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DÜRER. MUNCH. MIRÓ. The Great Masters of Printmaking.

Category: Exhibition 2. February 2023

With 950.000 prints the Albertina possesses one of the largest and most diverse print collections in the world, spanning over six centuries of printmaking. "Dürer, Munch, Miró - The Great Printmakers" is a comprehensive thematical exhibition in two parts, the first part taking place the main building of the Albertina.

The exhibition is set out in chronological order and - besides the pleasure of indulging in the sheer beauty of the artwork - it provides valuable insights into the development of printmaking over history.

In the 15th century, after the era of the woodcut, new techniques emerged, like the copper engraving which offered more elaborate possibilities of refining and shading, later followed by the etching, a technique that would dominate over the following centuries, until lithography appeared on the scene in the 19th century and silk screen printing in the 20th century.

The Albertina’s collection has the most splendid examples of northern European printmaking, and of course Albrecht Dürer is one of the most prominent featured artists. Dürer’s work brought about a decisive change in the previously simple woodcut. Abandoning the traditional technique of the time, Dürer accentuated the effects of light and shadow, and toned down the intensities of colors with striped surfaces. The main inspirations of his creations were the description of Sacred History: The passion of Christ and the lives of the Virgin and the saints, but there was also his treatment of nature and landscapes - his engravings were very influential in his time. In the 15th and early 16th century, German engravers like Dürer, Martin Schongauer or Albrecht Altdorfer dominated the European printmaking scene.

Interestingly, the first copyright conflicts came up in that era, with Italian artists copying their Northern colleagues’ work and even their monograms, resulting in legal battles before the courts of the time.

The following century brought the technique of etching to the foreground, and a groundbreaking print by the legendary Rembrandt van Rijn marked the beginning of an era where prints could reach purchase prices almost equal to paintings in the art market: the so-called “Hundred Guilder Print”, showing biblical scenes. Its technical refinement and artistic expressivity was so extraordinary that it would sell for the enormous price of hundred guilders at the time.

Another important technique is the Aquatinta etching, invented by Jean Baptiste Leprince, but brought to perfection by Francisco de Goya around 1800. His work was scandalous and innovative, and some of his etchings became known to the pubic only decades after his death, like his famous series “The Horrors of War” or “The Proverbs (Dreams)”, still regarded as unique in their radicality.

The monochrome printmaking technique of Mezzotint was developed in the 18th and widely used in the 19th century in England, offering a huge range of shades of mid-tones between black and white, mezzo tinto meaning “half – painted” or “half – tone” in Italian.

The next era in printmaking technique is marked by lithography and there were two masters who were hugely influential with their innovative creations: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who accomplished the feat of taking art to the streets and the general public with his posters, and there was Edvard Munch, a groundbreaker in the field of Expressionist art, with important German artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde or Käthe Kollwitz following in his footsteps. Käthe Kollwitz played an important role as a pioneer for women in the art of printmaking, where female protagonists are missing in the history of this discipline.

The other part of the binary exhibition is taking place in the Albertina Modern from February 24, the presented exhibits in the show dating from the postwar era. Under the title “Andy Warhol to Damien Hirst - The Revolution in Printmaking”, besides these two artists, visitors will see ingenious avant-garde prints by artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer or Roy Liechtenstein and others. (written by Cem Angeli)

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