April 10, 2016

"The Power of Prints" at The Met

In honor of the centenary of its fabulous Department of Prints, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently presenting "The Power of Prints".  Ostensibly a showcase of some of the department's outstanding holdings, the exhibition is primarily an homage to the vision of its founding curator, William Mills Ivins, and his protégé and successor A. Hyatt Mayor.  Together, Ivins and Mayor expanded and developed the Met's collection to create a body of work comprised not necessarily of the finest and rarest examples, but pieces that, taken together, conceptualized man's aspirations.

This exhibition presents works acquired during the fifty year tenure of Ivins and Mayor and is divided into sections based on printing technique.  Appropriately it begins with a gallery devoted to etchings as it was a gift of 3,500 prints, mostly 19th century etchings collected by Harris Brisbane Dick, that was the impetus for the foundation of the department.  Here we have beautiful examples by American etchers such as Mary Cassatt, Martin Lewis, James Whistler and Edward Hopper...

 Edward Hopper
"Night Shadows", 1921

and European artists like Anders Zorn, Edgar Degas and Paul Helleu...

Paul César Helleu
"Madame Helleu Looking at the Watteau
Drawings in The Louvre", c. 1896

There is also a large selection of fine etchings and drypoints by Rembrandt drawn from the Met's nearly complete collection of the master's works.

Rembrandt Van Rijn
"The Three Trees", 1643

The next gallery presents a group of engravings, most notably a wall of works by Albrecht Dürer that is absolutely breathtaking.

 Albrecht Dürer
"Adam and Eve", 1504

There is also a section dedicated to woodcuts, or wood engravings as they are also known.  Most of the examples presented were book illustrations with the volumes opened up to show the beautiful artwork cached within.

 Roberto Valturio
"De Re Militari (On The Military Arts)", 1472

Cesare Vecellio
"De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diversi parti del mondo, libri due...
(Of Ancient and Modern Dress of Diverse Parts of the World in Two Books)", 1590

The third and final gallery is devoted to lithographs and featured both popular art, like posters and postcards, and "fine" art.

Edouard Manet
"The Execution of the Emperor Maximillian", 1868

Ivins and Mayor believed that prints opened windows onto everyday lives therefore advertising art was a prime source of sociological and historical information as well as being graphically arresting.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec
"Moulin Rouge:  La Goulue", 1891

"Night View of World's Fair Grounds from
Observation Platform of Sky Ride"
From the Chicago World's Fair series, 1933

Today, The Met's collection comprises an impressive 1.2 million prints, plus 17,000 drawings and 12,000 illustrated books, making it one of the largest repositories in the world.  But it all began one hundred years ago with the vision of two men who believed that prints, and the dissemination of information through imagery, was the most democratic form of art and education, as well as a feast for the eyes!

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