During the second half of the 19th century in France, printmaking assumed a central role in the arts, and painters in Paris took to making their own prints in greater numbers than ever before. These works were displayed in the official Salons and in the independent Impressionist exhibitions, and were further disseminated in art journals and commercial portfolios. The extraordinary vitality of printmaking in fin-de-siècle Paris is revealed in the exhibition Paris in the 1890s: Painters' Prints in the Age of Bonnard, Vuillard, and Toulouse-Lautrec, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from January 24 through April 5, 1998. Drawn entirely from the Museum's rich permanent collections of works on paper, the display will present over 100 prints by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, most of which are in pristine, unfaded condition.
Among the highlights of this exhibition are three celebrated suites of color lithographs by Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A sampling of posters, song sheet covers, and magazine supplements produced by prominent painters will be included along with a striking array of limited-edition prints, in black-and-white as well as color, by some of the best-known artists of the day: Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Odilon Redon, among others. The subject matter ranges from landscapes to cityscapes, scenes of quiet domesticity to an intimate chronicle of the daily routine of a Paris brothel.
In 1862, the great French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire noted that etching--the printmaking technique of the old masters--was once again "à la mode" and had been taken up by professional and amateur graphic artists as well as painters. Innovations in color-lithography technology also allowed artists to make vibrantly colored multiples and work on a much larger scale than had previously been possible. Until that time, only limited edition black-and-white etching had been considered a suitable method for serious artists to make original prints, but now the boulevards of Paris were awash in posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and others, who saw no conflict between commercial work and fine art. This intense artistic activity led to strong interest among collectors, and by the early 1890s posters were often stripped from the walls along Paris boulevards before the paste had even dried. As an English art collector wrote in 1893, "The print collector, wearied for the moment of engravings or etchings, might, without loss of dignity, turn his attention to the wall-pictures that gaily decorate the tedious new streets of Paris."
This exhibition was organized by John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is accompanied by Post-Impressionist Prints, Paris in the 1890s, an 80-page book with 48 illustrations (36 in color) written by Mr. Ittmann.