The Etching Revival
The Documenting the Gilded Age project features a number of exhibition checklists from the first two decades of the twentieth century showcasing the etchings of contemporary artists from the United States and Europe as well as Old Masters from Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands (see illustrations). This period, now known as the Etching Revival, was host to the careers of Anders Zorn, Charles-François Daubigny, Francis Seymour Haden, and Charles Méryon. One of the most prominent among the artists associated with this movement was James Abbot McNeill Whistler, whose experiments and explorations with etching helped spark renewed interest in the medium, elevating it from the domain of illustrators and caricaturists to an accepted form of high art (Helsinger, see illustrations).
Whistler was lauded for his raw depictions of the margins of the city of London; his emphasis on blank space and his freestyle helped define etching as a means for the “spontaneous recording of modern life” (Helsinger). One of Whistler’s great admirers, Joseph Pennell, a fellow artist, was instrumental in championing not only Whistler but the medium itself (Pennell, 29). A close relationship with Frederick Keppel and his gallery on 39th Street allowed Pennell to showcase Whistler’s accomplishments on several occasions, demonstrating his in-depth knowledge of the sales histories of various sets and plate by Whistler as well as expounding unreserved praise for his friend. His wrote and introduction for Whistler’s begins, “Whistler was the greatest etcher and most accomplished lithographer who ever lived…” and appears in three separate checklists that have been digitized (Frederick Keppel & Co., 5).
The works of Pennell were often seen in Frederick Keppel & Co.’s many exhibitions devoted to etchings. Spanning the years 1894 to 1922, examples in the Documenting the Gilded Age project show that a popular subject for Pennell was the city itself, across continents, and from its busy downtowns to the otherworldly industrial zones that constitute its margins (see illustration). His eye for the skyward climb of Manhattan is showcased in a 1905 exhibition (see illustration). Pennell’s “towering piles” are “instinct with the quality of... spontaneity,” the “prime characteristic of painter-etching,” according to Frederick Keppel’s introduction to the exhibitions (Keppel, 6).
The Brooklyn Museum, a New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) member, has made artworks by a number of artists associated with the Etching Revival available on its website, including works by Zorn Whistler, and Pennell. This online collection is the latest manifestation of the Museum’s devotion to the preservation and presentation of the medium of etching. The Museum’s Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs dates to 1913, when it was establish by the Museum’s librarian, Susan Hutchinson. Its first exhibition was devoted to etchings loaned by H. L. Quick (Brooklyn Museum Archives).
Helsinger, Elizabeth, ed. The "Writing" of Modern Life: The Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the U.S., 1850-1940. Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 2008. Print.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Web. 25 Sep 2012. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/collections/libraries_and_archives/uploads/PDP_final.pdf>
Frederick Keppel & Co. Catalogue of an Exhibition of Etchings, Dry-points, and a Few drawings by Whistler. New York: The DeVinne Press, 1905. Web. 23 Nov 2012. <http://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b1188903~S1>
Pennell, Joseph. Etchings and Etchers: Chapters in the History of the Art Together with Technical Explanations of Modern Artistic Methods. New York: Macmillan, 1919. Print.