All the Rage
The year was 1897 and Camille Pisarro, in Paris, wrote to his son, Lucien, in London, that “No one pays any attention nowadays to anything but prints; it’s a rage, the young generation produces nothing else.” Printmaking, which had until the mid-nineteenth century served chiefly as a mechanism for reproducing imagery, had become an intensely popular form of artistic expression. In 1862, 35 years before Camille Pisarro wrote to his son about the rage for prints, a band of artists that included Edouard Manet, James McNeill Whistler, Albert Besnard, and Henri Fantin-Latour established the “Société des aquafortistes,” which would go on to play a major role in the rise in interest in etching in France and also in the United States and other parts of Europe. Neither school nor academy, the Société embodied a spirit of independence; they organized their own shows of etchings (which were not accepted by juries of the official art institutions), and garnered the support of many wealthy collectors. A few decades later, in 1890, another group of rebellious artists calling themselves Les Nabis (this group counted among its members Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, and Henri-Gabriel Ibels) bonded over a common goal of integrating art and daily, modern life; they, too, embraced printmaking among a wide variety of art forms.
Examples of these prints from this time period – etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, zincographs, and more – are gathered, and their history and interrelationships illuminated, in the book Printmaking in Paris: The Rage for Prints at the Fin de Siècle by Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho and Marije Vellekoop, just reissued in a handsome hardcover edition by Mercatorfonds. The works in the book, culled from the world-class prints collection at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, include limited-edition prints as well as artists books and mass-produced posters, programs, and flyers. They are displayed rarely because of their fragility. Thanks to print media, the book provides a way to share images of the works on paper. Thanks to digital media, we are happy to share a brief slideshow of a selection of these images with you today.