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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeAspects of Modernism


. . . and a small collection of old master prints at the end

In the 500 years from the first great ‘modern’ movement in art, the early Renaissance, in the 14th century until the mid-19th century style evolved with a certain logic through the High Renaissance, Mannerism, the Baroque, and Rococo to Neo-Classicism and Romanticism.

In the 100 years from 1850-1950, and with increased intensity between 1880 and 1920, art went through a huge numbers of isms – Naturalism, Realism, Pre-Raphaelism, Plein-airism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Pointillism, Cloisonism, Synthetism, Symbolism, Aestheticism, Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism, Suprematism, Futurism, Vorticism, Primitivism, Constructivism, Da-da-ism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Tachisme as well as the movements of Art Nouveau/Jugendstil, the Belle Epoque, De Stijl and Abstraction. A compelling and exciting century.

Aspects of Modernism, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeWith few exceptions modernist and especially experimental printmaking is the province of painters who turn momentarily to the print media. Trained graphic artists are usually more traditional in style, though are naturally aware of and respond to artistic developments around them.

In the modern period art dealers and publishers such as Cadart or Vollard in Paris have encouraged painters to take up printmaking to reach a wider audience. The art periodicals, The Studio in London, the Gazette des Beaux Arts and Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne in Paris, the Zeitschrift für bildenden Kunst, Pan, Insel and Der Sturm among others in Germany, etc, commissioned painters and graphic artists to contribute original prints to their publications thus spreading ideas and generating interest in printmaking throughout Europe. Some artists published sets of prints as self-promotion. Artists’ societies published albums of prints to complement their annual exhibitions and promote their membership.

Artists’ printmaking generally lagged behind their prime avant garde activity in painting, though for the German Expressionists of Die Brücke woodcut was an important aspect of their work from the group’s inception. In general the multiple nature of printmaking demands an already established or receptive market and public acceptance of the style or subject content of the print. Hence the usual delay between theoretical manifesto and exemplification in published editions of prints.

British printmaking artists were slower to participate in or contribute to Modernism than their European counterparts, and only did so selectively. Whistler, equally at home in London and Paris was abreast of contemporary Continental developments. Wadsworth as a Vorticist made pure abstract woodcuts by 1917, quite early in the European scheme of things. The British-born engraver S W Hayter through his Atelier 17 had influence in pre-war Paris and in New York when he relocated there for the duration of the Second World War. With the exception of Wadsworth, Nevinson, Nash, Sutherland and the Grosvenor School colour linocut artists, most pre-WWII British printmaking remains traditional and informed by post- impressionism and japonisme.

Modernism can be seen as the artist’s response to the industrial age. This took many forms and affected either form or content or both. Middle class prosperity created a new market. Concentration in urban centres suggested scenes of contemporary city life and conversely an appreciation of landscape and disappearing rural traditions. Industrialisation and urbanisation also highlighted the plight of workers subject to poor conditions. Some artists relished the dynamism and mechanisation of the new age. Others wished to escape mass production and in the spirit of the Aesthetic and Arts & Crafts movements in general advocated the artist printing his own etching plates and lithographic stones. In contrast yet others adopted the new ‘mechanical’ inventions such as photography and duplicating devices like blueprints and Roneo to original printmaking.

Alternatively, non-mechanistic cultures with conventions uninformed by classicism and linear perspective, from contemporary Japan to ancient Egypt, Oceania and African & European folk art, inspired artists in theme, style and technique.

Aspects of Modernism, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeJapanese colour wood block prints had perhaps the most pervasive influence. Their themes from Japanese daily life, theatre, weather effects and beautiful courtesans confirmed existing European tendencies to naturalism and realism and gave new emphasis to contemporary everyday city life as subject matter. Japanese compositional devices were equally influential to artists from the 1860’s onwards. European printmakers exploited such devises as the high viewpoint, the immediacy given by forms partially cut off by the edge of the matrix, the bold simplification of form and expressive outline of silhouettes. Colour, particularly the brilliant modern Japanese aniline pigments, inspired the explosion of the French Colour Revolution of the 1890’s; though colour prints in that decade were carried out in lithography or aquatint. Colour woodblock prints came in with the 20th century.

In modern printmaking, as never before, a particular print technique was selected for its specific characteristics which would themselves actively contribute to the expression of the artist’s intention. Symbolist prints are most frequently soft crayon lithographs; the few pointilliste prints are exclusively colour lithographs; expressionist prints are most typically woodcuts.

While etching continued, particularly among the more traditional technicians, throughout the whole period 1850-1950, other techniques came to the fore in certain decades or countries. The predominance of monochrome etching in the 1850’s to 1880’s is reflected in the name of the Etching Revival. From the later 1880’s and through the 1890’s lithography became popular, especially in France, both as a monochrome technique and in the 1890’s for colour prints, taken up by such masters of the technique as Toulouse Lautrec. But with the new century colour and monochrome lithography virtually ceased in France for several decades, while in England the Senefelder Club was founded specifically to promote the technique among British artists. German Expressionists made use of the medium too.

Aquatint was used by etchers to make colour prints from the 1890’s, with Delâtre, Legrand &c in Paris, Menpes and Roussel in London and continued to be used in France, England and Czechoslovakia through the early decades of the 20th century.

Monochrome woodcut was revived at the close of the 1890’s and colour woodcut after the turn of the century. The first generation, William Nicholson in England, Félix Valloton and Auguste Lepère in France, were followed by Munch, the Fauves and the artists of the Viennese Seccession, die Brücke, de Stijl and the Constructivists. Woodcut lent itself to bold design and was used equally by figurative and abstract artists. At the same time in England, Austria and Germany colour woodcuts printed in the Japanese manner with variegated water-based inks came into vogue. In England wood engraving was revived as a technique for artists’ original printmaking. In England too in the 1920’s intaglio line engraving was revived and through Hayter later exported to France. Monotype was re-invented; lino was exploited as an alternative to wood, cliché-verre briefly made use of light as a printing medium.

Art in earlier centuries had sort increasingly naturalistic interpretation of the external world. The invention of the camera could be seen as making the artist redundant. The art of other cultures confirmed that there were potential alternative roles for the artist; the challenge of expressing the invisible, the world of dreams, emotions, the artist’s own personal vision and understanding of the world, even totally non-objective art.
A great diversity with many aspects summed up in the single word ‘modernism’.

Published 1998
64 pages, 156 items described and illustrated in black & white, with two in colour on the cover.  

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

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Albers A
  • Arnberg H
  • Austen W
  • Banting J
  • Barrett R
  • BaumP
  • Bawden F
  • Begeer F A
  • Belleroche A
  • Bernard E
  • Binder P
  • Bissill G
  • Bouverie Hoyton E
  • Bresslern-Roth N von
  • Brown E C A
  • Bruycker J de
  • Charpentier A
  • Clausen G
  • Collins C
  • Copley J
  • Corot J B C
  • Delâtre E
  • Denis M
  • Detmold E J
  • Dexel W
  • Dillon H P
  • Dooren E van
  • Dufy R
  • Evans M
  • Forain J L
  • Fookes U
  • Frank H
  • Gabain E
  • Goetz O
  • Greaves W
  • Greengrass W
  • Greenaud H
  • Hecht J
  • Heckel E
  • Helleu P
  • Hermann-Paul R G
  • Ibels H
  • Jacque C
  • Jennings P
  • Kalckreuthe L von
  • Kandinsky W
  • Keith E
  • Kermode W A
  • Khnopff F
  • Kowalsky L P
  • Kroll K H
  • Laage W
  • Laboureur J E
  • La Gandara A de
  • Lalanne M
  • Lang E
  • Laprade P
  • Lazlo P de
  • Legrand L
  • Le Sidaner H
  • Lord E
  • Luce M
  • Luling P
  • Macnab I
  • Maillol A
  • Marchand J
  • Martial-Potement A
  • Martin H
  • Mead R
  • Millais J E
  • Nash P
  • Nerlinger O
  • Neumann H
  • Nevinson C R W
  • Nicholson W
  • Nitz
  • Orovida
  • Peeters J
  • Petitjean H
  • Pissarro L
  • Pissarro O
  • Ravilious E
  • Redon O
  • Renoir P A
  • Renouard P
  • Richards E M
  • Rieser D
  • Rohlfs C
  • Rössing K
  • Royds M A
  • Russell A L
  • Schaeffler F
  • Simon L J
  • Simpson A L
  • Steinlen T A
  • Sterrer K
  • Stevens A
  • Stokes G V
  • Stremel M A
  • Sutherland G
  • Villon J
  • Vuillard E
  • Waterhouse J W
  • Whistler J M
  • Zadkine O

Index of Old Masters

  • Aldegrever H
  • Bella S della
  • Bewick T
  • Callot J
  • Constable J
  • Dürer A
  • Goltzius H
  • Lucas D
  • Mortimer J H
  • Rembrandt
  • Runciman A
  • Saenredam J

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