The Smart Museum of Art
at the University of Chicago presents The Writing of Modern Life: The Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the U.S., 18501940. The exhibition, the latest in a series of projects developed by the Smart Museum in collaboration with University of Chicago faculty and students, examines the intertwined arts of etching and writing, from the polemical beginnings of the Etching Revival to its twentieth-century afterlife.
Around 1850, etching was revived as a form of original artistic expression. Often, this revival is studied in connections with other visual media, like photography, which had begun to threaten the professional security of printmakers. To secure their livelihood, printmakers placed greater emphasis on the original, aesthetic qualities of etching and the ways in which impressions of the same image could be made different.
Departing from this usual narrative, The Writing of Modern Life examines etching in relation to the literary arts. During the period, etching was reinvented as an original art form thatlike writingwas uniquely fitted to expressions of an artists individual personality and the experience of modernity. Printmakers and critics redefined the medium, creating a new critical language that was entwined with literary discourse. They emphasized the signature qualities of the etched line, encouraging the idea that each print bore the touch of the artist, and rediscovered an expressive medium suitable for gritty modern subjects as well as classical pastoral themes.
This exhibition, curated by Elizabeth Helsinger, John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor of English Literature and Art History at the University of Chicago, showcases forty-five etchings by European and American artists like Haden, Meryon, and Whistler, drawn in large part from a recent gift to the Smart Musuem. The exhibition coincides with an advanced University of Chicago Art History and English Literature course to be taught by the curator in winter 2009.