July 1, 2013

Starting from Scratch: The Art of Etching from Dürer to Dine, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Starting from Scratch: The Art of Etching from Dürer to Dine
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
Through August 11, 2013

The exhibition Starting from Scratch: The Art of Etching from Dürer to Dine showcases some of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s finest etchings and includes major acquisitions and masterworks, many on display at the Museum for the first time. The exhibition spans five centuries and features prints by major artists—from Rembrandt and Goya to Brice Marden and Kara Walker—that illustrate the many ways artists have embraced this medium to create original and inventive work.

The development of etching is traced from its first use in metal workshops in fifteenth-century Germany to its application by contemporary American artists. Multimedia and interactive elements demonstrate the characteristics of various etching techniques and offer insight into the artist’s process.

Six works by Rembrandt showcase the innovations he brought to the use of the technique, and include Christ Crucified between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses) (1653-55), an important recent acquisition by the Museum. The great French artist Jacques Callot, a seminal figure in the history of etching, is represented by The Siege of Breda (1627), a grand battle map and landscape that is on view at the Museum for the first time.

Rare first edition prints from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s portfolio Imaginary Prisons (about 1749) illustrate the effects of combining several techniques to create haunting images of mysterious architecture. Other virtuoso displays of technique are presented in Francisco Goya’s series The Proverbs (Los Proverbios) (1819-23), which showcases his revolutionary use of aquatint in imagery that ranges from whimsical to satirical. A series of dark expressionistic images of World War I by Otto Dix exploits the corrosive qualities of the medium to communicate violence and decay.

Etchings by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Camille Pissarro demonstrate subtle qualities of light and atmosphere. A sense of nineteenth-century Parisian life is captured in prints by Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, who shared a mutual interest in experimental etching. Works on display include Edgar Degas’ Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery (1879–80), an etching that he continually reworked and reprinted, creating more than twenty variations of the image.

Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Paintings Gallery, 1879-80
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917. Etching, soft-ground etching, aquatint, and drypoint, Plate: 11 7/8 x 4 15/16 inches (30.2 x 12.5 cm) Sheet: 14 3/16 x 8 3/16 inches (36 x 20.8 cm). 
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the John D. McIlhenny Fund, 1941.
Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Noted artists have often used etching to explore variations on a theme. Featured in the exhibition are four prints from Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite (1930-37), in which the artist repeatedly explores themes of attraction and voyeurism through allegories of the mythological Minotaur, the artist’s alter ego. John Marin’s multiple abstract studies of New York’s Woolworth Building from 1913 show his fascination with what was at the time the world’s tallest building. Several versions of the famous skyscraper are on view from the Museum’s master set of Marin prints, the most complete collection in the world. A selection from the Museum’s unparalleled collection of Edward Hopper prints illustrates the development of the artist’s distinctive style.

Jim Dine's Braid (1972), Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain Series, Zen Study 5 (1990), and a print from Kara Walker's 2010 series An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters trace the medium's enduring legacy through to the present day.

Curators: James R. Wehn, Margaret R. Mainwaring Curatorial Fellow of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; and Shelley R. Langdale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings.

Philadelphia Museum of Art 
Muriel and Phillip Berman Gallery
Museum's website: www.philamuseum.org