February 15, 1972
An exhibition of 80 etchings and drypoints from The Brooklyn Museum entitled THE ETCHERS OF PARIS: 1850-1900, will open in the Print Gallery on February 21 and remain on view through April 15. Included in the exhibition are many unfamiliar and rarely seen works by such French masters as Manet, Degas, Rodin, Pissarro, Lepére, Meryon, and Cassatt, and offering the viewer an opportunity to see yet another aspect of their work. Admission is free.
During the 18th century, original etching was little practiced and less understood. Etchings and engravings were primarily done by professional etchers whose dry and mannered techniques were put to the task of producing portrait engravings and prints of works in other media.
In the early 19th century, it was the painters, rather than the professional etchers, who were responsible for the revival of interest in this art, the future of which they felt to be in danger. The center of the revival was Barbizon, the first famous artist’s colony founded in the 1820’s in a small village on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau. Many of the painters spent long periods at Barbizon, carrying their copper plates into the fields to record impressions of nature at first hand. Daubigny, Jacque, Legros, Corot and Millet produced landscapes and scenes of peasant life imbued with the strength and nobility these artists felt was characteristic of those who lived close to the earth.
Later in the city of Paris, Charles Meryon produced etchings whose somber and mysterious qualities made them much more than routine city views, due to his ability to fill them with light. “The whole problem of etching,” wrote Victor Hugo, “is that of the light and shade...M. Meryon solves them magnificently.” Followers of Meryon such as Maxime Lalanne, also turned to the city as subject and in 1850, poet and critic Charles Baudelaire ‘discovered’ a valid new theme for art in the personality of the city.
By the l860[']s and ‘70’s, etching had become a popular medium sought after for its own qualities. Cadart, the publisher, formed a French Etching Club in New York City in 1886. The Société des Aquafortistes, founded in 1862 by artist/critic Felix Bracquemond, boasted such members as Manet, Daumier, Whistler, Degas, Pissarro, Legros, and Courbet, most of whom at that time were beginning their careers, and all of whom were later to become illustrious names in French painting. Together they had the courage to experiment with new techniques as well as the desire to see the art of engraving flourish once again.
THE ETCHERS OF PARIS: 1850-1900, vividly illustrates how painters and sculptors in the late 19th century made prints with a fresh, spontaneous disregard for the rules of technique bringing to the medium the impress of personality and a variety of individual concerns. In contrast to Mary Cassatt, whose swift lines and sweeping strokes were due to her working directly from the model, it is interesting to see Manet’s deliberate attempts to copy his own paintings over and over on the plates, giving the compositions a studied quality. Pissarro, whose first etchings were influenced by Corot and Millet, went on to use aquatint, learning to heighten the tones, vary the values and obtain from the copper plate the same variety of greys that he achieved on his canvases. Lepére enjoyed the flexibility that etching gave him to experiment with different drawing techniques and play with light and shade, while the sculptor Rodin was able to adapt his technique with the chisel to the etching needle. He would attack the plate almost as a piece of marble, beginning with heavy strokes to outline his forms and gradually decreasing the intensity as he went along, giving his engravings an extraordinary relief.
Setting the tone for THE ETCHERS OF PARIS will be a slide show of old photographs of 19th century Paris and many of the artists represented in the exhibition. A check list will be available without charge.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1973, 003-4. View Original