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A Legacy on Paper

Approach of the Simoon, Desert at Gizeh

Jane Glaubinger Curator of Prints

John Corwin Bonebrake (1918–2011) was a devoted print collector. Although he owned a few examples of original printmaking before joining the Print Club of Cleveland in 1961, it was this group that encouraged him to collect in earnest. An architect, Bonebrake first chose images of cathedrals, castles, and other structures, but soon broadened his scope and purchased anything that tickled his fancy. His collection of about 1,000 19th- and 20th-century graphics includes figural subjects, landscapes, and works of historical interest executed using many different printmaking techniques.

Because Bonebrake intended to donate the works to the Cleveland Museum of Art, he would sometimes make acquisitions specifically to enhance strengths or fill gaps in the museum’s collection. For example, the museum has an excellent group of lithographs from the beginning of artists’ use of the medium in the early 19th century. Bonebrake added wonderful examples that illustrate how French printmakers utilized the technique to glorify the Napoleonic Wars. Although these were printed in black and white, soon an additional tone was used, a process represented by sheets from France and Great Britain.


Approach of the Simoon, Desert at Gizeh (after David Roberts) 1849. Louis Haghe (British, born Belgium, 1806–1885). Lithograph; 33.1 x 48.5 cm. Bequest of John Bonebrake 


By mid-century the complexities of printing in numerous colors had been mastered, culminating in one of the high points of European printmaking. The plates drawn by Louis Haghe, which copy the watercolors that David Roberts made in Egypt, are exquisite examples of color lithography. Egypt was a distant, mysterious country to most Europeans, and Haghe, a Scottish topographical and architectural artist, spent the year of 1838 traveling across this ancient land. The resulting prints—the first comprehensive series of views of the monuments, landscapes, and people of the Near East—were especially appreciated for their brilliant color and large scale. Bonebrake’s 134 prints of Egypt are an important addition to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection, and in a sense they have returned home, as a large group of them was loaned to the museum’s 1992 exhibition Nineteenth-Century Views of Egypt.


Aspects of Nature: The Cliff

Aspects of Nature: The Cliff 1897. Henri Rivière (French, 1864–1951). Lithograph; 64.2 x 89.8 cm. Gift of John Bonebrake 2003.384. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


Another of Bonebrake’s favorite lithographers was Henri Rivière, whose 67 prints also fill a gap in the museum’s collection. A prolific and inventive printmaker, Rivière was tremendously influenced by the novel compositional strategies, striking colors, blatant flatness, focus on line, and depiction of seasonal changes and weather’s fugitive effects in ukiyo-e, Japanese color woodcuts, which he avidly collected. His 1902 book Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower is a tribute to Hokusai’s famous series of 36 views of Mount Fuji. Because the museum’s copy of Rivière’s bound lithographic album allows display of only one page at a time, Bonebrake purchased six of the single prints depicting the Eiffel Tower so that several scenes can be exhibited simultaneously. Although Rivière explored the Parisian cityscape, the French countryside dominates his work. The artist spent summers in Brittany from 1885 to 1915, and it is here that he would have seen the dramatic seascape depicted in The Cliff.


London Types: Barmaid

London Types: Barmaid 1898. William Nicholson (British, 1872–1949). Lithograph with watercolor added by hand; 32.8 x 26.5 cm. Gift of John Bonebrake 2010.625


William Nicholson, like so many European and American artists at the time, was also affected by the nontraditional aspects of Japanese art. Using a limited color scheme and simplified forms, he silhouetted his subjects on solid backgrounds, which flatten space. Barmaid, a black figure set against an ochre wall,is from London Types, a set of prints that celebrates the affection residents felt for their city at the end of the 19th century. The series includes many depictions of women, since the publisher, William Heinemann, a strong supporter of the struggle for equality, advised the artist to represent both sexes equally. Nicholson’s style changed as he worked on these images; Hawker is more detailed and delicately drawn. The background is a view of Hyde Park, where the well-dressed figures only emphasize the lowly status of the peddler with his tray of toys and ribbons. Bonebrake’s gift includes a good selection of Nicholson’s graphic work, embellishing the small number previously held by the museum.

Although Bonebrake favored sumptuous color lithography, he also appreciated the skillful use of intaglio techniques. Joseph Pennell’s The Stock Exchange exemplifies a large portion of the collection, which comprises interesting black and white etchings meant to be held and carefully scrutinized. Pennell, who had lived in London for two decades, returned to New York in 1904 and was enraptured by the new forest of skyscrapers—symbols of America’s vitality, importance in world business, and modernity. Pennell carefully inked and wiped the plate for this impression, leaving tone on the surface to create an atmospheric quality that unifies the scene.

John Bonebrake generously donated his legacy, his large and fascinating print collection, to the museum. This gift reflects the personality and interests of a unique individual and passionate collector. Eccentric, with a dry sense of humor, Bonebrake built an expansive collection on a small budget. He loved sharing his avocation with visitors and hung prints floor to ceiling on every available wall, even removing closet doors to create mini-galleries. Bonebrake set an example for future generations of print enthusiasts, advising to “buy what you like but most important of all, to have fun.”  


Cleveland Art, September/October 2011