Experimentation in printmaking was often driven by the desire to achieve tonal variation.
Prior to the development of aquatint, etchers used techniques such as hatching, cross-hatching, roulette, and stippling to create the illusion of light and darkness.
Aquatint differs from these methods by using a pourous, acid-resistant resin to create soft , even planes of tone.
In addition to producing a range of monochromatic values, aquatint could also be used to create colored prints.
This could be achieved in two ways — the printmaker could carefully wipe a single plate with different colored inks, a technique known as à la poupée, or several different plates could be used for each color and aligned with registration pins.
Both methods produce delicate, wash-like results. Because of the subtle effects, such prints often existed in the sphere of the belle èpreuve, the limited edition fine art print.
The subtility of aquatint was praised by Symbolist printmakers seeking to embue their works with elements of mystery and suggestion.
The atmosphere of a misty Breton landscape or an urban street scene could be convincingly rendered using the technique.
Eugène Delâtre’s infused his Parisian cityscape Impasse Trainée, Montmartre with mood by adding diffuse shadows in aquatint.
Henri Dorra (red.), Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology, Berkeley 1994
Anthony Griffiths, Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to the History and Technique), London 1996
Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching 1400-2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes, Houten 2012