Eye Candy for Today: Carl Wihelm Kolbe etching

Dead Oak Tree, Carl Wihelm Kolbe, etching
A Dead Oak Tree, Carl Wihelm Kolbe

Etching on laid paper, roughly 14 x 20 inches (37 x 52 cm),

Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; original is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, DC, which has a downloadable high-res version of the image.

Kolbe was noted for his intricately detailed portrayals of natural forms, both real and fantastical. What I admire most about this drawing (an etching is essentially a drawing), is the wonderful control of value.

Kolbe has used hatching and stipple to render the foreground form with visceral texture and contrast, but is still able to give the background elements a similar feeling of tactile detail while pushing them back with atmospheric perspective.


Eye Candy for Today: Turner’s Bridge in Middle Distance

The Bridge in Middle Distance, Charles Mallord William Turner and Charles Turner
The Bridge in Middle Distance, Charles Mallord William Turner and Charles Turner

Etching, aquatint and mezzotint, roughly 7 x 11 inches (18 x 28 cm).

Link is to zoomable version on the Google Art Project; original is in the National Gallery of Art, DC, which has both zoomable and downloadable versions.

As he frequently did, British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner worked with master printmaker Charles Turner (no relation) to produce this beautiful lanscape print.

In this case, JMW Turner designed the image did the primary etching, calling on Charles Turner to apply the tones under his direction using the processes of aquatint and mezzotint.

Aquatint involves coating part of the plate in particles of resin, leaving a granular halftone when the plate is etched in acid. Mezzotint is a process in which the plate, or parts of it, are roughened with a special textured “rocker”, leaving a surface that will print as tones that can be burnished to produce variations.

Like most prints, there are multiple impressions of this one; there is another in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This was one of seventy plus images for which Turner made prints as part of a collection called “Liber Studiorum” (Book of Studies), intended to demonstrate examples of his ideas about landscape. For another beautiful print from that series, see my previous post: Eye Candy for Today: JMW Turner etching and mezzotint.


Eye Candy for Today: Whistler’s Weary

Weary, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, drypoint eteching  /><br />
<a href=Weary, James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; there is also a downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the collection of the Freer/Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Museums, DC.

Drypoint, third state of six, roughly 8 x 5″ (19 x 13 cm).

This is one of James Whistler’s most famous etchings.

A master etcher, Whistler here used the process of drypoint to portray his lover and frequent model Joanna Hiffernan in a moment of repose.

Drypoint is a printmaking technique similar to etching that involves scratching lines directly into the plate rather then scratching away a lines in a resist that is then carved by immersion in acid. Drypoint leaves an even softer line than etching, and Whistler’s flurry of soft lines give the modeling of the face and hair beautifully soft edges, the printmaking equivalent of a painter’s sfumato technique.

The hatching across the face looks a bit odd in magnified view, but when viewed at normal size resolves into delicate modeling of the facial features.

Despite the obvious attention devoted to the face and upper body, the rest of the composition feels almost casual; the right hand just seems to dissolve into he gesturally indicated folds of the dress, and Whistler hasn’t attempted to fully hide the upside-down face in the lower left — that indicates he originally started a different drawing on this plate. (I’ve turned the face 180° in the images above, bottom.)

Like most etchings and drypoints there are multiple versions of the image pulled from various states of the plate. The Freer/Sackler collection includes two more of the fourth state, here and here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a state 4 pull from the plate. In my brief searching, I’ve found mostly state 4 versions; there is apparently no known existing print from the sixth state of the plate.

Here is a record of the 5 other states on the University of Glasgow’s Whistler etchings catalogue raisonné.


Rembrandt etching: Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Rembrandt Harmenz van Rijn
The Adoration of the Shepherds, Rembrandt Harmenz van Rijn

Etching and drypoint, roughly 6 x 8 inches (15 x 20 cm); in the collection of the Rijksmuseum. There is also a version on Google Art Project.

Here we see another example of Rembrandt’s uncanny mastery of the art of etching. His daring composition, in which the attending figures barely emerge from the darkness, is dramatic and subtle at the same time.

As with most etchings, this one exists as a number of versions from different states of the plate. The Rijksmuseum itself has at least two other prints, from the second state and the sixth state, in which Rembrandt has made the main figures darker and the light even more subtle.

I prefer this earlier version, though, because of the wonderful linear quality of the drawing of the mother and child.


Toshi Yoshida

Toshi Yoshida, Japanese woodblock prints in the Sosaku-hanga tradition
Toshi Yoshida was a Japanese woodblock printmaker and the son of renowned printmaker Hiroshi Yoshida.

Toshi Yoshida was active in the 20th century and was associated with the sōsaku-hanga (“creative prints”) movement, in which artists carve and print their own blocks — as contrasted with the shin-hanga (“new prints”) movement that continued the traditional practice of artists working with specialists in carving and printing to realize their designs. Hiroshi Yoshida was associated with the latter movement, though he also worked in the sōsaku-hanga manner.

Toshi, like many scions of artistic parents, was faced with the choice of embracing or stepping around his father’s legacy, and to my eye, he did a bit of both, carrying on his father’s sensitive vision of landscape, his love of travel and the influence of Western art, but adding his own bold styles and even experimenting with non-representational designs.

Toahi Yoshida also did many prints of animal subjects, particularly birds, that have the same sensitivity and delicate nuance as evidenced in his landscapes. In his landscape prints, I particularly admire his use of muted colors and atmospheric perspective.

As with any printmaker, you will find that some of the images you see of the same subject are from different printings of the same block; in the case of Japanese woodblock prints, they are often printed with different color schemes.


Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt portrait etching

Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary, Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn, etching and drypoint
Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary; Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn

Etching and drypoint; roughly 6 x 8 inches (15 x 20 cm); In the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt was an absolute master of the medium of etching and drypoint — in my opinion, the greatest in the history of art. He is most noted for his etchings of religious scenes and landscapes, but he also did a number of elaborate portraits of patrons and other figures.

Though small, this is a formal portrait etching into which Rembrandt seems to have devoted a good deal of effort, almost as if it were a monochromatic painting.

The subject is described as an apothecary in most versions of the print, but is also is described in at least one as an art dealer. It’s evident that he was at any rate an art collector, as Rembrandt has certainly represented him that way. We see him casting a discerning eye on what appears to be a Chinese ink painting, while surrounded by other paintings and art objects.

The skull may be a memento mori, but the transparency of the small statuette is a bit puzzling to me, given the finished state of the remainder of the etching.

Etchings often exist as prints in several different states, printed at various points in their development.

It’s interesting to compare some of the versions of this portrait. The Rijksmusum itself has at least 12 different versions of the print (note the differences in this one), and you can find others in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Harvard Art Museum, the Morgan Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and likely a number of other institutions if you care to keep searching.

I like this particular version of the print, both for it’s clarity and feeling of light, and for the simple but beautiful rendering of the window frame and the landscape beyond.