PURPOSE AND PROCESS: BRITISH AND FRENCH PRINTMAKING 1600-1900

Joanna Selborne, Esmée Fairbairn Cataloguing Project Manager.

Purpose and Process is the outcome of an Esmée-Fairbairn funded project to finish cataloguing a collection of prints that came to the Gallery from the Witt Library in 1990. For the cataloguer Lizzie Jacklin and me, both of us print fanatics, preparing it was an exciting and challenging task, not the least having to select a mere 26 works from over 23,000.

View of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Inverary Pier. Loch Fyne. Morning, 1811.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Inverary Pier. Loch Fyne. Morning, 1811.

The prints were originally part of the vast photographic image bank of European paintings and drawings up to around 1850 acquired by Robert Witt for reference purposes, and left by him to the Courtauld in 1952. Its scope was hugely extended with the arrival of much nineteenth and twentieth century illustrative material from the H.J. Cornish Collection.

Trawling through over 19,000 Witt Library boxes, I found around 2,200 prints suitable for transfer to the Gallery, a few of which are included in the display. Finding a theme was tricky as the collection is so diverse in subject matter and technique.

We narrowed the field by confining the national schools represented to British and French, the areas Lizzie was working on. There were otherwise no obvious unifying characteristics, apart from the fact that most of the Witt prints are reproductive. This means that they were made by  professional printmakers after artists’ work, often in sets or series.

Although there are some very fine original prints (i.e. artists’ prints) in the collection, we chose a token few, since the gems of the Courtauld’s print collection could be seen nearby in the Bruegel to Freud exhibition. How and why the prints were made seemed a logical way of uniting our selection in particular with the Witt Print Collection as a whole.

With this idea in mind we set out to make art historical and visual links between disparate images, such as Bible scenes for a Psalter, an instructional plate from Diderot’s dictionary, an artist’s portrait, a Hogarth satire, topographical views, narrative scenes for popular literary and art magazines, and a turn of the century French poster-style Parisian view.

View of William Hogarth (1697-1764) Time Smoking a Picture, 1761, etching and mezzotint

William Hogarth (1697-1764) Time Smoking a Picture, 1761, etching and mezzotint.

From luxurious labour-intensive copper engraving to cheaply printable wood engravings and lithographs, by way of etching and mezzotint, we aimed to show the extent to which print technology was influenced by the demands of the print and publishing trades.

The display also gave us a chance to reveal some discoveries made during the project, notably a rare French seventeenth-century etching by Jaques Stella and one of the few prints from J.M.W.Turner’s Liber Studiorum series made by the artist himself.

Find our more about Purpose and Process: British and French Printmaking 1600-1900.

Trials and triumphs of student curating: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Madeleine Kennedy, MA Curating the Art Museum student and co-curator of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art.

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After months of planning, today we finally begin installing Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art.

In the last two weeks the curating process has really gained momentum. Last Wednesday my day was filled with a solid nine hours of meetings, beginning in the upper galleries of The Courtauld Gallery, hours before they were opened to the public.

With the galleries deserted, we took the opportunity to take a peek under the floorboards. We needed to figure out where the power source should come from for one of the most ‘expanded’ prints in Impress, a kinetic sculpture by Mona Hatoum.

It was one of those moments when you realise how much of curating is about working creatively within constraints – being part of a grade 1 listed building, The Courtauld Gallery doesn’t have plugs just anywhere!

View of Students Checking out the sockets under the floorboards in the gallery.

Checking out the sockets under the floorboards in the gallery.

Another matter to be decided on Wednesday was that of wall colours. With Farrow and Ball having kindly offered to supply our paint for free, all we had to do was pick the colour which worked best in the space. This sounds easy but we were faced with a bewildering array of paint options – which colour would you have chosen? Let us know on @MACurating.

View of Marian and Charlotte ponder some of the colour samples in the space, trying to envisage which best complements and unifies all the works in the show.

Marian and Charlotte ponder some of the colour samples in the space, trying to envisage which best complements and unifies all the works in the show.

My next jaunt was to meet with the Public Programmes department. As a member of the events team, I had taken my responsibilities very seriously. I made a habit of going to as many museum late events as possible, including the  The Courtauld Lates.

With our heads filled with ideas, we began discussing the practicalities of running a series of creative workshops. After long hours negotiating back and forth with a printmaking artist, a poet, tutors, security, finance and so on, the events schedule will soon be ready to publish. Watch this space for details.

View of Activities at the Museums at Night Lates: Printmaking at the House of Illustration.

Museums at Night Lates: Printmaking at the House of Illustration.

View of Activities at the Museums at Night Lates: Public participation installation at The Guildhall Art Gallery.

Museums at Night Lates: Public participation installation at The Guildhall Art Gallery.

View of Activities at the Museums at Night Lates: Live music at the Court and Craft Late at The Courtauld Gallery.

Museums at Night Lates: Live music at the Court and Craft Late Night Opening at The Courtauld Gallery.

My day was rounded off with a visit to Bullet Creative in South London. This was the first consultation with the graphic designer about our hopes for the booklet to accompany the exhibition. We saw the first options for the cover design on Thursday, and by the following Wednesday the entire design was almost complete.

Fourteen versions later, this morning the booklet went to print. I could not believe how quickly it has all come together – all credit to the text and interpretation team who generated the writing, and our ever-patient designer at Bullet.

Now galleries 13 and 14 have been emptied: The Courtauld’s modern masters which hung there until a few days ago have been safely stored away, and the space has become an empty shell ready to be transformed into Impress. It feels like a surreal honour for these works to have made way for our exhibition. We can’t wait to see it realised.

Picture of Stuart contemplating where Wassily Kandinsky’s The Red Circle, 1939 used to hang

Stuart contemplating where Wassily Kandinsky’s The Red Circle, 1939 used to hang.

You can keep up to date in the countdown to the opening on 20 June by staying tuned to our MA Curating Instragram and Twitter.

 

Texts, Talks and Technicalities: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Jazia Hammoudi, MA Curating Student

With the 20 June opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art fast approaching, this week was full of major decisions.

Now that the loan letters are off and we have a pretty good idea of our layout in the galleries, we’ve started to focus more heavily on the slightly less glamorous but still absolutely essential parts of exhibition planning.

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing and modifying our installation schedule, due to begin 9 June in The Courtauld Gallery. We’ve hired painters, calculated the amount and cost of the supplies we need, and coordinated deliveries for art works with the Arts Council Collection.

 

View of MA Curating students working on their forthcoming exhibition

Behind the scenes – MA Curating

Our press and marketing team have also been working overtime to advertise the exhibition through social media and other avenues (check out our fabulous Instagram MACurating), and our events team have outlined different kinds of talks, evenings, and workshops for anyone and everyone to enjoy.

We’re planning on having a whole series of lunchtime and weekend talks that will focus on different pieces and topics in the show. Make sure to look out for the events schedule, and tweet at @MACurating if there are any particular artworks you want to hear us discuss!

The kinds of texts we want to include have also come under close scrutiny this week, and after some deliberation we’ve decided to produce a small booklet.

It’s going to be an accompaniment to the displays, with an introduction about the show, useful information on printmaking techniques (just to refresh everyone’s memory!), and a few short essays on major themes we’d like to point out.

We’ve also finished writing wall texts, which have been quite challenging. Writing an explanation of an artist’s methods, background, and place in our show all in less than 90 words is no easy task!

Now it’s back to work. Keep checking for more updates on our process.

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Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art  20 June – 20 July 2014