Currently on display from the permanent collection are a variety of American and British prints, including:
Prints that Bite
Printmakers use sharp tools to cut, etch, and gouge. They apply masks to resist and acids to bite. Printing production does not require much in the way of capital: just a press, matrix, and paper. Thousands of impressions can be made inexpensively and discretely, to announce or denounce an event. By virtue of affordability and multiplicity, prints have the potential to communicate ideas to a larger (and less wealthy) audience than unique works such as painting or sculpture. Is it any wonder that for centuries, artists have used the medium for social critique?
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, 1746–1828 (Spanish) first entered the royal workshops during the enlightened monarchy of Charles III. Under increasingly repressive regimes, his etchings became more pointed but less specific. Goya survived four monarchs and the Spanish Inquisition by couching his satiric critiques in allegory. Los Caprichos, a suite of nightmarish visions symbolizing the world turning away from reason, skewered every class of society. Fearing the inquisition, Goya pulled the eighty-print portfolio from public sale shortly after production. The Disasters of War, eighty-five prints bearing witness to Spain’s struggle for independence, were only published after his death.
Honoré-Victorin Daumier, 1808–1879 (French) distributed biting commentaries to a wide audience through various Parisian periodicals, using the relatively new medium of lithography. After serving six months in jail for his critique of King Louis-Philippe, he developed a cast of fictional characters to couch his attacks. His caricatures mocked a cross-section of Parisian society: corrupt officials, clueless scientists, sleeping professors, bratty students, and squabbling middle-class families. Daumier’s most biting images depict the erosion of the Revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and the corresponding rise in greed and corruption. He produced more than 4,000 lithographs before devoting his last productive years to painting.
Käthe Kollwitz, 1867–1945 (German) first gained renown for The March of the Weavers, a print cycle based on the 1844 uprising of Silesian workers. Kollwitz brought a personal perspective to her protest imagery, giving a voice to women and children, and confronting difficult themes such as poverty, infant mortality, violent rebellion, and official retaliation. She experienced the end of the German monarchy and two World Wars, witnessed disease and starvation, and lost a son to WWI and a grandson to WWII. Most of her etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and sculptures depict the impact of war and injustice on the powerless. In an art world dominated by men, Kollwitz carved out a place for herself by investing domestic scenes with the full depth of human experience and emotion.