Valentine Green abandoned the study of law in order to pursue a career as a mezzotint engraver. In 1773 he was appointed mezzotint engraver to George III. Able to create rich texture and tone, the mezzotint technique utilizes a serrated steel blade called a rocker to roughen a metal plate so that the textured surface will print a velvety, even black. Areas are then scraped and burnished smooth again so that they will hold less ink and print as lighter tones or highlights. Mezzotints reached their highest level in England as a technique for the reproduction of paintings.
Mezzotint was most popular for reproducingportraits and “fancy pictures,” particularly the work of Joseph Wright who was known for candle-lit scenes of scientific experiments or dramatically lit nighttime views of workers at the forge. This print is after Wright’s painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (about 1767–68, Tate Gallery, London), showing a home demonstration of vacuum formation with a pet cockatoo the unfortunate subject.