Holiday Print Show

In December 2006, the Museum celebrated the holiday season with a unique selection of works from its extensive print collection. Holiday Print Show exhibited more than 100 prints, many unseen for decades. Organized by the Museum and co-curated by Chief Curator Hardy George, Ph.D., and Associate Curator Alison Amick, the exhibition featured works by seven artists: Thomas Nast, Winslow Homer, Honoré Daumier, Claude Lorraine, Leonard Baskin, Josef Albers, and Robert Natkin.

On view for just one month, Holiday Print Show presented a variety of themes, including Christmas, the United States Civil War, and political and social satire. Selected for their rich and varied content, the works were arranged in seven sections by artist, beginning with seventeen wood engravings by Thomas Nast (American, 1840-1902). A highlight of the exhibition, Nast’s images of Christmas and particularly Santa Claus capture the excitement and festivity of the holiday season. Created between 1863 and 1878, each wood engraving was originally featured in Harper’s Weekly. Nast, considered one of America’s foremost political cartoonists, invented the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant and helped shape the popular image of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus. He is also credited with the invention of Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

The second section offered a unique selection of twenty-two wood engravings by illustrator Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910). Created during the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly, one of the foremost illustrated magazines of the period, these images gave readers an honest depiction of the war. Homer had a talent for capturing the reality of the battlefield and preferred not to glorify war like his Romantic predecessors. These illustrations of the Civil War were some of his first mature work.

Over a twenty-five year period, Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879) scrutinized and satirized all aspects of Parisian society in a series of lithographs for magazines such as Silhouette, Caricature, and Charivari. His first social and political cartoons were harsh, yet truthful, illustrations of the problems found on the streets of nineteenth-century Paris. However, following a short jail internment and the closing of Caricature, Daumier devoted himself to a milder form of social satire. The eighteen lithographs featured in this exhibition came from his later illustrations for Charivari and feature caricatures of middle-class Parisians.

Fifteen engravings taken from the work of Claude Lorraine (French, 1600-1682) were also included. Inspired by his long residence in Rome as a youth, Claude became one of the foremost practitioners of classical Italian landscape painting. He created hundreds of paintings of the picturesque scenery found in the vicinity of Rome and Tivoli as well as the ancient temples and ruins around the Gulf of Naples. Later, to guard against imitations and forgeries, Claude created a series of 200 detailed drawings of his work in a record book called the Liber Veritatis. The engravings in this exhibit were copied from those drawings.

The fifth section was dedicated to the work of Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000) and included two large woodcuts, a drawing, and five lithographs. Baskin’s monumental depictions of the Angel of Death and Everymanreveal his exploration of the universal themes of human existence. While he continued to create images concerning the human condition throughout his career, Baskin also created a number of portraits. The five shown in this exhibition revealed his personal interest in Native Americans, which was prompted in the 1970s when he was asked to design and illustrate the handbook for Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Artist Josef Albers’ (American, 1888-1976) preference for the square as a shape, as well as his interest in the juxtaposition of color, was highlighted in the sixth section of the exhibition. Two 1965 portfolios, Homage to the Square: Soft Edge-Hard Edge and Hommage au Carré, exhibited twenty screenprints named after Albers’ best known work, the painting series Homage to the Square. Each screenprint consists of three to four squares set inside one another, using flat, sometimes subdued, colors to show the influence of one color on another.

The exhibition concluded with fifteen lithographs and one acrylic over lithograph by abstract artist Robert Natkin (American 1930- ). He referred to this body of work as a “retrospective opus.” Created in 1979, the complete lithograph suite reflects Natkin’s artistic development from the 1960s, when he began using a vertical format, to the 1970s, when he began experimenting with texture in his work. According to him, the sixteenth image, an acrylic over lithograph, is “like Bach’s MUSICAL OFFERING of variations of a theme.”