In 1872 John Ruskin described etching as 'an indolent and blundering art'. 1 This comment identifies the key issues around which the nineteenth-century redefinition of etching was debated. The technique of etching is based on a chemical process in which the etcher uses a sharp point to draw lines onto a copper plate coated with a ground consisting of a mixture of wax and varnish. The plate is then submerged in acid which eats into the copper where the ground has been displaced in order to create an intaglio design. Considerable skill is required to judge the dilution of the acid and the period of immersion of the plate, and the results can be unpredictable. Ruskin's characterization of etching as 'blundering' referred to the etcher's reliance on the vagaries of a chemical process rather than a process of artistic decision and compositional refinement for the final appearance of his work. The word 'indolent' had been used by early nineteenth-century critics to express concern about the breadth of handling, degree of finish and competence of painting, and also drew on a range of traditional associations of etching with incompetence and female amateur practice which devalued the medium's claim to status as a professional art. 2 Over the course of the nineteenth century etchers sought to minimize any emphasis on the chemical processes used in etching in favour of giving an account of the skills of draughtsman-ship required to practise the art successfully. Simultaneously amateur involvement in the art was played down as etchers asserted their claim to professional status as artists.