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.


Eye Candy for Today: Hiroshi Yoshida spring woodblock print

Spring in a Hot Spring (Onsen no haru), Hiroshi Yoshida
Spring in a Hot Spring (Onsen no haru), Hiroshi Yoshida

Woodblock print, roughly 11 x 16 inches (27 x 40 cm); in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; also on Ukiyo-e Search.

With the visual appeal of both a drawing and a painting, Shin-hanga master Hiroshi Yoshida also combines the sensibilities of Japanese and Western art in his beautiful evocation of a spring day at a hot spring.

Thicker and heavier than etching lines, Yoshida’s woodblock lines are printed in a lighter ink, giving them a comparable but different kind of delicacy.

The subtle color relationships and graceful sweep of the branches combine with the muted contrasts with which he suggests the moving water of the stream to give a lively but contemplative picture of the scene.


Stephen Magsig (update)

Stephen Magsig, cityscape and industrial landscape paintings, NYC and Detriot
Maybe it’s because I grew up next to a steel mill in Northern Delaware, or from my current wanderings in and around Philadelphia, but like many who live in the industrial northeast or upper midwest, I find a particular appeal in the industrial landscape of warehouses, factories, refineries, bridges and railways that were created during the manufacturing heyday of the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Painter Stephen Magsig, who I initially profiled back in 2008, has long been mining these subjects in his paintings of Detroit and New York City.

To say that his paintings have a strong geometric basis is something of an understatement. But it’s more than just the the visual power of geometric shapes that can make these scenes attractive to a painter; it’s also their rich array of textures and colors, particularly in the older structures that have become rusted and weathered. Magsig embraces both in his explorations of industrial subjects.

In his latest series, he focuses on storefronts and building facades in New York City. He often features buildings that appear to have the kind of fascinating architectural details offered by the cast iron fronts that were common in cities like New York and Philadelphia in the 19th century, prior to the widespread use of modern structural steel. These are sometimes brightened with modern paint and at other times show the weathered and graffiti marked fate of less well maintained buildings.

These subjects, along with a number of other scenes of New York, will be highlighted in the show of Magsig’s work that opens at the George Billis Gallery on May 2 and runs until May 27, 2017.

The gallery has a selection of his paintings online, most of which will presumably be in the show.

You can find more of them on Magsig’s own website, along with a section on paintings of Detroit — in which you will find more of the industrial landscape subjects — as well as western landscapes (also strongly geometric), pantings from Italy and prints in drypoint, mezzotint, monotype and linocut.

On Magsig’s his long running painting blog, Postcards from Detroit, you will find hsi small, immediate daily paintings, as well as in the related section on his website and on his store on Big Cartel.


Eye Candy for Today: Kawase Hasui’s The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba

The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui
The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui

Woodblock prints, roughly 11 x 16 inches (27 x 40 cm). As with most woodblock prints, there are several different “pulls” from the same block for this beautiful image designed by Japanese Shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui.

I’ve selected two versions to show you here. The first, which is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has more color in the blossoms. The second, which you can see on the website (larger here), has more definition in the leaves.