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Collectors' Choice, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeOld Master Prints; Modern British Prints: two approaches to print collecting.

With a brief history of earlier print collecting as well as of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers & the affiliated Print Collector’s Club.

The majority of the prints in this catalogue come from two private collections, which reflect contrasting approaches to print collecting. One is an art historian’s traditional wide ranging collection of mainly old master and 18th & 19th century material, important for its subject matter as well as the printmaker who produced it. The other was in its day contemporary print collecting, in the main from the annual exhibitions of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (the R.E.) during the years c1920-40 and through the affiliated Print Collectors’ Club, which offered lay members an annual presentation print selected from three alternative plates etched by members of the R.E.

Print collecting started almost as soon as artists began to make prints. In the late 15th century, aside from woodcuts bought from abbeys and fairs as aids to devotion, ‘fine’ engravings by Mantegna, Dürer, Lucas van Leyden &c were acquired directly from the artist and prized as original printed drawings.

The inherent market potential in multiple impressions quickly widened the scope of printmaking in the early 16th century to embrace reproductive as well as original graphic work. The Renaissance & Mannerist ages’ awareness of their own great contemporary masters, and their dialogue with newly recovered classical antiquity, fed the demand for printed images. Specifically pictorial engraving workshops were established, followed shortly by print publishing houses, first in Italy, soon imitated in northern Europe.

Printmaking was central to the mainstream art of the period, appreciated both in its own right as an expression of disegno and also as a means of reproduction. Artists such as Raphael or Parmigianino, Brueghel or Martin de Vos, not necessarily themselves original printmakers, produced designs specifically to be engraved. In parallel, professional engravers borrowed and adapted motifs from other artists and the antique to create their own ‘original’ images. Connoisseur audiences enjoyed the recognition of theme and variation and the enhancement of meaning this could suggest. Art apprenticeship in any discipline almost invariably involved copying prints of the work of the great masters; the frequency of accidental oil paint stains on old master prints is testimony to their use in artists’ studios. Prints both reflected and spread the intellectual concerns of their day and their easy portability ensured their wide transmission. The firm of Hieronymous Cock, the first important publisher in the Low Countries was called In der Vier Winden (to the Four Winds); aptly signifying the important role of prints in disseminating pictorial motifs throughout Europe.

By the end of the 17th century collecting had become a universal passion among the educated classes in France, Holland (where Rembrandt had an extensive collection), Italy and England (where Pepys and the artist Peter Lely were collectors). At this period prints were not generally framed and hung, but kept in cabinets or trimmed to the platemark and mounted into albums for close inspection. Collections were variously classified by artist and/or by such subjects as the Bible, classical mythology, natural history, portraits of the celebrated, geography/topography/landscape, modern customs, erotica, architecture and ornament.

Collectors' Choice, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeThe prints offered here reflect a similar range of interest, embracing master works, religion and iconography, portraits, architecture and the antique. There is an emphasis on Mannerist artists, represented by some rare examples which when they were acquired anticipated the recent interest in and reassessment of the School of Fontainebleau or etchers such as Battista d’Angolo Torbido del Mora. Several of the items derive ultimately from important 18th and 19th century English collections, notably those of Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Barnard, William Sharp and the Revd J Burleigh James. Sadly condition sometimes leaves a little to be desired.

The R.E. (Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers) was founded in 1880, at the instigation of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, to provide a platform for original etchings at a period when the Royal Academy did not readily admit etchers to membership or even artists’ etchings to its open Summer Shows, though reproductive engravings of Academicians’ paintings were accepted. From 1882 the R.E. held annual shows of members’ etchings, in which only Fellows or Associates of the Society could participate.

As the Etching ‘Revival’ flourished and blossomed into the Etching ‘Boom’ the Society’s scope and aim was widened to include first, ironically, reproductive prints, earlier scourged by Haden, which prompted the resignation in 1903 of two important Fellows, William Strang and D Y Cameron. Reproductive prints were mainly the province of Short (though he was also a fine original etcher and mezzotint engraver), soon to be elected second President, in succession to Haden. The amendment also made way for including old master prints in the annual shows despite the artists’ necessary non-affiliation. Later, members’ original wood engravings were also accepted in the annual shows. Though relief prints rather than intaglio, they were, like copper line engravings, worked with the burin. The collection offered here includes a number of wood engravings, though etchings predominate. In the R.E. shows too, original etchings predominated, as had always been the intention.

Members of the R.E., particularly through the 1920s-30’s, read like a rollcall of Modern British etching: Anderson, Austin, Badmin, Blampied, Brangwyn, Briscoe, Brockhurst, Drury, Griggs, Laura Knight, Menpes, Nixon, Osborne, Rushbury, Short, Soper, Squirrell, Sutherland, Tunnicliffe, van Abbé, Walcot. Many of these are represented in the prints offered here. There were also notable exceptions to membership. From the early days Whistler, due to a falling out with Haden, was not a member. Strang and Cameron resigned early on. Bone, Dodd, McBey and Nevinson eschewed membership. The Society had a bias towards traditional craftsmanship and through the successive lengthy presidencies of Short and Osborne, both also successively Professors of Engraving at the Royal College of Art, a strong membership recruited from the R.C.A. trained as graphic artists rather than as painters. When Graham Sutherland’s work moved towards modernism (surrealism) it was rejected from exhibition with the Society.

The prints accord with the principle themes associated with Modern British printmaking of the period, landscape, urban and architectural scenes (often reflecting European travel), the sea and figure compositions. Such etchings appeal because of the artist and aesthetic but also through the individual collector’s tangential associations. It is an interesting example of the laws of probability in the question of personal preference if one assumes that most of the 300 members of the Print Collectors’ Club received the first print of their choice from those on offer each year, even though only 100 impressions were printed of each of the three presentation plates in any year.

The Print Collector’s Club (PCC) was established by the R.E. in 1921 for those who wished to be associated but were not practising printmakers, or not elected members of the Society. Limited to 300 members (often with a waiting list until the Depression struck) the Club offered advice to members, demonstration evenings and an annual Presentation plate, issued only as an edition to members of the PCC. Subscribers selected from commissioned plates by three different members of the R.E. each year. This catalogue concludes with one collector’s complete selection of presentation prints, from the Club’s foundation in 1921 until 1942; only lacking a print for 1941.

Published 1997
52 pages, 158 items described and illustrated in black and white.

(UK Price: £10, International orders: £15)

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Aachen H von
  • Amato F
  • Anderson S
  • Aquila F F
  • Austin R S
  • Badmin S R
  • Bartoli P S
  • Basket C
  • Bellicard J C
  • Bittner N
  • Boissens C D
  • Bone M
  • Borbone M
  • Bormann E
  • Brangwyn F
  • Briscoe A J T
  • Buckels A
  • Callot J
  • Carracci A
  • Caylus Comte de
  • Champaigne P de
  • Claude Lorrain
  • Collaert A
  • Compardel
  • Cort C
  • Cotman J S
  • Cruikshank G
  • Cuitt G
  • Degas E
  • Delaune E
  • Delleaney G
  • Drury P
  • Duflos F P
  • Dürer A
  • Durnly A
  • Dyck A van
  • Earlom R
  • Edilinck G
  • Exley J R G
  • Fagiuoli G
  • Fairclough W
  • Fiammingo P
  • Flint W R
  • Floris F
  • French School
  • Garzi L
  • Gellée C
  • German School
  • Giulio Romano
  • Goltzius H
  • Goodens S
  • Greenwood J F
  • Griggs F L
  • Hall O
  • Hardie M
  • Hill J
  • Hoare W
  • Honervogt J
  • Houston R
  • Hughes-Stanton B
  • Italian School
  • Janes N
  • Jones R Ray
  • Kneller G
  • Komjati J
  • Lack M
  • Lasinio C
  • Lee S
  • Leibl W M H
  • LeSueur N
  • Lombart P
  • Lorrain C
  • Lucas van Leyden
  • Lucas M
  • Lumsden E S
  • Macbeth-Raeburn H
  • Malton T
  • Maratta C
  • Marriott F
  • Matham J
  • Menpes M
  • Mills A S H
  • Moring R
  • Morley H
  • Moro B Angolo del
  • Moro M Angolo del
  • Nattes J C
  • Neeffs J
  • Nixon J
  • Parmigianino
  • Perelle G
  • Piranesi G B
  • Platt J G
  • Pontius P
  • Quick W M R
  • Raphael
  • Raverat G
  • Ray-Jones R
  • Rembrandt
  • Reni G
  • Riley H A
  • Robertson P
  • Robins W P
  • Romano G
  • Rossini L
  • Rushbury H
  • Sadeler F
  • Short F
  • Simon J
  • Soper G
  • Spanish School
  • Sparks N
  • Spranger B
  • Squirrell L R
  • Stock A
  • Strang I
  • Sutherland G
  • Taylor C W
  • Tod A M
  • Tunnicliffe C F
  • Vincent G
  • Vos M de
  • Vreint F van
  • Walcot W

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