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Cousins, Samuel

COUSINS, SAMUEL (1801-1887), English mezzotint engraver, was born at Exeter on the 9th of May 1801. He was preeminently the interpreter of Sir Thomas Lawrence, his contemporary. During his apprenticeship to S. W. Reynolds he engraved many of the best amongst the three hundred and sixty little mezzotints illustrating the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds which his master issued in his own name. In the finest of his numerous transcripts of Lawrence, such as "Lady Acland and her Sons," "Pope Pius VII." and "Master Lambton," the distinguishing characteristics of the engraver's work, brilliancy and force of effect in a high key, corresponded exactly with similar qualities in the painter. After the introduction of steel for engraving purposes about the year 1823, Cousins and his contemporaries were compelled to work on it, because the soft copper previously used for mezzotint plates did not yield a sufficient number of fine impressions to enable the method to compete commercially against line engraving, from which much larger editions were obtainable. The painter-like quality which distinguished the 18th-century mezzotints on copper was wanting in his later works, because the hardness of the steel on which they were engraved impaired freedom of execution and richness of tone, and so enhanced the labour of scraping that he accelerated the work by stipple, etching the details instead of scraping them out of the "ground" in the manner of his predecessors. To this "mixed style," previously used by Richard Earlom on copper, Cousins added heavy roulette and rocking-tool textures, tending to fortify the darks, when he found that the "burr" even on steel failed to yield enough fine impressions to meet the demand. The effect of his prints in this method after Reynolds and Millais was mechanical and out of harmony with the picturesque technique of these painters, but the phenomenal popularity which Cousins gained for his works at least kept alive and in favour a form of mezzotint engraving during a critical phase of its history. Abraham Raimbach, the line engraver, dated the decline of his own art in England from the appearance in 1837 of Cousins's print (in the "mixed style") after Landseer's "Bolton Abbey." Such plates as "Miss Peel," after Lawrence (published in 1833); "A Midsummer Night's Dream," after Landseer (1857); "The Order of Release" and "The First Minuet," after Millais (1856 and 1868); "The Strawberry Girl" and "Lavinia, Countess Spencer," after Reynolds; and "Miss Rich," after Hogarth (1873-1877), represent various stages of Cousins's mixed method. It reached its final development in the plates after Millais's "Cherry Ripe" and "Pomona," published in 1881 and 1882, when the invention of coating copper-plates with a film of steel to make them yield larger editions led to the revival of pure mezzotint on copper, which has since rendered obsolete the steel plate and the mixed style which it fostered. The fine draughtsmanship of Cousins was as apparent in his prints as in his original lead-pencil portraits exhibited in London in 1882. In 1885 he was elected a full member of the Royal Academy, to which institution he later gave in trust £15,000 to provide annuities for superannuated artists who had not been so successful as himself. One of the most important figures in the history of British engraving, he died in London, unmarried, on the 7th of May 1887.

See George Pycroft, M.R.C.S.E., Memoir of Samuel Cousins, R.A., Member of the Legion of Honour (published for private circulation by E. E. Leggatt, London, 1899); Algernon Graves, Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Cousins, R.A. (published by H. Graves and Co., London, 1888); and Alfred Whitman, Samuel Cousins (published by George Bell & Sons, London, 1904), which contains a catalogue, good illustrations, and much detail useful to the collector and dealer.

(G. P. R.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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