From The Commonplace To The Sublime: Two New Art Exhibits Highlight Print Medium

From the Commonplace to the Sublime: Two New Art Exhibits Highlight Print Medium

Prints are often considered “the people’s art” as they were reproducible in great number, often inexpensive, and very popular. This is particularly true for Currier & Ives prints, which hung in innumerable living spaces throughout the nation at the turn of the century. Ranging in price from 20 cents to 3 dollars, many families could afford to purchase these often patriotic, sentimental, and idealized images of America. The enthusiastic call for this affordable art made Currier & Ives a cultural phenomenon.

And while technological advances (such as lithography) helped publishers Currier & Ives mass-produce art, these advances also helped cutting-edge, fine artists extend their experimentation. Impressionists from Europe and the United States explored how they could use the print medium to convey subtle imprint—or impression—of the natural world. Leaving behind their bright, painterly palette, the Impressionist print-makers produced black and white etchings, aquatints, dry points, and lithographs that exhibited a nuanced line that many saw as kin to the oil paintings so beloved by the public. Although not as inexpensive as the Currier & Ives mass-produced prints, these Impressionist prints were created in numbers and for prices accessible to the upper middle class.

Two new exhibits at the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts at the Springfield Museums shed light on the variety and beauty of “the people’s art.”

From Sea to Shining Sea: American Vistas in Currier & Ives Prints
January 23, 2018–May 13, 2018
D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts

Nineteenth-century Americans were captivated by the newfound natural wonders of their young country. Fueled by the 1849 California Gold Rush and the establishment of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, westward expansion was in full swing. While American painters like Albert Bierstadt and John Frederick Kensett glorified the seemingly untouched wilderness in their paintings, the Currier & Ives lithography firm made the country’s beauty and bounty available to everyday Americans through lithographs of similar subjects. Operating from 1835-1907, the firm bolstered national pride by depicting stunning vistas such as those found in the Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, Salt Lake, and the White Mountains.

Impressions: Prints from the Impressionist Movement
January 30, 2018–August 5, 2018
D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts

Famous for bright colors and loose brush strokes, the Impressionists rejected traditional painting styles in favor of a new way of seeing and understanding modern life. These artists left their studios, taking to the outdoors, streets, and cafes in order to create “impressions” of what they saw rather than attempting precise imitations of nature. This exhibition, which features prints by French and American artists, will explore how artists translated the impressionist painting style into black and white prints. The fluid lines and soft forms characteristic of impressionist prints are exemplified in this show through works by Jean-Louis Forain, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Childe Hassam, and others.