The Etching Revival at the Adam Art Gallery

An exhibition of Etching Revival prints opened last night at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, curated by Senior Lecturer David Maskill with his art history Honours ‘history of prints’ class students. Today five of the students involved gave floor talks about their parts of the exhibition.

DSC07477This is the eighth in a series of exhibitions in a collaboration between the Adam Gallery and David’s Honours prints classes. I was part of the 2005 class; our exhibition and catalogue was about artists’ portraits in prints – see my post on Rembrandt, which was my contribution. The exhibitions are a great opportunity for art history students to be involved in curating an exhibition; they also give Wellingtonians an opportunity to see some prints that aren’t often seen. Some in the current exhibition have never been exhibited. Most are loaned from Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand, which has such a good print collection; occasionally they come from the Alexander Turnbull Library, once from Victoria University Library (the Gazette des Beaux Arts books) or further afield.

This year’s class has focussed on the Etching Revival c.1850 to 1940 – this was a period when artist/printmakers “produced finely crafted prints for an eager market of fine art connoisseurs and a middle-class hungry for traditional subjects in a world that was rapidly changing”. The ‘revivalists’ looked to the works of three master etchers, in particular — Rembrandt, Charles Meryon, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler — as source and inspiration. The exhibition uses works by these three to examine “traces of their legacy in the subjects, styles and processes that were carried over in the practices of British artists such as Muirhead Bone, David Young Cameron, and Francis Seymour Hayden; Australians such as Lionel Lindsay and Mortimer Menpes, and New Zealanders: Harry Linley Richardson, Trevor Lloyd, Mina Arndt, and Frederick Vincent Ellis.” (Adam Art Gallery current exhibitions)

Coincidentally, at Te Papa, Mark Stocker has curated an exhibition and written a short essay about Louis Rosenberg and his part in the Etching Revival. The two exhibitions complement each other and it is fairly rare to see two print exhibitions in Wellington at the same time.

Prints are, perhaps, an ‘acquired taste’ – often they are not colourful and are usually small in size, so they don’t shout ‘look at me’, but can reward the viewer prepared to look closely. It may also help if you know something about their making, and maybe have even tried making them (as I have, but not very successfully!) There are different print techniques – this exhibition includes mostly etchings, which is where a metal plate is covered with an acid-resistant ground and an etching tool or needle is used to draw an image into the ground; the plate is then put in an acid bath and the lines are ‘bitten’ or etched by the acid. By inking the plate the ink is absorbed into the lines, the plate is then wiped clean and the image is printed onto paper (the action of going through a printer forces the ink in the lines onto the paper).

I have the catalogues for seven of the eight student print exhibitions – I am missing the first, which was on prints of the Pacific. I have seen a copy, but they are now very rare. In 2011, the exhibition was curated by art history professor Geoffrey Batchen and history of photography students and focussed on NZ-expatriate artist Len Lye’s photograms. The other print exhibition catalogues are:

‘The Cutting Edge: avant-garde printmaking in Europe 1900-1950’ (2001)

‘Before Addled Art: the graphic art of Lionel Lindsay’ (2003)

‘Artiface: artists’ portraits in prints’ (2005)

‘Pulp fictions: the art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’ (2007)

‘GBA: print publishing in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1859-1933’ (2009)

‘State of the Art: reproductive prints from the Renaissance to now’ (2013)

‘Traces of the Wake: the Etching Revival in Britain and Beyond’ (2015)

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