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: Modern French Prints Acquired for Collection


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In February of this year the Institute held an exhibition of Prints by French Painters of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This, the most comprehensive exhibition of its kind ever shown at the Art Institute, included more than one hundred items, among which were many rare or recent prints by such painters as Degas, Derain, Ingres, Manet, Matisse, Picasso, Rouault, and van Gogh. At the same time the Institute joined the Saint Paul Gallery and School of Art and the Walker Art Center, which were holding similar exhibitions of German and American prints respectively, in sponsoring a symposium on Modern Printmakers. Public response both to the exhibitions and the symposium was enthusiastic and the Institute subsequently extended its exhibition for two additional weeks. It is now with considerable satisfaction that the Institute announces the acquisition for its permanent collection of thirteen major prints from the exhibition. Original in technique and thrilling in subject matter, this group of prints marks another step in the growth of the Institute's print collection, the vast nucleus of which was the distinguished gift of the late Herschel V. Jones.During the exhibition and symposium there was much discussion of what the French call a peintre-graveur or painter-etcher. The difference between a painter-etcher and an etcher is perhaps not immediately apparent to those casually interested in prints, but it does exist and it is important to an understanding of prints such as those recently acquired by the Art Institute. The term painter-etcher connotes an artist of widely ranging interests; one who thinks in the broadest terms and so expresses his thoughts as successfully in the medium of prints as in that of painting. On the other hand, the etcher connotes an artist who is occupied solely with the problems of the print technique and whose thoughts—and their expression—are bounded by the traditional limitations set by that technique. He is one who has little desire to venture beyond those limitations. Thus the prints of the true etcher, while highly satisfying in themselves, do not possess the adventurous and exciting qualities of many prints done by painter-etchers. Certain early painters, such as Dürer, Rembrandt, and Goya, saw in the print medium something more than an opportunity to demonstrate technical virtuosity. In the nineteenth century it was further developed by painters who used it as a vehicle for the expression of a variety of ideas and who changed it according to their needs.There were many successful printmakers in nineteenth and twentieth century France, but it happens that those who have survived the test of time have been the painters with the most human or widest range of subject matter and with an imaginative use of technique.Goya and Ingres were the first to experiment with lithography, but it was Delacroix who first and most fully realized its possibilities. He found that the medium offered broader tones, sharper contrasts, and finer lines than were possible in woodcut, in engraving, or even in etching. By his constant and imaginative work in lithography he dignified and elevated the medium until it became the standard print process of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Amateurs and professionals alike turned to it. Queen Victoria practiced it as a pastime and Daumier as a livelihood, leaving us the greatest lithographs yet produced. However, it was Delacroix's bold and original use of the medium which popularized it among non-commercial circles. It was one of his many important contributions to art.Among the prints acquired by the Institute from the February exhibition are Delacroix's two most famous lithographs: Royal Tiger and Lion of the Atlas Mountains. Both are technical masterpieces. Both are impressive compositions, with strong black and white contrasts. Both are true expressions of the romanticism so closely associated with Delacroix's painting and sympathetic personality. And both date from 1829, the middle period of Delacroix's life (1798-1863). As a picture, Royal Tiger remains one of the most thrilling animal scenes in art. Contrasting black and white to maximum advantage, Delacroix included every nuance of feline character in the tiger. The whole is made more dramatic by the vast African desert in the background. Oddly enough, Delacroix made these lithographs before visiting Morocco with the Count de Mornay in 1832. He acquired his knowledge of these great cats by sketching in the Jardin des Plantes with his young friend Barye, who became the famous animal sculptor, and he drew upon his imagination for the setting. There is a watercolor study for Royal Tiger in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and an oil of Lion of the Atlas Mountains in the Louvre. Delacroix's work has long been of interest to American collectors, the first animal prints being collected by Ringling of circus fame to inspire his poster artists.By the end of the nineteenth century color lithography had been developed and had become the favorite print medium of some of the Impressionists, in whose paintings color was all-important. For best results it was necessary to use a separate stone for each color desired in the completed lithograph, and a number of stones was often required to complete the print. The technical difficulties were so various that most artists found it easier to entrust the printing of anything so complicated as a color lithograph to a specialist, whose name was Clot and who printed for the greatest painters in Paris and for the famous dealer, Vollard.Among the prints recently acquired by the Institute are two such lithographs, both of which were printed by Clot and distributed by Vollard. Despite the fact that they were printed by other hands, they represent original work by Renoir and Bonnard, who drew the pictures on stone but left the printing with color inks to Clot. Renoir (1841-1919) completed his gay color lithograph called Children Playing Ball in 1900. He did not spare color nor Clot when he chose terra cotta, yellow, blue, green, pink, and black for this print. The result is impressively large and irresistibly gay and quite as representative of the master's last style of painting as many of his canvases are. The scene is the seashore and the models are young friends, among them the daughter and niece of Berthe Morisot. Bonnard (1867-1947) produced his subtle color lithograph called Child Near the Lamp as early as 1898. Less immediately appealing than the larger Renoir, the Bonnard is strong in composition, subdued in color, and intimate in spirit. It inspires in the spectator a mood of quiet and tenderness.Color lithography, practiced with such admirable results by Renoir and Bonnard, has become the favorite medium of most twentieth century French painter-etchers despite the fact that the greatest colorist of them all, Matisse, works exclusively in black and white when using this medium. Matisse has long been a prolific lithographer and he considers his prints an important phase of his work in view of the fact that his lithographic style follows closely that of his drawings. He enjoys filling large sheets with his well-known odalisques and patterned backgrounds. He wishes his subject matter to be decorative and restful and succeeds in making it so in the lithographs, Arabian Blouse and Odalisque on a Couch, now in the Institute's collection.Gauguin was one of the great painter-etchers who experimented boldly with the woodcut. The practice and technique of this art had not changed since Dürer's time until Gauguin took it up in the 1890s. He was able to free the medium from its servility to line and to introduce the broader contrasts which form the basis for most contemporary work in this medium. Gauguin's woodcuts remain important because they revolutionized the medium and so clearly reflect Gauguin's contributions to contemporary abstract and decorative painting. Even his small woodcuts are so broad in conception that one at once realizes that Gauguin might, under different circumstances, have become one of the world's great muralists. The Institute has now acquired two of Gauguin's woodcuts: She is Thinking About the Ghost and To Be in Love is to Be Happy.Rouault and Picasso turned their attention to other media of the graphic arts, revolutionizing the technique of engraving and etching as much as Gauguin had changed the woodcut. Both painters have been prolific printmakers and have worked in every medium, but their boldest experiments have been in the fields of color engraving and etching respectively. They remain the two greatest living printmakers. Rouault has developed a color engraving technique which is singularly his own and which recalls his apprenticeship to the stained-glass maker, Hirsch, and his style of religious painting. The Institute has acquired two of Rouault's most striking color engravings, Autumn, showing a group of female bathers in autumn color and light, repeats a subject Rouault has done in gouache, oil, and black and white lithography. The color engraving, but its very nature, is more interesting than the lithograph. The Crucifixion is one of the most important prints made by a modern artist. It depicts Christ on the Cross surrounded by his sorrowing family, the sun setting in the background. By using heavy dark lines like the lead in stained glass windows, Rouault can put the most brilliant reds, blues, and greens next to each other without conflict, and by using such intense, almost exaggerated, colors he heightens the emotional impact of this scene.Picasso's various stages of development in painting are better known than his contributions of printmaking. In etching he has, like Rouault, dared to undertake very large compositions, which both rival smaller paintings and broaden the use of contemporary prints as pictures in themselves. He etches with utmost freedom and finesse, and he has changed his style of printmaking as frequently as he has changed his style of painting. The Institute's three newly-acquired prints represent as many different styles. Earliest of these is the unforgettable Frugal Repast. One of Picasso's most famous prints, it shows a couple of weary circus performers having a simple meal. These circus performers appear in many of Picasso's canvases and etchings of the so-called Blue period and they invariably represent pathos in the truest sense.Picasso's Classical period is represented by The Three Friends, an etching of three classical nudes standing arm in arm. Elegantly drawn, with the greatest economy of line, this print recalls Picasso's tour of Italy with the Ballet Russe in 1917. The latest of the three prints by Picasso is his Combat of 1937, an engraving of a group of nude men and horses fighting in front of stone-age ruins. The futility and terror portrayed in this group repeat the theme of Picasso's great mural Guernica. The Combat is one of the most telling commentaries on the twentieth century produced on canvas or paper, and it provides a dramatic climax for the development of modern printmaking as illustrated by this particular group of prints.Referenced Works of Art
  1. The Crucifixion by Georges Rouault. One of a group of prints by French painters acquired through the Dunwoody Fund.
  2. Children Playing Ball. Color lithograph done in 1900 by the French impressionist painter Renoir.
  3. Royal Tiger by Eugene Delacroix. A masterpiece of lithography by the great French romantic painter.
  4. To Be in Love is to Be Happy. Woodcut of the south seas printed in two colors by Gauguin. Dunwoody Fund
  5. The Combat. A powerful comment on war etched by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in 1937. Dunwoody Fund
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Source: "Modern French Prints Acquired for Collection," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 36, no. 28 (November, 1947): 138-143.
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Added to Site: March 10, 2009