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June 25th, 2013
Photogravure: Master Prints from the Collection

Lynne and Harold Honickman Gallery
Through August 11, 2013


Photogravure—a printing process favored by generations of artists that combines aspects of photography and aquatint etching to yield exceptional tonal effects—is the subject of an exhibition of master prints drawn from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s extensive collection.

Originally developed in the 1850s as a reliable method to reproduce photographs, the labor-intensive process proved to be impractical for everyday use. Instead, photogravure attracted artist-photographers for its remarkable pictorial qualities and demanding craftsmanship. This exhibition surveys the history of the medium through sixty-five examples, including a few rare early pieces and many works from photogravure’s heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The process requires a metal plate prepared for aquatint etching overlaid with a three-dimensional gelatin relief of a photographic image. The plate is etched, producing a translation of the image that preserves its full tonal range. Each print from the plate must be pulled through an old-fashioned flatbed printing press. Richard Benson, the master printer and photographer, referred to photogravure as “the perfect union of ancient ink-printing and modern photographic description.” Benson’s 1981 hand-pulled print of Edward Steichen’s iconic Three Pears and an Apple, France (c. 1921) is a highlight of the exhibition.

Alfred Stieglitz’s groundbreaking photographic journal Camera Work (1903–17) was the source for some of the most beautiful photogravures ever made and contributed to establishing photography as a major art form. Two original copies of Camera Work are on display, along with Stieglitz’s own photogravures of some of his own most important photographs, including The Steerage (c. 1913) and The Terminal (c .1913). Moonlight: The Pond (1906) and Pastoral—Moonlight (1907) by Steichen were published in Camera Work and explore the ability of photogravure to reproduce the delicate qualities of lunar light.

The photographers of Stieglitz’s circle considered photogravure to be the perfect medium to convey the rugged beauty and dynamic energy of the modern city. Many of their most compelling images of New York City—from the Williamsburg Bridge to the wharves and rail yards of Manhattan—are on display. Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Brooklyn Bridge (1910), Stieglitz’s Snapshot—In the New York Central Yards (1907) and Karl F. Struss’s On the East River, New York (1912) convey the artists’ fascination with this new metropolis.

Superb examples from the 1930s and work from artists practicing today demonstrate the continuing allure of photogravure’s deep-black tonalities and finely nuanced shading. Highlights include Man Ray’s abstracted images of modern electric conveniences, Paul Strand’s portrayals of a changing Mexico, and works from the 1960s by Japanese artist Eikoh Hosoe that possess a powerful poster-like quality with intense contrasts between light and dark. More recent prints by contemporary artists such as Lorna Simpson and Darren Almond demonstrate the ability of the exacting process to create a range of haunting effects.

Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

Exhibition Hours:
Tuesday through Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday: 10:10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

Social Media:
Facebook: philamuseum; Twitter: philamuseum; Tumblr: philamuseum; YouTube: PhilaArtMuseum; Instagram: @philamuseum

The Philadelphia Museum of Art's Prints, Drawings and Photographs collection is extensive, numbering more than 150,000 works of art on paper. Especially distinguished are the European old master prints, important drawings by Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso, and American prints from the 1930s and 1940s. The Museum’s celebrated photography holdings include an important group of images by Alfred Stieglitz, the Julien Levy Collection, and the Paul Strand Collections.

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We are Philadelphia’s art museum. A landmark building. A world-renowned collection. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

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