The Courtauld Gallery houses one of the largest collections of works on paper in Britain, with some 7,000 drawings and watercolors and 20,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century. On this occasion, the gallery has made a selection of some of the most important and extraordinary prints, presenting to the public in an exhibition that will be open until September.
The gallery’s exhibition begins with the engraving of Andrea Mantegna The Flagellation (about 1465-1470), where the Italian Quattrocento master breaks tradition and shows the tortured Christ as vulnerable and fearful. Being one of the first to use etching, Mantegna was attracted by its potential to create original compositions that were reporting their work with a wider audience. A century later, Parmigianino engraves The Entombent (before 1530), where the body of Christ, showing their vulnerability in treatment of attenuated limbs, expects to be lowered into the grave.
As a parody of the elegant seduction scenes in French art of the eighteenth century, English artist William Hogarth describes two encounters, somewhat less romantic, on two engravings titled Before and After (1736). As it was done during the Renaissance, the author used printmaking to broadcast a popular topic among a wider market.
Paul Cezanne produced only eight engravings throughout his career, five of which occurred during the summer of 1873, along with Camille Pissarro. Both artists experimented with the technique, as in Guillaumin With the Hanged Man (1873), where the spontaneity of joyful image suggests that was quickly sketched from life, directly on the sheet. In contrast, other artists, such as Pablo Picasso, made hundreds of engravings during his career. Drinking Minotaur and Reclining Woman (1933) reveals the artist’s obsession with intellectual and sexual aspects of the creative process. The mythical figure of the Minotaur represents lust, while the precision and grace of line engraving by Picasso could be seen as an indication of the cold rationality.
After 34 years of inactivity, Lucian Freud returned to printmaking in the 1980s His unusual method involves working directly on the engraving plate, without the use of preparatory drawings. Blond Girl (1985) is part of a series that addresses the issue of the human form. Freud declines to represent the environment model; rather, figure floating in space, calling attention to the form, line and interpretation of the flesh.
N.E. 1 (2002), is considered by its author Linda Karshan as one of her most significant engravings. Depending on a disciplined practice, based on the choreography and rhythm of their movements, printmaking emerges from the process of creation, rather than a preconceived plan.