With visionary zeal and unflinching energy, Stanley William Hayter did much to foster intaglio printmaking as an innovative technique. In 1927, after moving from London to Paris and studying engraving with the artist Joseph Hecht, he founded his own workshop, which he named Atelier 17 in 1933 after its new street address. In 1940, with the outbreak of war, Atelier 17 moved to New York and became a meeting place for exiled European artists and American artists working in various styles. The workshop was transplanted back to Paris in the 1950s.
Hayter's induction into Surrealist practice in the late 1920s established the unconscious as a source of his art. His noteworthy contributions to printmaking include an expressive and flexible engraved line that was influenced by automatism; a textural depth created through etching; and innovations in color printing on a single plate. Although Hayter also worked as a painter, it was his printed oeuvre, consisting of some four hundred fifty works, and his celebrated Atelier 17 that influenced countless artists who then disseminated his methods of intaglio printmaking.
The plate for Combat was one of the few that Hayter brought from Paris to New York in 1939, prior to opening his Atelier 17 there a year later. Not only was it the largest plate he made in the 1930s, but it also went through ten states, a large number for Hayter. Engraved in 1936, Combat takes as its subject the Spanish Civil War, an event reflected in the work of many artists at the time. Although not immediately discernible, figures constructed from sinuous lines fill the composition, and the etching and engraving processes are exploited to suggest a sense of depth. According to Hayter, the print depicts a violent encounter of combatants, with leaping horses and a plethora of weapons.