Cleveland (May 29, 2015) -- Monotypes, a design created with ink or paint on a non-absorbent flat, smooth surface, covered with a sheet of paper and run through a press, were first made in the 17th century and later revived in the 1870s by French printmakers including Edgar Degas, a master of the technique. Produced in America from the late 1880s, monotypes were produced by John Sloan and Maurice Prendergast. Works by these artists, as well as a 17th-century monotype by Anthonis Sallaert, will serve as highlights in this exhibition. Monotypes: Painterly Prints will feature 57 of the finest monotypes, and three etchings from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s esteemed permanent collection, and six objects on loan from the Museum of Modern Art and private collections. Monotypes: Painterly Prints is on view in the James and Hanna Bartlett Prints and Drawings Gallery from May 31 through October 11, 2015.
“Monotypes capture the spontaneity of the artist’s first impulse, said Jane Glaubinger,” curator of prints. “The result is somewhat unpredictable because the pressure of transferring the design blurs it to some degree, creating softened edges. Certain variable factors such as: texture, absorbency of the paper and the consistency and thickness of the medium used to draw the design will also affect the end result.”
The first monotypes were created by the Flemish artist Anthonie Sallaert (about 1590–1650), a painter and designer of tapestries and prints. Sallaert was first and foremost a draftsman, one of the most brilliant masters of the oil sketch, which he executed in shades of brown, creating freely finished monochromatic works. He obtained the same expressiveness and fluidity with monotype, using similar brown ink, like his work on view, A Scene from Classical Mythology. Sallaert brushed bold, tapering lines on the printing surface with the added freedom of being able to alter the design drawn on a plate before printing it on paper.
Edgar Degas, who thoroughly explored the expressive potential of monotype, produced about 450 examples in a little over fifteen years. Like his work in other media, his monotypes recorded his interest in modern urban life such as: café-concerts, theaters, brothels and women at their toilette. In the Salon, one of over fifty monotypes of brothel scenes, reflects the popularity of the prostitute theme in novels of the era. The unattractive figures, one of whom reaches out to beckon an unseen visitor, await clients in the harsh artificial light of the chandelier, which creates strong contrasts between bright highlights and deep shadows. Degas applied the ink with a brush but fingerprints are also visible where he coaxed the ink to create a more three-dimensional space and to model the figures. Ink smeared with a fingertip, for instance, dissolves the face of the middle seated woman, blending it with the murky haze of the room.
Another great master of monotype was the American, Maurice Prendergast who went to Paris to study in 1891. His first dated work in this medium is Bastille Day, a magical evocation of a July 14th celebration, France’s Independence Day, executed in 1892. Unusual for the time, Prendergast worked in color, creating forms with flat areas of paint and creating white lines and highlights by wiping away ink with the tip of his brush handle. Although Prendergast was influenced by ukiyo-e prints (Japanese color woodcuts) in the flattening of space, using a monogram reminiscent of Japanese seals, and exploiting the lanterns to create a decorative pattern across the surface of the print, his monotypes are distinctive and extremely original.
John Sloan, a committed printmaker, began to make monotypes in the early years of the twentieth century and produced a significant group over a period of at least nine years. For The Theatre, Sloan exploited the inherent luminosity of monotype to record the darkened interior during a performance. He used green ink to delineate the brilliantly lit stage that contrasts dramatically with the darkened theater. The effect of light reflected across the space was created by covering the plate with ink and then wiping it away to obtain dazzling highlights. The work records the artist’s first experience with opera. He and his wife Dolly enjoyed attending the theater and music halls, the well-dressed people in the audience probably refer to the two operas he attended in February 1909, Tannhäuser and Louise. The experience, which he called “Grand Opera fever,” elicited favorable comments in his diary.
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