November 17, 2016

A Vist to the New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library is a magnificent Beaux Arts structure at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street.  Now known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, it is the jewel in the crown of New York's public library system and an invaluable resource to readers and researchers from around the world.  Indeed, I have availed myself many times of the reference works in both the Art and Architecture Reading Room and the Rare Print Room and am always thrilled at the privilege and good fortune of having such a treasure trove of information in such grand surroundings, all just a bus ride away!

So when the Library announced both the re-opening of the Rose Main Reading Room and the inauguration of a new exhibition of 19th century French prints, I couldn't wait to go and check it out.  The Fifth Avenue entrance, guarded by two stone lions nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia during the Great Depression, is imposing to say the least and entirely appropriate for the soaring marble foyer and staircases within.  My destination was the third floor and I always like to mount these massive stairs with their beautiful chandeliers - truly a staircase to [book] heaven!

The Rose Main Reading Room, Room 315, is a massive hall on the top floor where readers can study or work on laptops at large wooden tables.  Nearly the length of a football field with 52 foot high ceilings, the room is lit with both natural light and large chandeliers and features a perimeter filled with books on open shelves.  Ornately decorated with painted murals and 900 carved plaster elements, the ceiling is as magnificent as any European castle's.  Two years ago it was exactly one of these carved plaster ornaments, a rosette to be precise, that fell to the floor during the overnight hours and caused the immediate closing of the facility.

On October 5, 2016, after a full scale examination and securing of the plaster decorations, a cleaning and restoration of the murals and the conversion of the light fixtures to LED bulbs, the Rose Main Reading Room reopened to general acclaim.  An upgrade of the book delivery system was the icing on the cake - now readers can get their books faster and enjoy them in the restored and enhanced comfort of this inspiring space.

Also on the third floor is the temporary exhibition space for the Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.  Recently opened is "A Curious Hand - The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard 1846-1897" a survey of the one of the most unusual and talented print makers of his day, and an artist whose work I have long admired.

Thanks to a generous donation by the art collector Samuel Putnam Avery, the New York Public Library has the largest holdings of the prints and drawings of Guérard in the United States.  This exhibition showcases some of the best examples of Guérard's wide ranging œuvre and offers visitors a chance to view his work process with comparative states ("proof" or "test" prints).  The two long corridors of the north and south wings are the perfect venue for this intimate show and I was able to have a close and uninterrupted look at the lovely prints on display.

Although Henri-Charles Guérard initially set out to study law he quickly realized that his passion lay in art and he devoted his career to the medium of prints.  Influenced by Rembrandt, and later Manet (with whom he was both a friend and colleague), Guérard had his own distinct style that verged on the bizarre.  But no matter whether he was depicting a rather ordinary landscape like these views of "L'Avenue Trudaine", 1872...

or these comical portraits of his dog, "Azor", 1888

...he sought to achieve a variety of effects by using different papers and inks and manipulating the plate itself.

Like many of his contemporaries, Guérard was very much taken with the prevailing fashion of Japonism, in particular the woodcuts of Hokusai.  One can find Japanese elements in both the objects depicted and the stylistic format of the image.  A good example of this cultural cross pollination is this color etching and aquatint of a "Rat in a Vase Gazing at the Moon", c. 1886...

or in this, perhaps my favorite of all of Guérard's works charmingly entitled "L'assaut du soulier (The Assault of the Shoe)", c. 1888...

Guérard experimented with two different shoe colors for this print, one in pink and another in a greenish yellow.  Here we see a beautiful woman's shoe with nine little Japanese male figures climbing all over in a surprising juxtaposition between the playful and the erotic shoe fetishist symbolism of both Western and Asian cultures.

This is a small but dense and important show for printed imagery - typical of the type of temporary exhibitions mounted by the New York Public Library.  These shows, like the Library itself, are always free and open to the public, another reason why I feel so blessed to call this metropolis home!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for sharing this. Unfortunately, I cannot visit the show, would love to see more.

donfink said...

Guerard is a genius unknown but one of the most creative printer of the 19eme century
The Fans are wonderfull too