly many variations of this technique depending on local practice and the stage which the artist had reached in his education. To begin with, the emphasis was on linear modelling or contour drawing (dessin au trait), progressing to shaded drawings (dessin ombré) achieved by cross-hatching or, later, the use of the stump. (For a very comprehensive and interesting account of French Academic training see Boime Bib.62).

In contrast to the above, any training which artists in England might have received from the monasteries was lost with their dissolution during the Reformation, a source of tuition never replaced. As a consequence the development of drawing in this country was slow, spasmodic and fragmentary. Minor pockets of drawing existed here and there between the 13th and late 17th Cs. Architectural drawings provide an example, some of very fine quality but, although there must have been more of them, few have survived from the Middle Ages.

A larger number of drawings by Architects have survived from the late 16th-17th Cs., e.g. drawings by Inigo Jones (1573-1653) at Chatsworth; and others by Wren (1632-1703) and Vanburgh (1664-1726) among the best known. By the early 18th C. the examples are more numerous, Burlington, Kent, Colen Campbell, Flitcroft to name a few. At this time recognized architectural draughtsmen make their appearance, such as James (1730-1794) son of Robert Adam (1728-1792). In a similar vein there are rare examples of mediaeval Pattern books, but many have obviously been lost. It is not until the 1740's that one finds a growing number of extant pattern books furnished with drawings, e.g. by Batty and Langley (1739/40), Matthias Lock (1740) and, later, Chippendale (1754).

Other sources of tuition, such as instruction in drawing, can be cited dating from before the 18th C.  Although very minor to begin with, these kept the practice alive. The principal agent was the "Drawing Master".  The first documented appointment is of one assigned to Christ's Hospital in 1693. The inference from this is that the profession existed earlier, probably as a post held in the establishments of wealthy families; certainly instruction books date back to the mid-16th C.

But does any of this really reflect the state of drawing in this country ?  In the mid-18th C. Campbell gave the following advice to parents ("The London Tradesman" 1747 p.20).

"Drawing, or designing, is another Branch of Education that might be acquired early, and is of general use in the lowest Mechanic Arts. This is but little practised in England; and I take this Neglect to be the chief, if not the only Reason, why English workmen are so much inferior to Foreigners, especially the French. This is the best Reason can be assigned why English Men are better at improving than finding out new Inventions. The French King is so sensible of the great Advantage of Drawing, that he has, at the public Expence, erected Academies for teaching it in all the great Cities in his dominions; where the Youth are not only taught gratis, but the Parents are obliged by the Magistrates to send their children to these schools, and Premiums are bestowed on such of the Youth as excel in any particular Species of Drawing.... The sooner a child is put to this Study, the greater and easier will be his Proficiency...I think it absolutely necessary that every Tradesman should have so much knowledge of that Art as to draw the Profile of the most common things; especially to be able to delineate on Paper a Plan of every Piece of Work he intends to execute."

Campbell's plea was not an isolated one. Dunstall (d.1693) had written that Drawing was of much use to all Trades, from Jewellers and Cosmographers to Carpenters and Bricklayers. Over fifty years before Campbell had expressed his views, Pepys in a letter to Christ's Hospital (1692) wrote "I do not remember any one instance of a Manuall Trade that I have had to do with, where I have not found a plaine difference in the Degree of satisfaction given me by a workman that could lay either his or my owne conceptions before me in Draught, and he that could do it only in Talks, which at best can never be but imperfect and uncertain" (see Note 3 for source). Pepys added that "fforeigne Artisans" excelled in this over "our owne Countrymen". Wren endorsed this view, emphasizing the superiority of the French, Italians and Netherlanders in this respect. Up to the mid-18th C. this deficiency seems to have been a chronic ailment afflicting the English.

However, by the mid-18th C. steps were being taken to improve this situation. Several professions, including civil engineers, surgeons and physicians etc., together with Institutions providing education for the Services, were realizing the importance of the ability of their members to draw. Knowledge of accurate draughtsmanship was a requisite for boys at Trinity House. Likewise, the Royal Military Academy recognized the importance of this accomplishment in appointing a drawing instructor in 1738. In view of its success Paul Sandby followed in 1768. The usefulness of drawing was recognized in the Services, not only for martial ends but for accurate observation of the environment, a valuable adjunct to discreet espionage.