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American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939

June 3 - September 4, 2006


(above: Mary Cassatt, (1844-1926), Baby's Back (1890), Drypoint, soft ground, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Bequest of George and Annette Cross Murphy.)


Beginning in the early 1880s, a large number of American artists, many of whom were drawn to the graphic art of etching, set out for foreign lands. With etching tools in hand, they explored Europe, Asia and North Africa, and recorded their impressions of sites and people.

American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939, a special exhibition opening June 3, 2006 at the Brandywine River Museum, features 59 prints by 32 American artists who undertook this artistic pilgrimage. Organized by the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, the exhibition examines not only the artists' motivations for traveling abroad but also the history that led them to document their experiences in etchings. Visitors to the museum will have a unique opportunity to view fine examples from an important movement in American art history that has previously received little attention.


(above: John Taylor Arms (1887-1953), Somewhere in France (1919), Etching, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Anonymous Gift.)

First developed as a printmaking process around 1500, etching has been practiced by an impressive list of artists including Rembrandt and Goya. To create an etching, an artist uses a needle to draw into wax applied over a copper plate. The plate is then submerged in a series of acid baths that bite into the copper only where it is unprotected by wax. The wax is then removed, and ink is forced into the etched depressions. After the plate is wiped to remove ink from the unetched surface, an impression is printed.

Etching "is capable of extremely fine linear details or broad, wash-like effects," writes Stephen H. Goddard, the Spencer Museum's Curator of Prints and Drawings, in the forward of the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. It offers "a seductive array of technical and aesthetic possibilities that distinguish it from other printmaking process."


(above: John Taylor Arms (1887-1953), Arch of the Conca, Perugia (1926), Etching, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Anonymous Gift.)

The etching revival in the United States began with the founding of the New York Etchers Club in May 1877. Similar revivals occurred in France and Great Britain at approximately the same time. The artists' preference for etching was due in part to the popular belief that the medium was especially conducive to capturing the creative spirit as it emerged from the imagination of the artist.

In addition to presenting prints by such celebrated expatriates as Mary Cassatt, Joseph Pennell and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939 trains a much-deserved spotlight on the achievements of many under-appreciated artists. The exhibition includes works by printmakers including John Taylor Arms, Samuel Chamberlain and Louis Rosenberg, as well as etchers such as Thomas Handforth, Lester Hornby and Herman Armour Webster, who exhibited a particular fondness for people and genre subjects. Although the artists featured in the exhibition represent only a fraction of those to go abroad during this period, their journeys and their visual travel records add a fascinating chapter to the history of American art.


(above: Kerr Eby( 1889-1946), Edge of the Sahara (1922), Etching, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Anonymous Gift.)

On view through September 4, 2006, American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939 is accompanied by selected works from the Brandywine River Museum's permanent collection, including etchings by Robert Shaw, Marguerite Kirmse, Blanche Dillaye, Wuanita Smith and Daniel Garber.


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