26. Francis Dodd

Holyhood 1874 – 1949 Blackheath

Looking at a Picture (Portrait of Isabel Dacre), 1907

The British painter and engraver Francis Dodd was a particularly talented portraitist.1 He was not only able to capture his sitters’ physiognomy, but their personality as well. Among the portraits he etched and printed in drypoint, those of his artist friends are considered his finest.2

The drypoint Looking at a Picture is an intimate portrait of the painter Susan Isabel Dacre (1844-1933).3 Isabel Dacre, sometimes called “Aunt Susan”, was a friend and collaborator of Dodd’s.4 They worked closely together, first in Manchester, then in London, between 1897 and 1911, when the latter married.5 Dacre, who was Dodd’s senior, greatly encouraged the youth. He portrayed her several times; in particular, we can recognize her in many of his paintings, drawings and prints.

Here we see her seated, looking at a framed work resting on a chair. She is so absorbed in studying the sheet that she appears oblivious to her surroundings, giving the scene a captivating intensity. The subject’s relaxed attitude and lively eye are characteristic of Dodd’s work: he was particularly fond of representing his models in a contemplative moment. Isabel Dacre is in mourning clothes, with a wide hat, its veil cast back, just like in another drypoint – The Garden Door6 – which was completed two years later.

Dodd belongs to the second generation of the Etching Revival artists in the United Kingdom. This movement, which arose in the second half of the nineteenth century, sought to bring original prints back into fashion. For these artists, Rembrandt was the great model, on account of his mastery of the technique, but also his experiments with different papers and inking.

After initially working mainly as a painter, Dodd made his first drypoint in 1898, although his print production only truly began in 1907, the date of our work. The artist went on to use this technique regularly: it consists of cutting lines directly in the matrix with a sharp point. This spontaneous manner enabled him to make these very free portraits, especially because Dodd often finished his prints by working directly on the plate after the model.7

This copy of Looking at a Picture bears the number nine. Dodd, who usually did very few prints, would have made only ten prints of the plate. In fact, the drypoint technique allows only a limited number of impressions, due to the rapid wear of the narrow, shallow grooves incised in the metal, under the pressure of the passages under the press.

Here Dodd made the best use of the rough burr – particles of metal deposited along the groove that retain the ink, characteristic of the passage of the drypoint – to suggest the texture of Isabel Dacre’s mourning clothes, giving the whole image a velvety aspect. RSB

1On the artist, see Randolph Schwabe, ‘Francis Dodd’, Print Collector’s Quarterly 13 (1926), pp. 248-272, no. 3, and ‘List of Plates by Francis Dodd’, ibid., pp. 369-375; Kenneth M. Guichard, British Etchers 1850-1940, London 1977, p. 36; Robin Garton, Rodney Engen and Kemille Moore, British Printmakers 1855-1955. A century of printmaking from the Etching Revival to St Ives, Devizes 1997, p. 22; Alan Windsor, Handbook of Modern British Painting and Printmaking 1900-1990, second edition, Aldershot 1998, p. 92; Alan Windsor, ‘Dodd, Francis H.’ in Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon. Die Bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, vol. 28, Munich and Leipzig 2001, pp. 199-200; Brian Reade, ‘Dodd, Francis Edgar’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004 (online edition); http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/32/101032847 (consulted on 29 September 2017).

2For a list of the prints, see Schwabe 1926, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 369-375.

3Annegret Rittmann, ‘Dacre, Susan Isabel’, in Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon. Die Bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, vol. 23, Munich and Leipzig 2001, p. 349; Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928, London 2003, pp. 156-157; Sara Gray, Dictionary of British Women Artists, Cambridge 2009, p. 86.

4On their friendship, see Schwabe 1926, op. cit. (note 1), pp. 248-272; and Reade 2004, op. cit. (note 2).

5On 8 April 1911, Dodd married Mary Arabella Brouncker Ingle (1871/72-1948).

6Schwabe 1926, op. cit. (note 1), no. 44.

7Ibid., p. 260.

8There are two states of the print according to ibid., no. 14, but he does not give their description. A copy of each state is in Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. nos. WA1948.43.38 (for the first state); and WA1948.43.39 (for the second state). By comparing the two, we know that the first state is a trial proof of the unfinished plate (e-mail from Dr Caroline Palmer, 20 September 2017).