Why don’t prints get enough love? Or, a Print Rabbit Hole.

Let me put this out there, I love prints and I am not ashamed to admit it. I have several decorating my house, my favorite being Edvard Munch’s lithograph of The Scream. Though I love the warm colors of the oil and pastel paintings, the lithograph provides a rawness unique to the medium. Why can I afford a print of one of the most well-known works of art in the world? Precisely because it’s a print.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, copy of lithograph, 1895, copyright King & McGaw New Road, Newhaven, England, BN90EH

The term prints can be a little misleading as it can be used as a catch-all for a range of works on paper. Within most museums and galleries, it generally encompasses the various techniques of lithography, aquatints, block prints, drypoints, screenprints, and engravings. People love to hate them because they can be mass produced, which makes them more ubiquitous than their one-of-a-kind counterparts: paintings. An original print loosely refers to works made by the artist using one of the above methods. A reproduction would be a copy of an original work of art or, in the case of my version of The Scream, it’s more likely a copy of a copy of a copy, which technically (and confusingly) still qualifies as a print. Have I lost you yet?

“Mass production” doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. For many artists, especially before the advent of modern technology, it was a way to become more familiar to potential clients. Albrecht Durer (German, 1471-1528), arguably the greatest of Northern Renaissance artists, understood the importance of mass production. Engravings and lithographs made his works available to everyone whilst simultaneously spreading his name and thereby, his recognition.

Prints also show us what subjects and themes were considered popular enough to be reproduced. As they were so prevalent, it should not be a surprise to reveal that prints are the best represented medium within the NSLM collection. Several are currently on display in Gallery 7, including Herring’s Agricultural Scenes by John Frederick Herring Sr. (English, 1795-1865). These are three lithographs entitled Hay-making, Hop-making, and Ploughing.


The prints were initially published in 1856 (Hay-making) and 1857 (Hop-picking and Ploughing). Putting the works themselves into context, they capture a moment in time when there was a longing for “simpler” times, one where life was unencumbered by the noise and grime of the city in the throes of the Industrial Revolution. One where there was a desire for nature and the clean air of the countryside. But these prints are remembering a way of life that never was, instead it shows a romanticized version of arduous and demanding jobs. One would imagine that those undertaking these grueling tasks would be grimacing and covered in sweat and dirt. Instead, everyone, even those working, are spotless and neat. Figures are sitting on the ground, a child is petting a dog, women are talking amongst themselves. It is actually a very leisurely scene considering the subject matter.


Interestingly, the women bear a resemblance to images of a young Queen Victoria, who would have been in her late thirties when the prints were produced. It could simply be a coincidence that the leading publisher of the day, Henry Graves & Co., was the official publisher to the royal couple. As stated below each image, “…Henry Graves & Co., printsellers & publishers to Her Majesty the Queen & His Royal Highness, Prince Albert.” I would be curious to see how much input the publisher provided or maybe Herring was just being clever. The royal family was considered the epitome of the wholesome family and served as an example to others. This scene, then, could also represent the tenet of the family unit working together harmoniously.

“J.F. Herring” is listed as pinxit meaning “he painted” and “Vincent Brooks” is credited as lith, the company that printed the lithograph. (For more Latin terms and another print collection at the NSLM, see the blog entry Princely Prints by former Curator of Collections, Nicole Stribling.) Herring produced numerous works for the publisher Henry Graves & Co., and these could be purchased through mail-order catalogs. Hop-picking and Ploughing were available in Bent’s Monthly Literary Advertiser shown below.

Bent’s Monthly Literary Advertiser, August 10, 1858, Volume 18, pg. 144
Bent’s Monthly Literary Advertiser, August 18, 1858, Volume 18, pg. 54

Prints are very fragile and can be susceptible to a wide range of issues, from accretions and buckling to warping and wrinkling. They also require their own unique care – for instance, light levels need to be lower, and they need to rotate into storage more often. You can see in the below image the waves at the top of the paper, this is referred to as “buckling.”

Herring’s Agricultural Scene: Hay-making, 1856

Having been on display for several months, the Agricultural Scenes will be returned to storage shortly for a much-needed break. I hope you had the chance to see them for yourself.

While my print of The Scream is not an original print by any stretch, it was produced in the same spirit as Herring’s Agricultural Scenes: that of personal enjoyment within my little home and to symbolize my mood when someone comes to visit.

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

2 Comments

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  1. Very informative and wonderfully written piece, filled with all sorts of information I did not know.

    Thanks for the details on this subject, as I will be much more attentive the next time I see this medium, as well as having a more educated eye in viewing this type of art.
    Thanks!

    Like

  2. A very nice article that touches on several interesting subjects. 1. The value of inexpensive reproductions and their role, as opposed to original, hand made prints. Clearly they serve a worthy purpose although they may be misrepresented in the market place. 2. The clothing exhibited in 19th century prints provides a fascinating subject that one wants to pursue. 3. Caring for prints (do’s and don’ts) is an important subject for anyone exhibiting these fragile materials. All of these make for a good read. Well done.

    Like

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