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  • Worcester Art Museum Exhibition Highlights Achievements in English Color Prints

    (WORCESTER, Mass.) - Images of knights, castles, Shakespearean tragedy, nursery rhymes, verdant landscapes and teeming hedgerows lend a distinctly English feel to an exhibition of color printmaking history.

    From May 17 through Aug. 10, the Worcester Art Museum displays 60 works, primarily drawn from its permanent collection, tracing three centuries of British achievements in color printing technology. The exhibition English Color Prints offers Museum visitors a rare opportunity to view early art facsimiles printed in color, patented methods of color illustration, and original creative color prints.

    “One of the greatest strengths of the print collection at the Worcester Art Museum is its holdings of color printmaking throughout history,” said David Acton, curator of prints, drawings and photographs. “For three centuries, England has produced distinctive color prints that reflect its cultural history, and the Museum is fortunate in its rich collection of this material.”

    Artists represented include Francesco Bartolozzi, who brought the elegant Baroque and Rococo printmaking to England from the continent; George Baxter, a Victorian entrepreneur whose prints look like oil paintings; Stanley William Hayter, Surrealist and founder of the innovative Atelier 17 print shop; and leading Pop artist David Hockney.

    The Worcester Art Museum's print collection was largely established in 1926 with a bequest from Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs of more than 2,000 prints dating from the Renaissance through the 19th century. Over the last 77 years, the collection has grown through acquisitions by curators and generous gifts. The exhibition includes more than a dozen prints from the Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs Collection.

    Support for English Color Prints is provided by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

    English Color Printing History
    Color printing was first used in Britain in the late 17th century to make facsimiles of earlier artworks. Most of these images reflect the styles of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, which were fashionable at the time.

    During the 18th-century period, European artists combined different intaglio techniques, including, etching, engraving, aquatint and mezzotint, to print colored images from a set of copper plates, usually one plate for each hue. Expatriots like Anne Allen, and immigrants to Britain like Francesco Bartolozzi brought these ideas to Britain. Bartolozzi became one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Arts, where his activities prompted the official recognition of engraving as a fine art. He developed a stipple technique of engraving made up of small dots or flecks, resulting in soft and delicately graded tones.

    “In the Rococo period, printmaking evolved as the means of supplying inexpensive images to an eager public,” said Acton. “Prints of classical subjects provided popular décor for boudoir and sitting room walls, while mocking caricatures were produced to sell cheaply on the street.”

    When English artists turned their attention to color lithography in the early 19th century, they often made refinements ahead of their time. For each of his elegant urban views, Thomas Shotter Boys drew a set of lithograph stones with uncommon refinement. At the London firm of Day & Son, lithographer Francis Bedford collaborated with designer Owen Jones on the landmark Grammar of Ornament. Meant as a sourcebook for designers, this collection gathered sample designs from throughout the world and history of art into multicolored prints with a montage beauty all their own.

    Despite the spread of comparatively economical lithography in Europe and America, the British continued to make color prints from the old relief printing techniques, which reached unparalleled commercial sophistication in the Victorian period. The best shops printed color images from 30 to 50 superimposed wood-engraved blocks. These images were published as supplements to popular newspapers and magazines, and for decorative pictures. The most elegant of them all were the products of George Baxter, who printed full color wood engravings over details first laid down by etched and aquatinted copper plates. Soon, however, like all the plastic arts in Britain, there were reactions against mechanization and mass production, and the Arts and Crafts movement fostered a revival of handmade prints and books.

    A new appreciation for handcraft at the turn of the 20th century prompted John Dickson Batten and Frank Morley Fletcher to explore traditional Japanese woodcut. They employed Asian methods for representational prints of distinctly English subjects, setting the stage for a new, burgeoning market for fine prints. At the same time, the most exciting avant-garde prints of the day were being produced in London at the Grosvenor School. Artists like Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews, and William Greengrass made linocuts - or linoleum block prints - in a semiabstract style influenced by Cubism and Futurism that represent the bustle and excitement of modern life. The work of the Grosvenor School artists captures life in the machine age, between the two world wars.

    In the 1920s, Stanley William Hayter moved from London to Paris, where he exhibited with the Surrealists. He also established Atelier 17, the most innovative and influential intaglio printmaking workshop of the 20th century. Hayter strove to revitalize the lost art of engraving, and to reconcile this demanding craft with the emotional, expressive art of Surrealism. He and his colleagues also experimented with new and innovative ways of printing in color.

    Throughout the 20th century, English artists consistently produced outstanding color prints in a range of styles, from the Pop Art of Eduardo Paolozzi and David Hockney, the geometric abstraction of Robin Denny and Peter Sedgley, to the expressive abstraction of Howard Hodgkin and John Walker.

    Museum History

    The Worcester Art Museum first opened to the public in 1898. Its world-renowned 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Its extensive year-round studio art and art appreciation program enrolls over 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Public tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., September through May. Audio tours are available.

    Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (evening hours sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric, a National Grid Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Free parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.

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