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"When is a Work of Art Complete: Prints by Rembrandt, Piranesi, Degas, Munch and More"
2004-06-02 until 2004-08-15
Frick Collection
New York, NY, USA

For the first time in its history, The Frick Collection will host a major special exhibition this summer that is devoted solely to prints and the process of printmaking. This special presentation poses questions that have preoccupied artists, critics, and collectors for centuries: When is a work of art complete? and When do further additions detract from the desired result? These issues have a particular history in the graphic arts, where images are developed in stages and often distributed at various points in their making. This exhibition will address the complex issue of finish in art through the presentation of more than sixty print impressions in varying degrees of completion. Featured artists, European masters from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century, include Albrecht Dürer, Hendrik Goltzius, Parmigianino, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, August Rodin, Felix Bracquemond, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and Jacques Villon.

In the process of printmaking, an artist will normally take proof impressions as he makes changes to his plate. These proof states, as will be apparent through many groupings in the exhibition, can establish an exact record of the image in the process of its development. The exhibition is organized by Peter Parshall, Curator of Old Master Prints for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., for the National Lending Service of that institution, where a version was on view in 2001. The majority of the prints come from the National Gallery of Art, with additional sheets from the Frick as well as several from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Epstein Family Collection. Presentation of the exhibition in New York is coordinated by the Frick’s Curator Susan Grace Galassi and is made possible, in part, by Angelo, Gordon & Co., L.P.; the Fellows of The Frick Collection; and anonymous donors. The Unfinished Print travels to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main (October 7, 2004, through January 2, 2005).

Comments Guest Curator Peter Parshall, “Although the interpretive problem posed by the incomplete work of art is familiar to art historians, it is a topic very little treated in the history of prints.” Susan Grace Galassi adds, “The Frick Collection is very pleased to present this fascinating ensemble of extremely rare proof states to a New York audience. The exhibition invites the viewer to look over the artist’s shoulder as an image develops through various states, and to sample the richness and variety of the European printmaking tradition. This show will appeal to printmakers, connoisseurs, and students alike.” RARE SURVIVALS BEGIN TO TELL THE HISTORY The Unfinished Print will begin downstairs in the Special Exhibition Galleries with several landmark examples from the Renaissance, a period from which very few genuine working proofs survive. Among them is a print from the workshop of Andrea Mantegna, Virgin and Child in a Grotto, which is one of several known impressions made from a plate that was never completed. Its early printing and distribution may have been inspired by the great value placed on any trace of invention left by this artist. We require a very different explanation for the many surviving impressions of Albrecht Dürer’s trial etching The Desperate Man, a work that seems in every respect a wild experiment with a newly acquired technique. Although Dürer may well have preserved some impressions for instruction in the workshop, it was most likely his evolving cult status as an artist that resulted in the continued circulation of such unconventional designs.

Around 1600, the more complex history of the unfinished print begins to unfold, most notably in the work of Hendrik Goltzius. A case in point is his Massacre of the Innocents––probably the remaining half of a composition envisioned at twice the scale. Perhaps the other plate was severely damaged, deterring further investment of time, or perhaps Goltzius felt the composition too eccentric and bewildering to complete. Nevertheless, impressions from the abandoned plate were taken and distributed within a generation of his death. Visitors will see, with Anthony van Dyck’s Self-Portrait of 1629/30, an example of the likely first case of an unfinished print being intentionally distributed under the authorization of the artist himself. The spare image of this magnificent head positioned high on the plate was probably etched by van Dyck shortly before his departure for England to initiate his portrait series of famous men known as the Iconography. The exhibition contains an impression of this early state, in the holdings of the Frick, which will be juxtaposed with a later version reworked substantially c. 1645 by Jacob Neeffs for the title page of the Iconography. Neeffs completed the original plate by creating the backdrop of cloud-filled sky, transforming the previously disembodied head into a sculptural bust. Despite Neeffs’s radical alteration of the work, a certain reverence for the artist’s hand preserved even the trace of an accident, apparent in the presence in both states of an unintentional mark made by van Dyck across the mustache.

Paul Gauguin
Two Marquesans, C. 1902
Traced monotype in warm black
retouched slightly with an olive pigment
Sheet: 18 1/16 x 13 9/16 inches
National Gallery, Washignton
Rosenwald Collection, 1946

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