Magazine of art press and reviews from London
Tuesday, 30th Spetember 2014
The prints exhibition Bruegel to Freud showed works that are not on permanent display, at the Courtauld Gallery, London.
The Courtauld Gallery put on show some works on paper coming from its major collections, which is one of the most important in Britain, with approximately 7,000 drawings and watercolours and 20,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century. The second Summer Showcase provided visitors with an introduction to the largest but least known part of the Gallery’s outstanding collection – its holding of prints. This selection of some thirty particularly remarkable and intriguing examples spanned more than 500 years and encompassed a variety of printmaking techniques.
The display opened with The Flagellation of Christ (around 1465-70), by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna, an ambitious engraving which reinvents this often depicted Passion scene. By contrast, the grand scale of a ten-part engraving after Michelangelo’s celebrated Last Judgment by French printmaker Nicolas Béatrizet exemplifies the ability of a print to reproduce a monumental work of art in spectacular fashion.
The 15th and 16th century printmaking are ruled by subjects of Christian iconography, but from early on were accompanied by secular topics, due to a strong demand of new imagery coming from collectors. An excellent example of this situation is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Rabbit Hunt (1560), the only print executed by the artist himself. Bruegel chose the etching technique, nearer to drawing, which gave him the possibility to depict the scene with extraordinary naturalism.
In the following centuries the chances of printmaking were much more. Prints could record historical events such as battles or pageants, as in
the exquisite etchings of Jacques Callot and Stefano della Bella. The ability of Canaletto to render the Venice views of 18th century is well-known. On display also the conspicuous architectural inventions of Piranesi. The 19th century in France saw avant-garde artists embracing printmaking, with Edouard Manet’s homage to Old Masters, Paul Gauguin’s revival of the woodcut and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s brilliant adoption of the newer technique of lithography for his evocative depictions of Parisian entertainment such as his dynamic Jockey from Samuel Courtauld’s collection.
In the 20th century Pablo Picasso’s and Henri Matisse’s tireless experimentation helped ensure the vitality of printmaking in the art of their time. The display concludes with prints by Lucian Freud, now widely acknowledged as a modern master of the medium, and with more recent work by Chris Ofili whose prints, both figurative and abstract, have continued to reinvent printmaking in the 21st century.
The Courtauld Gallery prints collection grown up by a series of outstanding individual gifts, including the prints coming from Samuel Courtauld alongside his collection of French Impressionist paintings and drawings, and Count Antoine Seilern’s Princes Gate legacy which brought many of the most famous individual sheets into the collection. By far the largest portion of the collection came from Sir Robert Witt, who established the Witt Library as an image bank for art historians. While the majority of the Witt prints reproduce works of art in other media, his collection also included artists’ prints of outstanding quality, including unique impressions of proof states by the 16th century artists Jacques Bellange and Johannes Stradanus.
The exhibition has been curated by Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper, The Courtauld Gallery.
The “Summer Showcase: Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery” was on show from 19th June to 21st September 2014, at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London.