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Resonances, Elizabeth Harvey-LeePrints rich in Associations

…there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived at other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was."

No work of art is created in isolation but is related to the context of its time, to what has gone before and, with historical hindsight, to what will come after. Just as the artist’s personality and interests, determined by what he has seen or what he is remembering, perhaps unconsciously, will play their part, the viewer additionally contributes his or her own distinct personal associations.

The colour of the wall paper of a childhood bedroom, the well-known view from the living room window, a facial similarity to a loved one, the location of a happy holiday, objects iconic or obscure admired on museum visits, the prevailing cultural ambience of a particular period in one’s life, can all influence and affect how we see and how we relate to an image.
David Hockney has commented in an interview “The fact is, we see with memory, which is why none of us sees the same thing.”

The affordable price range of prints, makes it possible to indulge the occasional idiosyncratic personal rapport, as suggested above, in collecting prints.

Images that call to mind other images or circumstances, images made in direct response, as well as those which unintentionally strike chords of familiarity in the viewer, form an interesting selection and question the whole concept of the nature of originality.
Originality is a contentious term in specific regard to printmaking; replication of images being seminal to its invention. From its origins printmaking has been both a means of reproduction and a vehicle for original creative expression. This dichotomy and the paradoxical interplay between these raisons d’être result in a fascinatingly rich variety in printed art.

A frequently quoted adage of Picasso (possibly apocryphal) is “All artists copy, great artists steal”. Successive generations of artists have regularly borrowed from one another.
Raimondi, as well as imitating landscape backgrounds for his own engravings from Dürer and Lucas van Leyden, directly copied Dürer’s woodcuts of The Life of the Virgin as copper line engravings, causing Dürer to complain to the Venetian senate. Goltzius, took out a protective copyright (privilege) with regard to his engraving of The Standard Bearer, which was being pirated (see item 151), but in each of his six plates of the "Life of the Virgin", tours de force of virtuosity, he himself imitated the manner of six different artists, including Dürer and Lucas van Leyden. It is even reported that he removed his monogram from some impressions and successfully passed them off as original compositions by Dürer or Lucas.

Emulation became a creative force. It became part of artistic practice to select models from the masters and combine them into a new original composition. Rembrandt is known to have owned an impression of the Mantegna engraving of the Virgin and Child from which he borrowed the pose for his own Madonna in The Virgin and Child with the Cat and the Snake.

Rembrandt: The Virgin & Child with the Cat & the Snake Original etching, 1654. Ref: Bartsch 63ii/ii
Rembrandt: The Virgin & Child with the Cat & the Snake
Original etching, 1654. Ref: Bartsch 63ii/ii    (Sold)

In another etching, Christ driving the Money-changers from the Temple, Rembrandt took the stance of Christ, with arm raised holding a scourge, long wavy locks of hair falling over his back, from a woodcut of the same subject in Dürer’s Small Passion series. Copied onto the plate in the same direction as the Dürer print, the figure is reversed in impressions of Rembrandt’s etching. Rembrandt even re-used a copper plate etched by Hercules Segers, which he had acquired. Segers’ Tobias and the Angel was itself a free imitation in reverse of Hendrik Goudt’s ‘large’ Tobias, engraved after the painting by Elsheimer. Rembrandt burnished out the large figures of Tobias and the Angel at the right and replaced them with a large clump of trees in front of which the small figure of Joseph leads the donkey ridden by Mary with the baby in The Flight into Egypt. Two thirds of the plate, representing a panoramic landscape, remain untouched and print exactly as Segers left the plate.

Raphael’s compositions have been amongst the most influential in the history of art. A number of them were based on ancient Roman sculptures. Scholars have identified the different antique relief carvings on various sarcophagi, newly unearthed in his day, which were the source of some of his groupings of figures. Not himself a printmaker Raphael collaborated with Marcantonio Raimondi, supplying drawings which Raimondi and his workshop worked up into finished engravings. Most of the drawings are lost but through the engravings Raphael’s ideas have been transmitted to subsequent generations. As late as the second half of the 19th century Manet would borrow from a Raimondi-Raphael engraving for the arrangement of his figures in Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Detail of three river gods, from a 16th century copy, published by Antonio Salamanca, of the Raimondi engraving of Raphael’s The Judgement of Paris. Raphael took the poses of these figures, which in turn inspired Manet, from sculptural decoration on Ancient Roman sarcophogi.

Jacques Villon: colour aquatint of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.
Manet posed his three principal figures, his brother Eugène, his future
brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff and the model Victorine Meurent,
in direct imitation of a Raphael drawing (now lost) as known to him through
the Raimondi engraving. He was also inspired in the general concept by
Giorgione’s painting Concert Champêtre.

Among printmakers the most powerful and recurring influences, especially as regards British artists, are Rembrandt, Whistler, Japanese prints, Blake, Palmer and Picasso. In continental Europe Velasquez and Goya were also important in this context.
The prints in the catalogue are largely grouped in order to correspond with this list.

Of this listing, Whistler and Picasso, in particular, were themselves susceptible to a huge variety of influences in their own work, as well as themselves affecting the work of others.

Japanese colour woodcuts were a stylistic revelation to 19th century European artists but the opening up of Japan to the West also conversely introduced Japanese artists to the convention of western linear perspective.

James McBey: Artist and Model. Etching, 1924. A self-portrait looking like Rembrandt.
James McBey: Artist and Model.
Etching, 1924.
A self-portrait looking like Rembrandt.

The reasons artists imitate and the nature of their copying are many and various but can be summed up as appreciation, apprenticeship, dissemination and pastiche. The catalogue contains examples of all of these.

Emulation is perhaps a natural adjunct of admiration. The qualities admired in another artist’s work can provide a creative ‘jump start’ or suggest new directions and possibilities. Directly copying another’s artwork can teach much about the work in question. The physical act involving both close observation and intellectual reconstruction gives valuable insight.
The teenage Wierix brothers who proudly added their ages as well as their monograms to their engraved copies of Dürer wished to demonstrate their skill.

Before the invention of photography, hand-engraved prints were the only method of disseminating images to a wide audience; and also the only way to satisfy, or commercially exploit, a demand for iconic images.
After the discovery of photography, the lively surface of a hand-engraved colour aquatint was preferable to the flat, mechanical surface of a photolithograph to reproduce contemporary masterpieces that were housed in national museums and unavailable to hang on private walls except in reproduction (see above - the Villon aquatint after Manet’s painting).

Although too great a dependence on imitation, together with a lack of assimilation into, or the independent development of, the emulator’s own style, can lead to pastiches, most artists make of their borrowing something new and original in its own right. Compositional details and subjects may initially be imitated but are transposed by the unique, individually identifying touch of the artist into something that is immediately and recognisably his own.
A motif derived from another source can be deep in the subconscious and unwittingly presented as an original. As a quotation I can no longer clearly recall or attribute perfectly expresses it, people hear the echoes but think they are listening to the original sound.

Resonances, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeColour of itself has an intrinsic resonance. Even in monochrome prints, which are in principle simply black and white, the black can vary from charcoal to grey-black, to blue-black, green-black, brown-black, the ‘white’ paper from off-white to cream, to buff, to grey-white and all the various shades in between. The resulting effect varies in each different combination. The more so if the monochrome ink is a ‘real’ colour, brown, red or green perhaps. In a full colour print there is the harmony of the overall colour scheme, the relation of the different colours adjacent to each other, and the magical creation of a third colour when two colours are overprinted. Claude Flight of the Grosvenor School wrote in his book on linocut “red over blue over yellow gives a different result to blue over red over yellow or yellow over blue over red, and so forth”.
In contemporary printmaking the complexity of colour printing in the more recently invented processes of lithography and screenprint can result in the role of the printer being that of an important collaborator, going back full circle to the Raphael-Raimondi relationship in the early 16th century.

However, above all, this catalogue contains some beautiful prints, with some interesting comparisons and juxtapositions, and I hope you share my enthusiasm and pleasure in their variety and find they chime sympathetic chords.

Published summer 2009
80 pages, 183 items described, with 161 illustrations in black and white and thirty-two in colour.

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

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Acroyd N
  • Anderson S
  • Ardizzone E
  • Bartsch A
  • Bauer M A J
  • Bella S della
  • (Bewick)
  • Blake P
  • Blake W
  • Bléry E
  • Bol F
  • Bone M
  • (Bosch)
  • Brangwyn F
  • Bresslern-Roth N von
  • Brett S
  • (Bruegel)
  • Brockhurst G L
  • (Bronzino)
  • Callot J
  • Calvert E
  • Cameron D Y
  • Castiglione G B
  • (Cézanne)
  • Clarke J
  • Cornet J P
  • Craig E G
  • Crome J
  • Daumier H
  • Denne C.
  • Dietricy C
  • Drury P
  • Dufy R
  • (Dürer)
  • Durig R
  • Ensor J
  • Erbslöh A
  • Fevre F le
  • Fitton H
  • Fookes U
  • Frost T
  • (Gainsborough)
  • (Giorgione)
  • (Goltzius)
  • Gorlato B
  • Goya F
  • Griggs F L
  • Gross A
  • Haden F S
  • Hardie M
  • Hayes G
  • Hiroshige A
  • Hodgkin H
  • (Hokusai)
  • Holmes K
  • Hoyton E B
  • (Ingres)
  • (John A)
  • (Klee)
  • Komjáti J
  • Laboureur J E
  • Le fevre F
  • Leibl W
  • Leyden, Lucas van
  • Livett U
  • Kollwitz K
  • Manet E
  • Matisse H
  • McAgher(?)T J
  • McBey J
  • Meryon C
  • Michl F
  • Millet J F
  • Moncornet B
  • Monk W
  • Muyden E van
  • Nicholson W
  • Nolde E
  • Orovida (Pissarro)
  • Osborne M
  • Ostade A van
  • Palmer S
  • Patrick J McIntosh
  • Pennell
  • Picasso P
  • Piper E
  • Pissarro C
  • Pissarro O
  • Platt J
  • Possoz M
  • Pott C
  • Prunaire A A
  • Raimondi M
  • Ranft R
  • (Raphael)
  • Rayner H
  • Rembrandt
  • Rethel A
  • (Reynolds J)
  • Ric (?)
  • Richards F
  • Robins W P
  • Rousseau H (le Douanier)
  • Salamanca A
  • Shaw N
  • Short F
  • Smart D I
  • Sparks N
  • Spencer N
  • Stephens I
  • Strang W
  • Sutherland G
  • Symons M
  • Tanner R
  • (Turner)
  • Tushingham S
  • Unwin F
  • (Van Gogh)
  • Velasquez
  • (Vermeer)
  • Villon J
  • Waterloo A
  • Watts M
  • Webb J
  • Whistler J M
  • Wilson R A
  • Wyllie W L
  • Yoshida H
  • Yoshida T

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