Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Before the invention of the camera in the 1820s and the even more recent explosion of digital photography and the Internet in the 1990s, printmaking was the only means of reproducing and disseminating images in large quantities. While many printmakers throughout history created original compositions and were famous in their own right, some teamed up with painters to reproduce their paintings in great numbers. For both the painter and the printmaker it was a mutually beneficial partnership which increased the reputations of both artists through the broad distribution of these prints after paintings.
Mezzotint, a printmaking technique invented by the German amateur artist Lugwig von Siegen in 1642, created unprecedented capabilities for translating paintings into prints. Its name comes from the Italian mezzo-tinto,meaning “half-tone” Mezzotint is the first intagliotechnique which could create a range of shades between black and white without the exclusive use of lines, such as the cross-hatching of engraving and etching. Mezzotint is also unique in that the artist creates the image from dark to light. The metal printing plates are first worked with an instrument called a “rocker” to create the darkest tone. The mezzotint-engraver subsequently scrapes particular areas which will print in shades of gray or, finally, the brightest white. (Click to see videos of a mezzotint-engraver performing these firstand secondstages in the process.) Mezzotints are characterized by their velvety blacks and incredibly rich tones, which make mezzotint an ideal print medium for meticulously recreating the soft manner and texture of paintings. However, for this reason, mezzotint (unlike engraving and etching) was rarely used by artists to create original compositions.
Mezzotint reached its peak in popularity during the 18th and early 19th-centuries, mainly in Britain. In the 18th-century, prints after paintings by such famous British painters as Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) and Joseph Wright of Derby (below) circulated throughout Europe, increasing the visibility and reputations of these artists. The mezzotint technique brilliantly captures and translates the elegant, flowing clothing of Reynolds’ British nobility portraits as well as the dramatic chiaroscuro(light-dark) contrast of Wright’s scenes which depict the Age of Enlightenment. Mezzotint-engravers were often known for their unique skill in transcribing the work of particular painters, such as British mezzotint-engraver William Pether’s reputation for recreating Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings.
By the early nineteenth century, mezzotint was appropriated by a new generation of British painter-printmakers, such as J.M.W. Turner and John Martin (both shown below), who were both more devoted to depicting landscapes than figures. Unlike their predecessors, Turner and Martin were painters andmezzotint-engravers who used this print medium for original expression. Turner was particularly successful for his work in both painting and printmaking. His collection of seventy landscape mezzotints called Liber Studiorum(Book of Studies) was very widely circulated. Both Turner and Martin exploited mezzotint’s capabilities to create expressive landscapes, full of drama and motion.
Mezzotint fell out of style by the middle of the 19th-century, perhaps in favor of other printmaking techniques, because of the invention of photography, or other unknown reasons. Regardless, this idiosyncratic technique, which beautifully transcribes the softness, expressiveness, and motion inherent to painting, serves as a reminder to us today of the importance of and skill behind creating reproductions before the age of photography.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Student Picksis a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Amanda Garcia ‘16 discusses her show “From Tissot to Toulouse-Lautrec: Fashion Focus in 19th-century French Art” which will be on view this Friday, April 2t6 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Impressionists wanted to depict what was actually in front of them - that is, landscapes and figures in contemporary life - rather than reimagining religious or historical scenes. For their interest in representing contemporary life, they are a vital force which allows us to glimpse the French fashion of their time. Post-Impressionists, a term coined by artist and art critic Roger Frye, was Frye’s way of addressing any artist after Manet. While Post-Impressionists created more distorted shapes and lines than their predecessors, they still stuck to the main Impressionist ideals, and are just as vital in representing the fashion in late 19th-century France. From Degas’ depiction of dancers, to Mary Cassatt’s rendition of social life and mother-daughter bonds, to Toulouse-Lautrec’s images of prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge, they all allow us to muse over the garments worn at the time by every kind of person in the social spectrum.
French 19th-century Fashion History:
By 1860, there were many inventions that led to a revolutionized fashion industry: the sewing machine, synthetic dyes which produced intense colors, the new crinoline skirt shape (a flat-domed skirt silhouette), the department store, as well as the fashion magazine.
By 1867, the cage/crinoline was completely out of style, leaving bustles (frameworks which expanded the back of a woman’s skirt) and tournures(“dress improvers” in English) to take their place. Bustles were often stiffened with horsehair to retain shape and give shape of the dress. As seen in many of these prints, the waterfall bustle was particularly popular, which had a cascading bustle down the back. As the skirts were narrower and flatter in the front, more emphasis was placed on the waist and hips. This meant that the corset needed to mold the body to the desired hour-glass shape, and was achieved by making the corsets longer and made of many different pieces of fabric. Whalebone and pieces of leather were also used to increase the rigidity of the corset.
Featured in many of the prints, parasols had also become a fashion staple, while bonnets, the women’s headpiece of the earlier 19th-century, decreased in popularity due to their reduced functionality. Hats, like the Glengarry Highland cap, Tyrolean style peaked crown hat, and little doll hat were reintroduced at the end of the 19th-century. Women who wanted a more modest appearance wore bonnets, but these were later associated with a more matronly appearance. Very tall hats (called 3-story or flowerpot hats) soared atop very high hairstyles.
I hope you can begin to notice all of the different garments and styles included in the 19th-century prints which will be presented in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at SCMA on Friday!
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Petru Bester and Janna Singer Baefsky are both Smith College students, class of 2015. Bester is majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology, and Singer-Baefsky is majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. They are both Student Assistants in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
When we and other students registered for From Eyes to I: The Art of Portraiturewe were all pleasantly surprised to have the unique chance to play curator at the Smith College Museum of Art. With the guidance of Professor Brigitte Buettner, we selected a body of work from the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs to display and analyze.
The exhibition, developed in conjuncture with Smith’s Celebrating Collaborations conference,was truly a collaborative effort. We began the exciting process in early February by selecting a genre of portraiture from which to work. This was perhaps the most difficult part as each of us articulated strong arguments as to why our choice would work best. Eventually a compromise was reached; the exhibition would feature portraits of women, including artist’s self-portraits and official portraits ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries.
Working in pairs, we met in the Cunningham Center to select our desired prints and an exhibition title. After much deliberation, the seniors came up with a pun that swiftly ended the debate: gaze of our lives? The question led to laughter, a vote, and then the consensus that Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiturehad just enough seriousness and spontaneity.
No exhibition would be complete without labels. With the help of Maggie Lind, SCMA’s Associate Educator for Academic Programs, we learned the art of crafting individual labels and an introductory text. From here, Stephanie Sullivan, Exhibitions Installation Assistant, worked with us to create a miniature mock-up of the display. After the installation, all that was left was for us to prepare gallery talks to present on the opening day of Celebrating Collaborations – Friday, April 20.
Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraitureincludes eight female portraits that encompass a variety of styles, media, and aesthetics unified in their portrayal of women. The exhibition’s intention is to explore different modes of artist representation, the changing social roles of women in society as seen in portraiture, and to convey the various gazes set upon them.
The following are works which will be on view in "Gaze of Our Lives: Female Portraiture" along with quotes from the student curators explaining their selections.
“The way Toulouse-Lautrec rendered her pointed, upturned nose, sword-like umbrella, and designer handbag made her come across as a fierce, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners woman. We found this print so comical, we just had to know more!” - Jinan Martiuk, SC '14 and Janna Singer-Baefsky, SC '15
“We selected this photograph out of a mutual familiarity with Mapplethorpe's work, recognizing its unusual departure from the more provocative imagery he is best known for. When we realized it was a portrait of former President of Smith, Mary Maples Dunn, we were enthralled by the question of what could have brought two such unlikely people together and decided immediately to investigate their story for the exhibition.” - Shama Rahman, SC '13 and Maggie Kean, SC '14
“Oriole Farb Feshbach has ties to the Five College Consortium and was affiliated with the women's movement in the 1970s. We were interested in her use of the mirror as a means of self-reflection.” - Amanda Ferrara, SC ’13 and Frances Lazare, SC ‘14
“We were drawn to this image because of its cultural complexity and critique on the Western gaze.” - Manzhuang Zheng, SC ’13 and Petru Bester, SC ‘15J
“Nicola Tyson's self-portrait is striking and haunting. The bodily distortions and empty skull-like gaze intrigued us--why would the artist chose to represent herself in such a way?” - Honor Hawkins, SC '13 and Maggie Hoot, SC '16
“This print caught our attention because it is a seemingly straight-forward portrait. However, upon closer observation the sitter's multiple reflections in the mirror each convey a different emotion. We thought this composition would be interesting to analyze in the context of our class discussions concerning the various interactions in portraiture - between artist, subject, and viewer.” - Nona Morse, Mount Holyoke College '14, and Marley Smit, Hampshire College '14
“Look at that dress. How could we not?” - Megan Lowry, SC ’14 and Isabella Pioli, SC ‘15
"We chose Cass Bird's I Look Just Like My Mommy because we wanted a work of art that contested ideas of womanhood, which, in every other work, are straightforward. So for us, it was an important point of view to include." - Hailey Hargraves, SC ’13 and Katie Wisniewski, SC ’13