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Robert Austin (1895-1973):
Wherefore Plough, 1924
Mounted (ref: 5674)
The original copper plate, cancelled, etching and drypoint
9 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (23.2 x 19.2 cm.)
Other examples of original plates by Austin are in the collection of The Royal Academy, Canterbury Museum, The Hunterian in Glasgow and The Ashmolean in Oxford.
The image by Austin, with its stiking iconography of sacrifice, was inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Men of England.
Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?
It is generally acknowledged that Austin was one of the greatest exponents of line engraving of the Twentieth century. Campbell Dodgson, keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, who compiled the standard reference work on Austins' work, compared his work to that of Durer noting that Austin had 'more than a touch of that master in him' (Robert Austin, Twenty-One, 1930 Gallery).
Although, as was common practice amongst print makers, Austin cancelled his plates after their edition run, the manner in which he did this is remarkable. Far from defacing the compositions by scratching lines across the center, or drilling holes in the plates, Austin drew precise lines of different proportions, dissecting each composition, responding individually to each image. As such the geometry of each composition appears heightened, and the plates take on a abstract beauty of their own