The collection

8th October 1999 at 01:00
Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display. Week 31: Seymour Haden's etching tools, Bankside Gallery, London.

Among the artefacts owned by the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers are the etching and engraving tools of its founder, Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which were presented to the society after his death in 1910.

Haden was one of the most eminent surgeons of his day, but as a student in Paris he spent his spare evenings at art school. Drawing - then as now - was regarded as a useful training for the hand and eye of a surgeon. His etching tools were used for drawing on a copper plate coated in wax. They scratched away the wax and when the plate was dipped in acid the exposed parts were corroded, forming an image from which a print could be made.

In 1847, Haden married Dasha Dalannoy Whistler, the half-sister of James MacNeill Whistler. To begin with, Haden and Whistler seem to have had a good relationship. However, as Haden became more celebrated the friendship deteriorated. In a Paris street in 1867, Whistler attacked Haden, striking him so hard that he fell through a plate glass window.

Haden founded the Society of Painter-Etchers in 1880 to further etching as an art form ("painter" implying original rather than reproductive work). The society attracted many eminent contemporary artists (Tissot, Alma Tadema, Rodin and Sickert among them), but few remained members for long.

In truth Haden was an absolute autocrat who ran the society, which received royal patronage in 1887, exactly as he wished. He regularly rewrote its minutes as he thought fit.

Haden was knighted in 1894 and lived to the age of 91. Among other eccentricities, he was known for his campaigns against cremation which he regarded as an incentive to poisoners. It led him to be an early proponent of "green" funerals. In place of cremation he recommended his invention of the papier mache coffin to assist with a natural burial.

His will included a bequest to a clergyman to be made on the condition that he ceased sending letters to strangers asking for monetary assistance and "to the writer of an amusing article in the Daily Chronicle of the 16th of September 1905 or 1906", an expression of regret that he had been unable to thank the writer for it previously. A substantial number of Haden's etchings were also received by the British Museum and the Vamp;A.

Simon Fenwick is archivist at the Royal Water Colour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers which is based at Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1 9JH. Tel: 0171 928 7521

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