Howarth Biography

Albany HowarthAlbany E Howarth – Some Biographical Notes

Early Career: Albany E. Howarth was born in the English County of Durham in 1872. His attraction to art and drawing started very early in life – Howarth mentions the age of five - and remembered that even during his schooldays, he became adept at caricaturing the masters of the school.

Howarth’s father was keen for him to go into business and follow a commercial career, but Howarth was opposed to the idea, preferring to pursue his artistic inclinations instead. Once he left school, he knew that he would like to study art, but apart from an occasional evening class he achieved proficiency by being mainly self taught.

His first job was working in the drawing offices of Armstrong Mitchell (Later Armstrong Whitworth) of Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne. Founded in1847 Armstrong Mitchell was the largest employer in the area, manufacturing armaments, ships, locomotives, automobiles and aircraft.

Howarth implied that this early career choice may have been a compromise between the wishes of his father and his own desire to draw, and to begin with, it may well have been an arrangement that suited both parties. However, in his own words, he ‘found it too mechanical’ and left the company after four years.  

Continuing to develop drawing as a profession, he worked for a while illustrating various papers and periodicals in the North of England. This too was never destined to be a long standing career choice, as the job involved working demanding shifts from 8.00pm to 8.00am on at least two nights per week.

Expertise in Printing: One benefit that did emerge from this period was that Howarth was able to see how his drawings were reproduced using different methods of printing and as a result of this he began his own experiments with different techniques. He taught himself collotype, lithography and process engraving and this understanding of different printing formats and their characteristics would have been a major benefit when he began the commercial production of his own work.

Early Etchings: In 1903 Howarth read Phillip Gilbert Hamerton’s book on Etching and Etchers, originally published in 1868 and a leading source of information on the principles and techniques of etching. This was hugely influential for him, and he rapidly became fascinated with the possibilities of this different medium.

He describes his first efforts resulting in ‘lots of failures and scrapped plates to begin with’ a not unexpected result when learning a new craft. He goes on to say that he eventually produced 7 or 8 finished plates which he described as giving him ‘intense excitement’ but which were technically unfit for publication.

Early Unpublished Etchings: The Dowdeswells exhibition catalogue of 1912 lists six unpublished plates which date from this period. They include; Christiansborg Castle No.1 (1903 Etching and Aquatint), Christiansborg Castle No.2 (1903 Etching and Aquatint) Marble Bridge Copenhagen No.1 (1903 Etching) Archway, Virginia Water (1904 Etching), Strand on the Green Chiswick No.1 (1904 etching) and Road near Chateau Gaillard (1905 Etching). All of these remained unpublished, and the plates were subsequently destroyed, although as they were listed in the 1912 catalogue, it is possible that they were included in the exhibition as early examples of his work.

At this early stage of his career, and at least up to 1912 Howarth printed most of his plates himself, using his first press – an old star wheel design with a wooden bed. He used this to produce his first published plate in 1907 of Stirling Castle.

Like many other etchers of the period, Howarth also sought the advice of Frederick Goulding, a master printer of copper plates and a significant figure of the time. Goulding (1842-1909) had acquired enormous respect for his understanding and application of technique and worked with many etchers, including James McNeill Whistler and Sir Francis Seymour Haden. There is no doubt that Howarth was able to extend his knowledge of printing and etching techniques through this association, and the subsequent exchange of ideas between two enthusiasts.

Membership A.R.E. On December 8th 1910 Howarth was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers, although he never became a Fellow. His diploma plate was ‘Old Houses- Abbeville’. Howarth exhibited at the Society, (now renamed The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers) annually between 1911 and 1920 with the exception of 1915. He did not exhibit with them after 1920 and was expelled on 13th December 1923, seemingly due to subscription arrears of 11 Guineas.

The 1912 exhibition of his work at Dowdeswells Galleries in London must have been immensely satisfying for him, to obtain recognition for the time invested in learning his craft and for the work he had produced over the previous few years. The catalogue contained 60 plates listed in more or less chronological order including those unpublished works mentioned above. It is obvious from looking at the plates that both his technique and his confidence had evolved over the period, as had the complexity of some of his subject matter.

Technical Expertise: Throughout his career Howarth remained fascinated by the techniques of printing and etching, and one gets the impression that he was constantly experimenting to improve the finished product. (See Howarth’s Technique page elsewhere on this site for his own essays on this subject)

In 1919 he was interviewed for the Fine Art Trade Journal, the magazine of the Fine Art Trade Guild. During the interview, he talks about the difficulty in getting the ‘biting’ right, i.e. the depth of lines in the etching. Although he experimented with other compounds, he favoured Nitric Acid to etch the copper plate. The difficulty however, was arriving at a technique to consistently etch to the right depth.

Technique: To begin with, he started by drawing the complete design onto a copper plate, (known as the ‘ground’) but found that the technique of etching with Nitric acid and ‘stopping out’ (Neutralising the acid to prevent further etching) as the process continued involved too much guesswork and therefore gave unpredictable results. Sometimes this would mean that the plate had to undergo a second treatment which both increased the production time as well as introducing further variables into the etching process.

Over a period of time, he refined his technique to draw the deepest lines first. He would then gradually add lighter tones to the plate as the etching process continued. Eventually, when the most delicate lines were etched to a slight degree, the deepest ones, having been etched continually at each stage of the process had been bitten to the correct depth.

Although he etched on copper, Howarth preferred to use Zinc for his drypoints as he found this gave consistently good results along with the facility to get 40 or 50 good proofs from a plate. He admitted that he had been advised that he had a ‘heavy hand’ compared to others when etching, and that he tended to cut the plates deeper than was usual.

During his career Howarth produced a wide range of etchings, specialising in Architectural and Landscape subjects. He was obviously a keen artist, and indicated that as he carried a sketch book everywhere with him, many of the subjects of his plates had been obtained ‘on the impulse of the moment’.

European Travel: A good example of his enthusiasm for his subject is provided by Howarth himself. In 1907 Howarth was living in Essex where he had a weekly subscription to the journal ‘Country Life’, no doubt providing an excellent source of information on the contemporary art scene as well as many ideas for subject matter. Around this time, Country Life ran an illustrated article on Chateau Gaillard – a ruined medieval castle located in Normandy, France, which overlooks the River Seine and the town of Les Andeleys from a massive cliff on the bend of a river.

Finding this a great inspiration, Howarth set off immediately and two days later was in Petit Andeley where he spent 14 days painting and sketching. The two plates he published later; ‘Chateau Gaillard’ (Etching 1908) and ‘Le Pont Des Andelys, Chateau Gaillard’ (Etching 1908) were the direct result of these drawings.  

In his search for interesting and therefore saleable subject matter, Howarth travelled extensively within the British Isles and Western Europe, particularly France, Italy and Spain where he produced many drawings.

In 1909 he published a set of 12 etchings of the Oxford University Colleges and followed this up the following year with a set of 7 etchings focusing on the Cambridge University Colleges.

In 1912, Howarth spent six or seven months in Venice, where he produced many drawings, including The Doge’s Palace, Ponte della Guglie, Piazza San Marco, Monastery of St Francesco, San Marco, The Bridge of Sighs, Ca D’Oro, Canale Albrizzi, Palazzo Dario, The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge among others.  

Following this, he travelled on to Florence where he was ‘very anxious’ to visit San Gimignano, and in order to sketch the city by moonlight he arranged his visit to coincide with the period of the full moon.

Travelling in those days was far from the comfortable experience it is today, and he describes a very uncomfortable eight mile journey from Poggi Bonci -the nearest station, to his hotel. Travelling in a ‘rickety old diligence’ – a type of four wheeled stagecoach - used for long journeys at the time must have been unpleasant given the combination of poor road surfaces and indifferent suspension!

He describes arriving at the hotel, having a meal and then ‘brimming with enthusiasm’ took his sketch book and left the hotel at 10.00pm to catch the town by moonlight. After sketching until 2.00am he returned with three or four drawings produced by moonlight to discover that he had been locked out of the hotel! 

In the interview he also describes a visit with a friend to the village of Chiddingstone in Kent, during the summer of 1919. He describes the village at the time as having...’ a few houses, a small hotel, and a pretty church and churchyard.’  He goes on to remark that he had seldom seen anything so picturesque, and this obviously had an effect on him, as he produced at least three plates from this visit, one of which appears as an illustration in the article.

In addition to Chiddingstone, other recent etchings illustrating the same piece included the Doorway to Lambs Court, (Temple, London), Bamborough Castle, Barnard’s Inn, Staple Inn and Barnard Castle. All of these can be seen in the Gallery section of this site.

Commercial Success: Howarth’s work was very popular in his day, with most of his output up to 1912 sold to collectors, and only obtainable when it came up for resale. The Dowdeswells Gallery in Pall Mall had closed by the time of this interview, but the catalogue from their 1912 exhibition of his work lists the prices of each etching at the time of publication. It is interesting to note that some of his work a couple of years after this exhibition was commanding prices of 10 or 12 guineas, a marked increase over the majority of the catalogue prices and a considerable investment for collectors at the time.

Watercolours: In addition to his etching, Howarth was also known as a watercolourist, although surviving examples of his work seldom appear and only intermittently seem to come up for sale. Whether he pursued this commercially or more for his own satisfaction is unclear. There is no mention of him in the archives of the Royal Watercolour Society. The ability to produce etchings in reasonable sized limited editions would presumably have been more commercially attractive to a man who made his living as a full time artist. 

Howarth took his craft seriously and his methodical approach produced some outstanding work. He appears to have been particularly attracted to the effects of light interacting with the architectural elements in his compositions, and his ability to add depth and dimension to his subject matter, sometimes combining both etching and drypoint techniques together, has produced excellent results. His fascination with sometimes exceedingly complex buildings, and their historical ornamentation must have made the etching process challenging to say the least, and one wonders how long it took to produce the plate for something as complex as the Great Screen and Choir of Burgos Cathedral.

Despite his meticulous approach to drawing, Howarth was sometimes inconsistent in respect of both titling and dating his prints, and an examination of his finished work shows a variety of approaches. Some have the title inscribed in the plate, while others have it written beneath by the artist, adjacent to his signature, which is the one consistent element of his finished plates. He often included his initials ‘AEH’ somewhere in the plate, or alternatively ‘A.E.Howarth’ sometimes accompanied by a date.

It could be argued that it was not necessarily always desirable to date drawings, as this may have detracted from its commercial appeal if purchasers were inclined to collect more recent examples of an artist’s work. Also, the retrospective inclusion of groups of related drawings as portfolio editions would perhaps have had less appeal if they were all produced from different periods of the artists’ career.

It was also likely that someone like Howarth, who liked to travel, would have spent some weeks or months away from his press every year producing sets of drawings which would be made into plates at a later date. The total time to produce a drawing, transcribe it into a finished plate, and have it published could easily have spanned two or more years.

Printing & Publishing: Although in the early stages of his career Howarth did his own printing, as he developed as an etcher, it is likely that he preferred to spend more time on travelling, drawing and etching than on printing, which could be probably be done much more quickly and professionally for the larger edition sizes by professional printers.

Howarth worked with several printer/publishers throughout his career, who would purchase the plate in order to produce a limited edition set of prints, after which the plate would be destroyed to preserve exclusivity.
The Five Sisters of York – an interior of York Minster, and the Great Rose Window of Westminster (Abbey) were both published in 1916 with Copyright shared between Dowdeswells & Colnaghi, the long running and successful London picture dealers.

At least two folio sets of etchings were printed by the Charles Welch studios and Published by W.R. Howell and Co of London, Manchester and Glasgow.


Reading the text of the folio insert, the rather flowery language talks of the etchings representing his ‘highest achievement in graphic art’ and states that the edition is too limited for general circulation and is for ‘private circulation only’ – a clumsy attempt to convey both collectability and exclusivity.

In the case of the cover for ‘Six Scottish Subjects’ the line ‘For Private Circulation Only’ is given a prominent position at the top of the page. There are no dates associated with either of these publications, so it is unclear at which point these etchings were produced, although the Scottish set appears as a Limited Edition of 160 sets.

Howarth refers to ‘My friend Mr Welch’ as a travel companion in his 1919 interview with the Fine Art Trade Journal. If this is indeed the same Mr Welch, it is possible that these sets originate from the post Dowdeswells period of just after the First World War.

By 1919 Howarth was publishing through Henry Graves and Co Ltd of Pall Mall, who produced many of his middle period etchings in limited editions of 175 including those of Barnard Castle, Bamborough Castle and Chiddingstone. 

By 1923 He had moved to Alfred Bell and Company, also of London and seems to have remained with them for a number of years and certainly at least up to 1928 when they published St Giles, Edinburgh, Roslyn Chapel and The Great Screen and Choir, Burgos. At this point many of Howarth’s etchings were released through the Fine Art Trade Guild, often in limited editions of between 125-250 plates and these can easily be identified as they carry the Guilds blind stamp to the lower left margin.

Exhibition History:

Agnew & Sons Gallery 1
Colnaghi & Co Galleries 4
Fine Art Society 68
International Society 1
Walker Art Gallery Liverpool 19
Royal Academy 6
Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers 24
Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours 2

Source: British Artists 1880-1940 Compiled by Jane Johnson & Alan Greutzner. Antique Collectors Club Volume V ISBN:978 0 902028 36 4

During the early part of his career, Howarth moved from the north to Southern England, living in London during 1905 and moving to Downhall, Essex in 1906. From at least 1907 his address appeared in catalogues as; ‘The Studio, Hutton, Essex’. He lived in Essex until 1920 when he moved to Watford, Hertfordshire where he lived and worked for the remainder of his life, until he died on 14th November 1936.

Howarth was a prolific artist, and left a large body of work, examples of which turn up frequently in sale rooms around the world, having maintained their appeal for nearly 100 years.

Authors Note:

These notes are based on a limited number of sources of detailed information on the artist. The intention is to update and expand this brief biography as more information becomes available.

Principal References:

•    Catalogue of Original Etchings Drypoints and Mezzotints by Albany E Howarth A.R.E. 1912; Publishers: P& D Colnaghi & Obach 168 New Bond Street. London W. Dowdeswell & Dowdeswells Ltd 160 New Bond Street, London W.

•    ‘Etchers of Today - Albany E Howarth’. Article in the Fine Art Trade Journal August 1919.

•    Cover notes from Folio Set of Howarth’s work published by W R Howell and Co.

•    Personal Collection of Howarth Etchings.