According to Michael Campbell The Angelus is the most elaborate and certainly one of the most sought-after of all of Robert Sargent Austin’s early works, The Angelus combines all of the principal elements found throughout R.S. Austin’s other early works: the weary working horse, the plough, an elaborate village landscape, and figure studies of those in prayer, all dominated by the church and an air of deep religious import. Indeed, the peasants depicted have stopped in the midst of their daily labours at the time appointed for the prayer of The Angelus to be said. Although Dodgson, when writing in 1930, suggested that this work might have been over ambitious for the young etcher, in many ways, this most elaborate composition represents the summation of Robert Sargent Austin’s early powers as a printmaker.
Austin’s early plates show an extraordinary sweetness of line and often, as in his large plates of deer, beautifully unified compositions. There is in the best sense an academic quality about these, very proper in a man who was virtually a pioneer in his his art today. About 1929 a close study of the German masters of engraving is evident. But Austin has passed through his probationary stage and is master not only of his technique, in which no English engraver has surpassed him, but also in using his medium in a native, personal way. Already Mr Dodgson had noticed in his work an aftermath of Pre-Raphaelitism…with its harking back to the past and its wealth of realistic detail.’
Austin’s latest plates are contemporary in subject. At the same time his interest in Millais, the Millais of book-illustrations, is explicit. Surely this strain, at once homely, intimate and romantic, is at the centre of the tradition of English art. Austin’s line remains clear: his tone is given by a number of short flicks and shadings. He is thus nearer in technique to the fifteenth-century German engravers than to Durer or Lucas van Leyden. In drawing and composition there is nothing archaic. Of recent years he has produced three or four plates regularly each year. Of these one or two commonly represent new treatments of subjects previously treated in a rather different way. He is fascinated with certain subjects, bells, stairs, kneeling figures, weathered wood.But he also advances to new subjects; in 1936 two very fine portraits and in 1937 the Young Mother.
Extract from The English Print, Basil Gray, Adam and Charles Black 1937, on whose cover Austin’s Young Mother featured: