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The Frick Art & Historical Center presents "Three Centuries of Printmaking"
Edward Fisher (British, 1722–1785) after Sir Joshua Reynolds (British, 1723–1792), Miss Jacob alias Miss Roberts alias Mrs. Glynn, 1762. Published 1762 by Johnathan Spilsbury (British, c. 1730–1795). Mezzotint. Frick Art & Historical Center.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- This summer the Frick galleries are home to three simultaneous exhibitions of masterful prints. Built around the Frick’s permanent collection of 18th-century mezzotints and 19th-century chromolithographs, and complemented by a traveling exhibition The Prints of Jacques Callot, these three exhibitions span over two hundred years and provide a look at three different centuries, yet all the works demonstrate the importance of the printmaker in recording, publishing and disseminating a distinct view of the world. The exhibitions, which open at The Frick Art Museum on Saturday, June 16, 2012 will remain on view through September 20, 2012. Admission is free.

The Prints of Jacques Callot
Jacques Callot (1592–1635) revolutionized printmaking. One of the first artists to gain fame exclusively through prints, Callot made over 1400 prints in his relatively short career. His work reflects the mannerist elegance of the late Renaissance moving into the theatricality of the Baroque. Marked by keen wit, incisive observations, and social criticism, his prints have been hugely influential on succeeding generations of artists, including Goya, whose Disasters of War is indebted to Callot’s series of prints Grand Miseries of War. This traveling exhibition on loan from the Reading Public Museum features a selection of Callot’s prints depicting landscapes, noble ladies, beggars, theater scenes, religious images, military, and war scenes.

Callot was apprenticed to an engraver in Rome around 1608, and came into his own artistically when he moved to Florence in 1611/12. In Florence, artists and printmakers were working to develop the medium of etching. Before Callot, etching was used mainly as a documentary process. Because it was a quicker process than engraving, etching was often the medium of choice for images of festivals and events for which public interest was time sensitive.

Etching is an intaglio printmaking technique, meaning that the design is incised with a needle into the metal plate. In etching, the plate is first coated with a ground that is resistant to acid, a needle is used to create the design through the ground, and the plate is then bitten in an acid bath. When inked the ink is forced into the bitten lines of the design, and when run through a press the ink is forced onto damp paper. When Callot first began etching, the typical ground was soft, producing a fuzzier line, and not able to withstand multiple baths in acid. Callot is credited with introducing a hard varnish ground to the etching process, which allowed for much more precise rendering with the etching needle, and also permitted multiple bites (acid baths), which Callot used for masterful tonal control. Callot also worked with a specially designed etching needle with an oval shaped tip, which he could rotate between his fingers to vary the thickness of the line.

These technical innovations, combined with his superb draftsmanship and unique observational skills made the prints of Callot prized by collectors like Rembrandt in his day, while they still dazzle us with his skill and unique worldview today.

In the English Manner: Mezzotint Portraits
While Callot’s work gives us a look at a slice of 17th-century life and subject matter, a selection of fine 18th-century English mezzotints purchased by Henry Clay Frick in the early twentieth century provides a fascinating look at who-was-who in 18th-century England. The majority of these mezzotints are of fashionable society figures whose appeal has endured for collectors. English portraiture in particular was extremely popular with American collectors in the early 20th century. A collection of portraits evoked an appreciation of history and continuity, while conjuring images of a gracious lifestyle to which America’s newly rich aspired. Frick’s mezzotints, purchased from one of his regular dealers, Knoedler & Co, were hung at both his New York residence and his summer home in Massachusetts.

Mezzotint is a printmaking process that dates to the 17th century. It quickly gained prominence as the preferred method for creating reproductions of famous paintings. Used with particular success to make reproductive prints of portraits by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), John Hoppner (1758–1810), and Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), the process became so popular in 18th-century England that the technique is sometimes referred to as “the English manner.” Mezzotint as a form was prized for its ability to imitate the tonal properties of painting.

The technique begins with a copper plate that is “rocked” over its entire surface. This rocking, done with a sharp, toothed instrument, creates a surface covered with tiny metallic burs which hold the ink—a completely rocked plate prints a rich velvety black. The image is created by flattening the burs, and creating smooth areas in the copper; the smoother or more polished the plate, the lighter the area prints. Even without the use of colors, a mezzotint has incredible depth and richness of tone, which in the hands of a skilled printmaker, creates a painterly feel.

The 13 prints included in this exhibition are almost all of fashionable ladies, some from a series by Valentine Green (1739-1813) published in 1780, Beauties of the Present Age, which featured Green’s mezzotints made after Reynolds’ portraits. An etcher, mezzotint, and aquatint artist, Green was one of the most celebrated and prolific British printmakers of the late eighteenth century. He produced nearly 400 plates in his distinguished career, which included an appointment as Royal Engraver to King George III.

Henry Clay Frick owned a number of significant oil on canvas examples of eighteenth-century portraiture; yet, Frick and his peers also prized the works of the masters of the mezzotint—artists like Valentine Green and John Raphael Smith (1752–1812) who could take on a Gainsborough or a Reynolds and translate its power into print.

Picturesque Architecture by Thomas Shotter Boys
The final component of our look at printmaking is a rare glimpse of the Frick’s complete folio Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen, Etc; drawn from nature and on stone by Thomas Shotter Boys, London exhibited in its entirety for the first time in over 20 years. These 29 chromolithographs by Thomas Shotter Boys (1803-1874) are technically brilliant, full of charming detail, and give a glimpse into the sights tourists of the early 19th century would have admired, whether traveling, or leafing through Boys’ groundbreaking publication. Boys, an accomplished watercolorist, often provided picturesque views of foreign cities to the newly popular travel books of the first half of the nineteenth century. Working during the romantic period, when writers, musicians and painters infused their works with a subjective, personal response to nature and a highly emotional atmosphere, Boys’ chromolithographs combine a romantic’s sense of setting with careful observation, delineation, and a fine sense of color harmony. Picturesque Architecture is considered his masterpiece and the finest work of chromolithography published up to that time. His goal was to create chromolithographs that replicated the quality of his watercolors. Indeed, when we have selection from the folio on view at the museum, visitors often are astonished to learn that they are prints and not one of a kind watercolors.

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June 15, 2012

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