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Curious and Commonplace: European Popular Prints of the 1800s

May 31–August 24, 2008

This colorful exhibition of more than eighty works selected from the Museum's rich collection of popular prints invites the public to enter a forgotten world of fantastic and familiar imagery. Published in a variety of languages, these prints were sold on street corners and in shops all across Europe and could be found in every household, city tavern, and village schoolroom. Although nineteenth-century Europe witnessed an explosion in the production of inexpensive popular prints of all kinds, surprisingly few fine examples survive today. Their production ran the full gamut from crudely cut woodblock prints to refined chromolithographs; they vary dramatically between austere black-and-white specimens and swank, candy-colored delights. The selection on view ranges from images of jumping jacks and patron saints to song sheets and alphabet manuals. Star-crossed lovers appear side-by-side with a magical machine that transforms imperfect husbands and wives into ideal couples. The latest natural disaster competes for attention with miraculous apparitions and serial murders in riveting prints based on sensational news reports. The extensive repertory of images includes a number of categories, such as natural history and toy theaters, specifically intended to engage the imagination of children. These popular printed materials stand out as the forerunners of the comic strips, board games, souvenir posters, and video games of today.

Main Building


Exhibitions in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries in 2008, including Curious and Commonplace: European Popular Prints of the 1800s, are made possible by RBC Wealth Management.


Kevin Kriebel • Dorothy J. del Bueno Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs
John W. Ittmann • Curator of Prints

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