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First Impressions: American Etchings from The Parrish Art Museum

June 1 - August 11, 2006

 

This summer, The UBS Art Gallery will present a rare collection of late-nineteenth-century etchings from the golden age of American printmaking. First Impressions: American Etchings from The Parrish Art Museum, on view from June 1 to August 11, 2006 at The UBS Art Gallery (1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City), will feature prints dating from 1874 to 1900 of pristine Long Island landscapes, coastal scenes and other locales by leading figures of the American Painter-Etcher movement. The exhibition will open to the public on June 1, 2006 and The UBS Art Gallery will host a special reception on June 8, 2006.

The mid-nineteenth-century etching revival began in France and England, where artists were inspired by the prints of Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, and the trend made its way to the United States in the 1870s. Collected by an art-savvy public who believed education and sensitivity were needed to appreciate the subtleties of the graphic arts, prints were also considered a more affordable alternative to paintings. First Impressions will feature 80 prints by more than 40 artists, including works by William Merritt Chase, Thomas Moran, Mary Nimmo Moran, Henry Farrer and R. Swain Gifford, all of who were members of the New York Etching Club. Many of the works on view originated in the lower Manhattan print shop of Henry E.F. Voigt and is bon à tirer, or the master impression that serves as the standard of quality for artist and printer.

 

About Etching

Etchings are produced by covering a copper plate with a ground of varnish, then drawing on the plate with a stylus. Sketchy effects and details are possible because the ground offers little resistance to a stylus. The plate is then immersed in acid, which eats away a thin layer of copper exposed by the stylus. After the acid bath, the plate is inked and printed. The depth of the "bite" in the plate determines how much ink the incised lines will hold, and thereby their width and darkness when printed. John Austin Sands Monks' The Patriarch (c. 1885), a majestic portrait of a ram with tightly curled coat of hair and twisting horns, shows the exceptional level of detail and texture that can be achieved in a print.

Some painter-etchers preferred to wipe the plate clean, leaving ink only in the etched lines, while others introduced "plate tone" by spreading ink on the uncut surface as well. William Merritt Chase's portrait Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (c. 1882) is a striking example of the varying tones possible in etching. Longfellow's bright white beard and flowing hair are defined by loose, subtle hatching, in stark contrast with the dark tone encircling his profile.

 

Landscapes

By the 1870s, the ease and accessibility of railroad travel made it possible for urban artists to spend their summers working in the country or along the coastline. Artists found the expressive and atmospheric possibilities of etching to be ideally suited to local landscapes and First Impressions will feature pastoral views of East Hampton, Southampton, Montauk, Georgica Pond, Gowanus Bay, Niagara Falls, the Hudson River and Lake George. Some artists etched on the spot from nature, but most sketched their subjects during summer sojourns and etched their plates later in the studio.

Mary Nimmo Moran was distinguished for etching en plein air, taking her copper plates to picturesque sites in the Hamptons. Her "Where Through the Willows Creaking Loud, is Heard the Busy Mill" (1886) is a calm scene, with a summer breeze seeming to stir the lush, detailed foliage. The overwhelming abundance of nature dwarfs several small figures along the river's edge and windmills in the distance. Peter Moran's Summer Time (c. 1887) also depicts a subdued landscape in which carefully rendered cows drink from a stream.

 

(above: Peter Moran (American, 1841-1914), Summer Time, c. 1887, etching, plate: 18 3/8 x 25 5/8 inches. The Parrish Art Museum )

 

Maritime Views

The ocean appealed to painter-etchers because of the unique challenges of conveying movement, light and varied weather conditions. Thomas Moran's Untitled (Fishing boat on storm-tossed sea; after Harry Chase) (1890) captures a dramatic moment as a sailboat struggles against crashing waves. Augustus D. Van Cleef's The Tomb of a Modern Leander, Fisher's Island (1882) is a simple scene with profound emotional impact. Illustrating a waterside gravestone, Van Cleef refers to the mythological character Leander, who drowned in a storm while swimming to meet his beloved on the far shore. The somber narrative of the story is underscored by the flat composition and diffuse light of the print.

 

(above: Thomas Moran (American, b. England, 1837-1926), Untitled (Fishing boat on storm-tossed sea; after Harry Chase),1890. etching, plate: 27 x 19 3/4 inches. The Parrish Art Museum)

 

Genre Scenes

Etchings that depicted realistic or romanticized aspects of everyday life were widely popular with collectors. William Henry Lippincott's Stolen Moments (1888) shows a young woman at leisure, quietly reading a book. The subject's dress and surroundings identify the sitter with the well-heeled women who might decorate their homes with such a print. Nostalgic works like Thomas Waterman Wood's Fresh Eggs (1882), in which two children gather eggs from a barn, were poignant reminders of daily life in bygone eras and the disappearance of the rustic farming lifestyle.(above:

 

(above: Thomas Waterman Wood (American, 1837-1903), Fresh Eggs, 1882, etching, plate: 15 3/16 x 11 inches. The Parrish Art Museum)


 

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