This etching from the early 1890s shows Brighton’s seafront near the Metropole Hotel at dusk. It is one of many local views by artist Robert Charles Goff (1837–1922) who kept a studio in Hove until the end of his life.
What can we see?
Spire of the Metropole Hotel
Goff’s main focus is the imposing Metropole Hotel. It had opened in 1890, and at the time it was the largest hotel in the country outside of London, boasting 328 bedrooms.
The central bronze spire seen here was removed shortly after 1959, along with several turrets and pinnacles.
In etching, a metal plate is covered in wax and an image drawn into the wax with etching tools. The plate is then submersed in acid that ‘bites’ into the exposed metal, thus creating an image onto which ink can be applied before printing.
Pictorial elements representing movement, such as clouds, waves or smoke, were often added later by Goff using the drypoint technique. This means cutting lines straight into the metal plate, without using acid and wax.
Bright gas lights line the promenade, creating shadowy silhouettes of people walking.
We know from the earlier versions of this print that Goff polished the parts of the copper plate representing the lights. This meant he was able to easily wipe off the ink, adding to the contrast between darkness and light in the printed picture.
The West Pier is just visible on the left on the picture. Here we see the land end of the Pier, with the toll houses at the entrance.
Like the promenade, the pier bridge is lit by gas lamps.
A solitary bathing machine is visible on the beach. These were wooden huts on wheels that were drawn into the sea to allow bathers easy access to the deeper parts, and to give them privacy for changing in and out of their bathing costumes.
Goff has etched his signature into the bottom right corner of the plate. He would usually produce no more than 50 prints from a single plate, and most bear an additional signature in pencil.
These prints sometimes include information about the impression and the date of the printing, which could differ greatly from when the image was first produced.
Author: Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion Curator