Published: September 3, 2002
NEW YORK CITY – From William Delamotte’s (1775-1863) lyrical etched portraits of trees in the English countryside to Salvador Dali’s (1904-1989) Surrealist beach scene to the abstracted views of natural settings by contemporary artists like Marcus Raetz (b. 1941), a new exhibition at The New York Public Library reveals artists’ continuing fascination with landscape.
Organized by Roberta Waddell, curator of the Print Collection, “,” on view from September 20 through January 4, unveils new acquisitions that enrich and complement the library’s extensive holdings in prints.
“” pays tribute to a bequest made in 1992 to the Print Collection of The New York Public Library for the purchase of landscape prints. The more than 100 prints by nearly 60 artists in this exhibition were acquired through funds bequeathed by a generous supporter and dedicated volunteer, Mary W. Covington, in honor of Elizabeth E. Roth, who was curator of prints from 1968 to 1981.
The new acquisitions continue the tradition of collecting contemporary artists established by Samuel Putnam Avery, who, in 1900, bequeathed his own collection of primarily Nineteenth Century prints to the library and established the first public print collection in New York City
. Among the contemporary works purchased with the Elizabeth E. Roth Fund are prints and portfolios by Roxy Paine (b. 1966), Alex Katz (b. 1927), Marcus Raetz ( b. 1941), Peter Doig (b. 1959), and Sandy Walker (b. 1942). In “Landscape,” 2001, a portfolio of eight black and white linocuts by Katz, formally cool, abstracted landscapes evoke light-flecked forests, while in “Bluff” (etching and aquatint, 2002) Paine recreates his Whitney Biennial project, a 50-foot-high stainless steel tree placed in Central Park, with exacting precision.
Among the works acquired through the Roth Fund and exhibited in “” are several Old Master prints, including a rare etching by Caspar David Friedrich (1744-1840), the first Friedrich print in the library’s print collection. Prints by the Romantic painter are very scarce; during his lifetime he produced only 18 etchings and four woodcuts, most of which were made between 1800 and 1804. The contemplative mood evoked by the landscape in “The Scene of a Fire” (etching, 1802), a record of the artist’s recollection of an actual event, reflects Friedrich’s penchant for depicting the more melancholic aspects of nature.
Also on view is “The Blind Leading the Blind” (circa 1561), an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden (1530-1576) after Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1410-1516). Although no single composition of the parable of the blind painted or drawn by Bosch survives, his well-known altarpieces are full of such figures as the mendicant blind musicians depicted in the countryside setting of this print. Other recent acquisitions include prints by Jan van de Velde II (1593-1641), Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1665), and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806).
The Fragonard etchings include a series of four bacchanals that reflect the influence of his trip to Italy and were probably inspired by Castiglione’s prints. One of Fragonard’s earliest prints, the delicate, freely-etched Rococo confection “The Little Park” (circa 1763), was probably also inspired by his tour of Italy and was purported to be a view of the gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli.
An unusual addition to the collection is “Landscape with Ruins and a Ford,” a 1722 etching by Gerhardt Janssen (1636-1725). An obscure Utrecht-born glass painter, Janssen took up printmaking late in life, but never trained professionally. He produced his remarkably experimental prints, an output numbering only six to 10 in all, when he was in his 80s, favoring pastoral subjects with classical ruins, peasants, and animals. The artist appears to have first painted those areas of an iron plate, which were to remain white, with a stop-out varnish, and then in the process of biting the plate, returned to further refine the details. Parts of the plate were so deeply bitten that when the plate was wiped, ink remained along the raised edges of the composition resulting in a very modern, “solarized” effect.
A number of works enrich the S.P. Avery Collection’s monumental survey of Nineteenth Century printmaking. “Woman Emptying a Wheelbarrow” (18781880) by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), reflects his kinship with the Barbizon painters. Created over a period of two years, it is the most technically complex of his prints, transformed through 11 states from a gray winter scene to a light-filled summer day. The library’s impression is the sixth state, pulled, according to an inscription in the margin, by Edgar Degas who had eight proofs of this print, in various states, in his own collection.
In a suite of six color lithographs, Nabi Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867-1944) transforms nature into a dreamy Arcadian landscape populated by women, children, fauns and nymphs. Unlike his fantastic mask- and monster-filled commentaries on society and human nature, an etching by James Ensor (1860-1949), done in 1888, communicates a joyful response to nature. Edvard Munch’s (1869-1944) “The Garden,” a 1902 etching and drypoint, evokes a more somber response to landscape. A rich layer of ink left on the large tree at the center of the composition mysteriously obscures the deeply etched lines hidden beneath.
Ranging in date from the Sixteenth Century to 2002, the works on view in “” parallel the scope of the print collection. The exhibition presents a selective sample of the history of the landscape print and artists’ changing responses to the natural world.
“” will be on view at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library in the Prints and Stokes Galleries at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. For information, 212-869-8089 or www.nypl.org.
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