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Delaware Art Museum Presents Exhibition of British Pre-Raphaelites in Print
Edward Burne-Jones, The Garden Court, Briar Rose Series, not dated. Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Photogravures, 29 1/2 inches. © 1892. Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.
WILMINGTON, DE.- The Delaware Art Museum presents Pre-Raphaelites in Print: The Age of Photomechanical Reproduction, featuring 35 stunning photomechanical facsimiles drawn exclusively from the Museum’s Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art, on view June 18 through September 17, 2011.

This exhibition displays images of Pre-Raphaelite art created by individual photographers, including Frederick Hollyer and Valentine Prinsep, as well as those produced by larger commercial enterprises, such as the Autotype Company. Selected works highlight the diverse production processes employed during the early stages of photographic reproduction.

Today, reproductions of famous works of art are relatively inexpensive and widely available. But before photography, works of art could only be viewed as originals, or in limited print editions. When the invention of photography in the mid-19th century opened new possibilities for fine art reproduction, numerous experimental processes combining printmaking and photography called “photomechanical reproduction” were explored.

In 1892 when Samuel Bancroft was persuaded to exhibit his collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, the display included 72 photomechanical facsimiles along with 35 original works of art. This concept of exhibiting copy and original side by side – as if both were of equal aesthetic merit – would not have been considered unusual. During the 1900s, however, the status of the “copy” shifted as inexpensive methods and mass circulation became possible. Today a facsimile bears very little value in relation to the original.

Samuel Bancroft prized his collection of over 400 photomechanical reproductions. This encyclopedic visual archive allowed Bancroft to reference images which were geographically out of reach and to develop his expertise in Pre-Raphaelite art, just as a book – or an internet search – might for today’s audiences. But for Bancroft, the collection was more than just a useful study tool. He was fascinated with the emerging technology and often purchased multiple images of the same subject, each representing a different method of production.

Pre-Raphaelites in Print highlights Bancroft’s unique collection, and reflects both developments in print technology as well as cultural shifts in the valuation of the original versus the reproduction.

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