Inscribing Prints

The Prints and Drawings Study Room is hosting a new displays that responds our Reading Drawings in The Courtauld Gallery. Print Room Assistants Imogen Tedbury and Sean Ketteringham talk us through the latest display.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition Reading Drawings, which showcases inscriptions on drawings in the Courtauld collection, this display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room looks at the function of inscriptions in prints. The Courtauld Gallery has 7,000 drawings, but it also has over 26,000 prints – so we had plenty of works to choose from!

Printed text in printed images can function very differently to handwritten text in drawings. So, we decided to leave aside the themes thoroughly examined in the drawings exhibition – attribution, the history of collecting and working practices – instead exploring why and how prints include text, and what functions word and image can serve together, across a broad range of dates and places. Playing around with the word and concept of ‘Authority’, we thought about the relative ‘authorities’ of text in an image: what happens when text moves from the frame or border to take up an active role in the image itself?

Some Early Modern printmakers represented God by representing the Word of God – his textual ‘authority’, if you like. In these prints, the physical representation of God’s Word as visual sign plays a central role within the image. In the Fall of the Tower of Babel, for example, the illegible rotation of the Latin text signifies the fragmentation of earthly language.

We were also interested in how an authority – whether political, religious or artistic – can be undermined by the use of inscription. Two eighteenth-century satirical prints chosen for the display use fragments of text to make fun of their subjects, subverting them by parodying religious language. An attack by an anonymous artist on Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Britain, even seems a forerunner for 2017 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton’s installation of a giant bottom, Project for Door (After Gaetano Pesce), or Pauline Boty’s 1966 painting, Bum!

Printmaking’s close relationship with book-printing inspires the last group of prints – a selection of title pages and cover images from Canaletto to Wyndham Lewis considering how frontispieces reveal and conceal their textual and pictorial content. In these prints no clear boundary can be drawn between word and image, as together they combine to communicate the author’s identity.

Come and see these printed treasures, some of which have not been on display before. The Prints and Drawings Study Room is open by appointment Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, or drop in on Wednesday afternoons during term time, 1.30-4pm, no appointment needed

Idol-Worship or The Way to Preferment, a portrait of Robert Walpole., 1740, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy

Our Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection exhibition is currently under way and the Prints and Drawings Study Room is also celebrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. We asked Alexander J. Noelle, Print Room Assistant, to tell us more:

As a doctoral student whose research focuses on the Italian Renaissance, I was thrilled when I heard that the Gallery was planning an exhibition of Botticelli’s exceptional drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, now on view. I thought that the arrival of these masterworks would provide an excellent opportunity to showcase related prints from the Courtauld’s collection of works on paper. In my role as a Print Room Assistant, I began searching through the 26,000 prints to select a small group for a temporary display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room. What I found was the first full set of widely distributed illustrations for Dante’s epic poem.

In 1792, British sculptor John Flaxman (1755 – 1826) designed 111 plates depicting the complete narrative of Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Although other artists had responded to the visually evocative text before Flaxman, he was the first to draw an illustration for every canto (an Italian term for the sections of a long poem) and, through print, disseminate his work to a wide audience. Flaxman was praised for his ability to reduce Dante’s complex language to simple symbolic icons that still managed to capture the spiritual essence of the story.

Flaxman Dante Title

Title Page: Compositions from the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, by John Flaxman, Sculptor. Tommaso Piroli (ca.1752-1824) after John Flaxman (1755-1826), 1793 (1807 edition), engraving.

The prints certainly look modern when compared to Botticelli’s depictions, yet when they were first published they were celebrated as belonging stylistically to the age of Dante himself. Flaxman was living in Rome when he drew the illustrations, actively studying artworks made by ‘primitive’ Medieval and Renaissance artists, and sometimes copying exact motifs into his illustrations. This influence, combined with the simple outline design, led Flaxman’s contemporaries to associate his drawings with Dante’s own era.

The sixteen prints on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room correspond to specific drawings of the same canti by Botticelli in the Gallery. While it is unlikely that Flaxman saw Botticelli’s own illustrations, the comparisons query whether the viewer today can see the Renaissance influence in Flaxman’s prints.

Installation Shot

 

‘Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy’ is on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room until 15 May. See opening times here.

There is also the opportunity to hear Alexander do a lunchtime talk in the Gallery on this exhibition at 1:15pm on Thursday 10 March. 

A Closer Look: Discovering the story of William Hogarth’s Before and After by Zoe Dostal

During the Print Room Open House ‘Storylines’, from 25-29 January, postgraduate Print Room Assistants are presenting artworks that explore the variety of methods artists use to tell a story. When preparing my own presentation for William Hogarth’s engravings Before and After, I additionally wanted to consider the ‘story’ of the physical object itself. Kate Edmondson, Conservator of Works on Paper for the Courtauld Gallery, guided my exploration of the objects’ histories from the fabrication of the paper to the application of the ink, through the hands of collectors and conservators to storage and display at The Courtauld.

Hogarth Before

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), Before (1736), etching and engraving

Hogarth After

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), After (1736), etching and engraving

Before and After are generally in very good condition, yet small irregularities or imperfections provide clues to the making of the prints. ‘Raking light’ is one of the conservator’s simplest and most useful tools. Simply shining light across the paper at a low angle reveals the texture of the paper and medium, details that are generally imperceptible to the naked eye. Examining Before in raking light reveals a raised vertical line extending from the top edge of the paper towards the center of the image. My first instinct was to assume that this was a tear or accidental fold. But Kate determined that because the ink is neither interrupted nor distorted, as it would be by a tear or fold, this mark is actually a natural crease resulting from the paper making process.

Vertical crease

Detail of vertical crease in normal reflected light

Vertical crease 2

Detail of raised vertical crease in normal raking light

A more noticeable blemish on Before is located just above the dog’s head, on the skirt of the female figure. This small, round, bare patch at first appears to be the result of damage. However, examining the mark under the stereomicroscope, Kate deduced that this imperfection occurred during the printing process. The outline of ink that delineates the bare spot tells the story of how the raised surface of an accretion, or an unknown foreign body, disrupted the application of the inked design and caused the ink to pool. (Imagine rainwater pooling around the bottom of a hill, creating a ring of water around the base.) It was likely that the accretion was sitting on the surface of the paper as it was pressed to the printing plate. Today the accretion is no longer there, leaving the small, un-inked circular patch.

Skirt

Close up detail of missing media lower centre of skirt

Furthermore, raking light reveals that After was previously folded in half across the middle. Kate explained that such a strong fold such as this is difficult to completely remove because paper retains an irrevocable ‘memory’ of such deformations. But one way to try and reduce its visual distraction is to apply a repair on the verso along the fold to “ease” out the noticeable ridge. In this case a Japanese paper (a strong, lightweight, translucent paper) was applied with conservation grade adhesive across the whole of the verso. The Japanese paper lining tells the most recent story of the prints, when they became part of The Courtauld’s collection and were prepared for display. The conservation efforts minimize the visibility of the imperfections of the print for the viewer, but are also completely reversible, allowing for the story of the object to continue evolving in the future.

After in normal

After in normal reflected light

After in raking

After in raking light revealing horizontal fold across the middle

To discover these stories and more of Hogarth’s Before and After, all are welcome to stop by the Print Room Open House on Wednesday 27 January from 1:30-5pm.

Print openings

Don’t Miss the Next Open House Week! (January 25-29, 2016)

The fourth installment of our Prints and Drawings Open House, entitled Storylines, begins on Monday, January 25th!

For one week only, the Courtauld Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistants will be presenting a selection of some of the most striking drawings and prints from the Gallery’s rich collection of works on paper. The aim of this Open House is to highlight the role of prints and drawings as storytellers and explore the different ways in which biblical, literary and mythological tales, as well as lived historical events, are narrated in graphic media from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.

Between 1.30pm and 5pm every day this week our doors will be open without any appointment necessary, and each work will be on display for one day only.  Our friendly Print Room Assistants will introduce their selected prints and drawings to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions. The students and gallery visitors are warmly invited to drop by to see these rarely displayed works, learn more about the devices which artists use to tell stories visually, and engage in a lively discussion which these works will undoubtedly facilitate.

This Monday (January 25th), we will be starting the Open House with Michelangelo’s energetic pen and ink depiction of the central episode in the Passion, which shows Christ brought as a prisoner before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. On Tuesday (January 26th), the Ovidian tale of Atalanta, a virgin huntress who refused to marry any of her suitors unless they could best her in a footrace, will be explored in Guercino’s large-scale Race of Atalanta. This will be followed by a pair of satirical prints, Before and After, by William Hogarth on Wednesday 27th and by Honoré Daumier’s theatrical interpretation of Molière’s comedy The Hypochondriac (Thursday 28th). The week will conclude with Henry Moore’s poignant Shelter Drawing, produced during the Second World War.

 

The following works will be the focus of each day’s session:

 

Monday (25 January): presented by Tatiana Bissolati

Open week blog Bissolati

Michelangelo (1475-1564), Christ before Pilate (c. 1516), pen and ink and red chalk on paper, D.1978.PG.422

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday (26 January): presented by Alexander J. Noelle

Guercino

Guercino (1591 – 1666), Race of Atalanta (c. 1625), pen and ink, black chalk on paper and canvas, D.1953.WF.4593

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday (27 January): presented by Zoe Dostal

Hogarth Before

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), Before (1736), etching and engraving, G.1990.WL.2005

Hogarth After

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), After (1736), etching and engraving, G.1990.WL.2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday (28 January): presented by Camilla Pietrabissa

Honore

Honoré Victorin Daumier (1808-1879), Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac) (c. 1850), black chalks, black ink wash, watercolour and touches of bodycolour with pen and point of the brush in brown and black-grey ink on laid paper, D.1934.SC.113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday (29 January): presented by Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings

Henry

Henry Spencer Moore (1898 – 1986), Shelter Drawing (1942), charcoal and watercolour on paper, D.1982.LB.15

Honouring John House: A Selection of 19th-century French Prints

G.2012.xx.14G.2012.xx.14

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), The Fish Market at Saint Malo, 1882

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), The Fish Market at Saint Malo, 1882

John House (1945-2012) was many things: an internationally respected authority on Impressionism, a curator of landmark exhibitions including Post-Impressionism at the Royal Academy (1979), Renoir (1985) and Landscapes of France (1995) at the Hayward Gallery, and an eloquent, inspiring and generous teacher to generations of students at the University of East Anglia, University College London and, for more than twenty-five years, at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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While John is best known and remembered as a scholar of Impressionism and especially of the work of Monet, one of the hallmarks of his scholarship and his teaching was his embrace of nineteenth-century art in its entirety, in all its dazzling and occasionally bewildering variety. He insisted that the innovations of the avant-garde could only truly be understood in the context in which they arose, and his students will recall lectures and museum visits introducing scores of once-acclaimed, now-forgotten stars of the Salon; tours of Paris churches and public buildings to view contemporary frescoes; and insights into the arcane practices and systems that governed the exhibition and reception of art, alongside the making and breaking of artistic reputations.

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I was one of those fortunate students, and I selected the current Print Room display of nineteenth-century French prints to honour John’s memory and pay tribute to his wide-ranging interests. One of these enduring interests was the evolution of the official art world in Paris, centred on the annual Salon. Exhibiting there could make or break an artist’s reputation, but it was noted for its conservatism, and as the century progressed artists began to against its strictures. An etching by Léon Bonnat after his own painting of Jacob Wrestling the Angel (1876) illustrates the sort of grand history painting that had long been deemed acceptable at the Salon, while a later etching by Léon Lhermitte of a fish market at Saint-Malo shows the inroads scenes of everyday life had made into the Salon by the 1890s. Two pages of Adolphe Martial-Potémont’s extraordinary Illustrated Letter on the Salon of 1865 offer a glimpse into the way paintings were displayed there: cheek by jowl, the polar opposite of today’s spacious hangs.

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A selection of etched artists’ portraits highlights a more intimate, less formal but no less important aspect of the Paris art world: the friendships that sprang up among artists and bound them together. Adolphe Lalauze’s portrait of the renowned printmaker Félix Bracquemond shows the artist in middle age, at the height of his success. Bracquemond’s own portrait of Alphonse Legros was made three decades earlier, when both men were closely involved in the resurgence of etching as an art form. Legros himself later moved to London and taught drawing and etching at the Slade School of Art. His sensitive portrait of fellow artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) was made during one of his classes as a demonstration for his students; the time constraints of the class dictated his focus on Watts’s face, with the outlines of his clothing barely sketched in.

The display, along with rest of collection of works on paper, can be viewed by visitors to the print room. As well as offering visits by appointment the Print Room is open for drop-in session every Wednesday during term time from 13.30-16.00.