American printmaking and the future of American Art with Eric Baumgartner of Hirschl and Adler
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY WAS ONE OF THE MOST DYNAMIC PERIODS IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PRINTMAKING. WINSLOW HOMER, ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST RENOWNED PAINTERS, STARTED AS AN ILLUSTRATOR. HIS TOUR OF DUTY AS ARTIST/ ILLUSTRATOR DURING THE CIVIL WAR PRODUCED POIGNANT AND HISTORICALLY VALUABLE PRINTS, DOCUMENTING THE LIFE OF THE UNION SOLDIERS. A RESULT OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION WAS THE RAPID EXPANSION OF THE GRAPHIC ARTS AS THE PUBLIC EMBRACED THIS ACCESSIBLE FORM OF ART AND IN THE 20TH CENTURY, FROM 1960 ON, PRINTMAKING ENJOYED AN EXTRAORDINARY OUTBURST OF CREATIVE ACTIVITY AS ARTISTS OF SIGNIFICANCE WERE ATTRACTED TO THE EXPERIMENTAL POSSIBILITIES OF PRINTMAKING MEDIUMS AND PROCESSES.
HIRSCHL AND ADLER GALLERIES, AT 730 FIFTH AVENUE (57th STREET), IN NEW YORK CITY, IS RICH IN EVERY ASPECT OF AMERICAN ART BUT HAS A PARTICULARLY OUTSTANDING AMERICAN PRINTS DEPARTMENT OFFERING, FOR OVER 20 YEARS, A DIVERSE SELECTION SPANNING THREE HUNDRED YEARS, WITH SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON HISTORICAL VIEWS, COLOR WOODCUTS, 20th CENTURY ASHCAN SCHOOL, REGIONIALIST AND MODERNIST WORKS AS WELL AS POSTWAR AND CONTEMPORARY PRINTS.
IN TODAY’S LRFA BLOG, ERIC BAUMGARTNER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF AMERICAN ART, WILL DETAIL THE HISTORY OF THE PRINT DEPARTMENT AT H&A.
ERIC, WHO ARE SOME OF THE ARTISTS IN THE GALLERY INVENTORY KNOWN FOR THEIR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS ART FORM?
My “Top Five” list includes John James Audubon and Mary Cassatt in the 19th century, and Arthur Wesley Dow, Blanche Lazzell, and Edward Hopper in the 20th. Audubon’s hand-colored Birds of America elephant folio represents the pinnacle of engraving and aquatint printmaking. Not long after he completed the series in 1838, the more populist medium of color lithography supplanted this labor-intensive technique, but to the detriment of the finished image. Mary Cassatt’s sensitive drypoint etching and aquatints of episodes in the private and social life of a Parisian woman, done between 1890 and 1891 for distribution by her French dealer, Paul Durand Ruel, are among her greatest achievements, and arguably exhibit more rigorous draftsmanship than some of her paintings and pastels. Cassatt was inspired by an influential 1890 exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints in Paris, and adopted the compressed two-dimensional space of Japanese printmaking to her depictions of Parisian life.
Japanese printmaking also informed the work of Arthur Wesley Dow of Boston. Ernest Fenollosa, the curator of Japanese art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, introduced Dow to Japanese woodblock printmaking (Dow would eventually become assistant curator of Japanese art at the MFA), and his total absorption of the aesthetic led to a revolutionary series of woodblock prints of the salt marshes of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and influenced the burgeoning Arts & Crafts movement.
West Virginian Blanche Lazzell was one of Dow’s students (along with Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Max Weber). Her own woodblock prints employed both black- and white-line techniques to great effect. Rounding out my informal “Top Five American printmakers” is Edward Hopper, who probably needs little introduction. Hopper turned to etching while struggling to launch is career as an oil painter during the mid-1910s and early 1920s. The black-and-white medium served Hopper’s themes of urban isolation and the loneliness of city life extremely well, and today, such prints as Night Shadows (1921) and Evening Wind (1921) are as iconic as his masterpieces in oil.
THE GALLERY PUBLISHES SCHOLARLY CATALOGUES THAT ENRICH ALMOST EVERY EXHIBITION. FOR EXAMPLE, STUART FELD’S Boston in the Age of Neo-Classicism: 1810-1840 CONTRIBUTES SIGNIFICANTLY TO OUR KNOWLEDGE OF AMERICAN ART AND DECORATIVE ARTS OF THAT PERIOD. DOES THE GALLERY SUPPORT A RESEARCH DEPARTMENT IN ORDER TO MAKE SUCH SUBSTANTIVE CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN ART?
Scholarship has been a critical part of Hirschl & Adler since its very first show in 1953, Five Schools and Five Centuries of Art. I think that this obsession with scholarship is due, in part, to Stuart’s background in the museum world. Our series of publications in the field of American Neo-Classical furniture and decorative arts—the series began with Boston in the Age of Neo-Classicism in 1991 and the latest catalogue, Very Rich and Handsome: American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts was just published this month—are held in the highest regard by scholars. We have always had trained art historians on staff, so virtually all of our research and writing is done in-house. Scholarship doesn’t stop with exhibition catalogues and special publications; almost every work of art that we offer for sale is accompanied by a commentary that puts the work into context, both art-historically and aesthetically.
WHAT EXHIBITIONS CAN WE ANTICIPATE AT HIRSCHL & ADLER IN THE YEAR AHEAD?
On December 18 we opened a sweeping exhibition called Very Rich and Handsome: American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts, the sixth in a line of gallery shows focusing on what we believe is the culmination of the furniture-making arts in America. The unusual title is a quote from a letter written by Abby Breese Salisbury of Boston to her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Stephen Salisbury of Worcester, in which she describes the furniture that she had commissioned on their behalf from the Boston cabinetmaking firm of Isaac Vose & Son.
We felt that it aptly summed up the elegance, exquisite taste, and consummate craftsmanship that characterize the best furniture, lighting, porcelain, and glassware from the early years of the American Republic, 1810 to 1840. A 144-page full-color catalogue that, we hope, advances the scholarship of this era accompanied Very Rich and Handsome.
HOW DO YOU PROJECT THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN ART MARKET? DO YOU SEE A SHIFT IN VALUATIONS AND INTEREST FROM EARLIER WORKS TO 20th CENTURY ONES? HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE THE AMERICAN ART MARKET WILL BE IN TEN YEARS?
Oh, my! If only I could find my crystal ball! The shift of interest to 20th-century works that you mention has already occurred. I foresee a continued shift to quality among discerning collectors, so the American art market 10 years from now may be even more bifurcated than it is today. There may very well be an even greater disparity between works of uncompromising quality—no matter what their period—and everything else. I think that the experienced private art dealer will continue to play a critical role in guiding the marketplace to new opportunities, rediscovering talented but forgotten artists—yes, they are still out there!—and uncovering unsung masterpieces.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF INTRODUCING A FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE, RENEE COPPOLA, DIRECTOR AT THE EXCEPTIONAL TANYA BONAKDAR GALLERY. FOUNDED IN 1994, TANYA BONAKDAR AND HER STAFF SET A PRECEDENT FOR EXHIBITING AND SUPPORTING ARTISTS WHOSE WORKS ARE DEMANDING AND INNOVATIVE BOTH IN TERMS OF INSTALLATION AND CONCEPTUAL CONTENT.
I LOOK FORWARD TO EXPLORING THE GALLERY PROGRAM AND ITS ARTISTS WITH YOU.
PLEASE JOIN US – YOUR COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS ARE VERY WELCOME!