Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Honoré Victorin Daumier, a French caricaturist, began producing prints in 1830 and created over 4,000 lithographs before his death in 1879. Within this plethora of lithographs Daumier produced a series entitled Les Baigneurs,which provides humorous commentary on bourgeois bathers in the nineteenth-century. Before private restrooms were commonplace, various members of society would convene in large bath houses where one could exercise, soak, and relax with friends. Daumier’s political and social satires explore various contemporary issues through both comical and aesthetically interesting images. His characters are exaggerated and often stand in stark contrast to one another.
Les Baigneurs, No. 21,depicts two women about to enjoy the luxuries of their bath house. The figure on the left, tall and lanky, prepares to toast to the short and stocky figure on the right. Daumier magnifies the differences between the two women in their contrasting facial features. The tall figure’s linear physique is reflected in her long pointed nose which protrudes from her angular face which sits precariously on a pencil-like neck. The short figure’s round body is echoed in her equally round face with a rounded nose and full lips.
The inviting pool appears on their left and a bucket resting on the wooden counter behind them holds various bottles of libations. (Although Daumier’s objective is to stimulate thought about social change, I can’t help but feel envious of the bathers and can only hope my summer involves friends, a pool, and a cold beverage!) Daumier frames the image in text with both a title above and a caption below. The text verifies his intentions by poking fun at the two self-indulging women: one says to the other, “Seeing us (swim) one would swear we were two fish… a carp and an eel.”
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Before the invention of the camera in the 1820s and the even more recent explosion of digital photography and the Internet in the 1990s, printmaking was the only means of reproducing and disseminating images in large quantities. While many printmakers throughout history created original compositions and were famous in their own right, some teamed up with painters to reproduce their paintings in great numbers. For both the painter and the printmaker it was a mutually beneficial partnership which increased the reputations of both artists through the broad distribution of these prints after paintings.
Mezzotint, a printmaking technique invented by the German amateur artist Lugwig von Siegen in 1642, created unprecedented capabilities for translating paintings into prints. Its name comes from the Italian mezzo-tinto,meaning “half-tone” Mezzotint is the first intagliotechnique which could create a range of shades between black and white without the exclusive use of lines, such as the cross-hatching of engraving and etching. Mezzotint is also unique in that the artist creates the image from dark to light. The metal printing plates are first worked with an instrument called a “rocker” to create the darkest tone. The mezzotint-engraver subsequently scrapes particular areas which will print in shades of gray or, finally, the brightest white. (Click to see videos of a mezzotint-engraver performing these firstand secondstages in the process.) Mezzotints are characterized by their velvety blacks and incredibly rich tones, which make mezzotint an ideal print medium for meticulously recreating the soft manner and texture of paintings. However, for this reason, mezzotint (unlike engraving and etching) was rarely used by artists to create original compositions.
Mezzotint reached its peak in popularity during the 18th and early 19th-centuries, mainly in Britain. In the 18th-century, prints after paintings by such famous British painters as Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) and Joseph Wright of Derby (below) circulated throughout Europe, increasing the visibility and reputations of these artists. The mezzotint technique brilliantly captures and translates the elegant, flowing clothing of Reynolds’ British nobility portraits as well as the dramatic chiaroscuro(light-dark) contrast of Wright’s scenes which depict the Age of Enlightenment. Mezzotint-engravers were often known for their unique skill in transcribing the work of particular painters, such as British mezzotint-engraver William Pether’s reputation for recreating Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings.
By the early nineteenth century, mezzotint was appropriated by a new generation of British painter-printmakers, such as J.M.W. Turner and John Martin (both shown below), who were both more devoted to depicting landscapes than figures. Unlike their predecessors, Turner and Martin were painters andmezzotint-engravers who used this print medium for original expression. Turner was particularly successful for his work in both painting and printmaking. His collection of seventy landscape mezzotints called Liber Studiorum(Book of Studies) was very widely circulated. Both Turner and Martin exploited mezzotint’s capabilities to create expressive landscapes, full of drama and motion.
Mezzotint fell out of style by the middle of the 19th-century, perhaps in favor of other printmaking techniques, because of the invention of photography, or other unknown reasons. Regardless, this idiosyncratic technique, which beautifully transcribes the softness, expressiveness, and motion inherent to painting, serves as a reminder to us today of the importance of and skill behind creating reproductions before the age of photography.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Student Picksis a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Amanda Garcia ‘16 discusses her show “From Tissot to Toulouse-Lautrec: Fashion Focus in 19th-century French Art” which will be on view this Friday, April 2t6 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Impressionists wanted to depict what was actually in front of them - that is, landscapes and figures in contemporary life - rather than reimagining religious or historical scenes. For their interest in representing contemporary life, they are a vital force which allows us to glimpse the French fashion of their time. Post-Impressionists, a term coined by artist and art critic Roger Frye, was Frye’s way of addressing any artist after Manet. While Post-Impressionists created more distorted shapes and lines than their predecessors, they still stuck to the main Impressionist ideals, and are just as vital in representing the fashion in late 19th-century France. From Degas’ depiction of dancers, to Mary Cassatt’s rendition of social life and mother-daughter bonds, to Toulouse-Lautrec’s images of prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge, they all allow us to muse over the garments worn at the time by every kind of person in the social spectrum.
French 19th-century Fashion History:
By 1860, there were many inventions that led to a revolutionized fashion industry: the sewing machine, synthetic dyes which produced intense colors, the new crinoline skirt shape (a flat-domed skirt silhouette), the department store, as well as the fashion magazine.
By 1867, the cage/crinoline was completely out of style, leaving bustles (frameworks which expanded the back of a woman’s skirt) and tournures(“dress improvers” in English) to take their place. Bustles were often stiffened with horsehair to retain shape and give shape of the dress. As seen in many of these prints, the waterfall bustle was particularly popular, which had a cascading bustle down the back. As the skirts were narrower and flatter in the front, more emphasis was placed on the waist and hips. This meant that the corset needed to mold the body to the desired hour-glass shape, and was achieved by making the corsets longer and made of many different pieces of fabric. Whalebone and pieces of leather were also used to increase the rigidity of the corset.
Featured in many of the prints, parasols had also become a fashion staple, while bonnets, the women’s headpiece of the earlier 19th-century, decreased in popularity due to their reduced functionality. Hats, like the Glengarry Highland cap, Tyrolean style peaked crown hat, and little doll hat were reintroduced at the end of the 19th-century. Women who wanted a more modest appearance wore bonnets, but these were later associated with a more matronly appearance. Very tall hats (called 3-story or flowerpot hats) soared atop very high hairstyles.
I hope you can begin to notice all of the different garments and styles included in the 19th-century prints which will be presented in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at SCMA on Friday!