Images of everyday urban and rural life flourished in France during the 1860s and 1870s. The exhibition Realism’s Edge at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
features a dozen etchings that exist on the edge of original and reproductive, real and inventive, sketchy and descriptive, while chronicling the romanticized worker and celebrating leisurely pursuits. Realism’s Edge is on view through October 12.
Works created during the etching revival in France during the 1860s and 1870s evidence the technical and societal shifts that balanced representation with spontaneity and sought to idealize rustic labor as industrialization threatened to destroy it. Artists Félix Bracquemond and Édouard Manet embraced etching (made by incising a wax-covered plate with a sharp needle) as a medium particularly suited to painters and promoted it to expand their reputations.
The dozen works in the exhibition include etchings by Édouard Manet, James Tissot, Alphonse Legros, Félix Bracquemond, Théodule Ribot, Ludovic Lepic, and Jules Bastien-Lepage. The exhibition is curated by Jay A. Clarke, the newly appointed Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark.
Sterling and Francine Clark amassed some 500 drawings and 1,400 prints that formed the basis for a department devoted to works on paper—now the department of prints, drawings, and photographs—spanning the history of the graphic arts from the fifteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. The collection now numbers around 5,000 works on paper. Etchings dating from the sixteenth to early twentieth century comprise the largest group of prints in the Clark’s works on paper collection. Among these works are excellent impressions by some of etching’s most celebrated practitioners, including Rembrandt van Rijn, Edgar Degas, Félix Bracquemond, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Pablo Picasso. The Clark’s collection of photographs dates from the invention of photography to the early twentieth century and now comprises nearly 1,000 photographs. Works on paper may be viewed by appointment in the department’s study room.