A faithful dog plaintively howls by the body of his master who has plunged down a mountain ravine to his death. A young woman gazes out a window awaiting a distant loved one. A tangle of winged fairies is trapped inside The Devill’s Webbe. Such moments of emotion and fantasy were explored by the Etching Club of London, a group of artists whose significant contribution to the revival of etching in mid-19th-century Britain is explored in an installation on view from August 31-December 29, 2002 in the Eglin Gallery (165) of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is accompanied by an illustrated Bulletin examining the Museum’s unique holdings of early Etching Club prints.
The Etching Club of London: A Taste for Painters’ Etchings presents twenty rare prints produced shortly after the Club was established in 1838, together with a selection of works from later years. The installation offers a unique opportunity to survey the Etching Club’s critical role in fostering a taste for contemporary painters’ etchings at a time when prints done as reproductions of other works dominated the market. The prints are selected from the Museum’s collection, primarily from the Muriel and Philip Berman Gift of European Prints.
"The Etching Club of London has received scant attention in general histories of printmaking, yet its achievement was the first true stimulus for the production of painters’ etchings in England prior to Francis Seymour Haden and James McNeill Whistler who are often credited with the rediscovery of etching in the late 1850s," said Innis Howe Shoemaker, The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
The Etching Club was the first professional group of artists in Great Britain to actively promote etching as a vital contemporary art form. Formed in 1838 to explore the expressive potential of this technique, the original members included such important Victorian painters as Richard Redgrave (1804-1888) and Charles West Cope (1811- 1890). Before its dissolution in 1885, the Etching Club attracted such notable artists as William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Samuel Palmer (1805-1881). Together they published a total of ten volumes of original etchings, the most well known of which are their beautifully illustrated editions of literature including The Deserted Village of Oliver Goldsmith (1841) and works by William Shakespeare and John Milton. They treated imaginative subjects that proved popular with collectors who became eager to own the works of contemporary artists and touched off Britain’s celebrated Etching Revival.
The installation presents highlights from a group of over one hundred Etching Club prints acquired by John S. Phillips (1800–1876), a Philadelphian who amassed an encyclopedic collection of more than 40,000 European and American works on paper that now forms the core of the Muriel and Philip Berman Gift of European Prints.
Andrea Fredericksen, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Museum’s Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, organized the installation. An illustrated Museum Bulletin by Dr. Fredericksen examining Phillips’ collection of early Etching Club prints will be available for $12 in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329- 4856, or by visiting the Museum’s Online Store at www.philamuseum.org.
Housing some 140,000 works of art, the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is nationally recognized for the breadth and depth of its collections as well as the flair and scholarship of its exhibitions. The Department presents rotating installations of its vast holdings in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries on the Museum’s ground floor and the Eglin Gallery on the first floor. Individual works are also on view in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries.