All the Rage

Printmaking in ParisThe 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.

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