This summer I have been interning at the Children’s Museum of Art in New York. I have been assisting Teaching Artists with classes all summer on both Governor’s Island and at the Museum in Soho. This past week, I assisted the Teen Printmaking class, and the Teaching Artist took us to C.G. Boerner, the print and drawing gallery in the Upper East Side that she works at.
Located on the 3rd floor of a renovated townhouse, nestled amongst other galleries in the same building, C.G. Boerner is a small and intimate gallery. The gallery space looks more like a study, with bookcases, couches, and the director’s wooden desk in the corner. Laid out above the bookshelves were at least a dozen Old Master prints, the gallery’s specialty, waiting for our attention. These prints were sans frame, and waiting to be studied without any barrier between our eyes and the texture and details.
The director, Armin Kunz, talked to us about the history of printmaking, and showed us examples along the way.
We first learned about how printmaking came to be, and how many of the earliest prints are rare simply because they used to be tacked to walls with wax—almost the “posters of their time”. Armin then showed us a few prints from before the 15th century that are few to be found in the world—one of them being the only of that print to exist.
Of course, we then moved on to Albrecht Durer. We studied his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a magnifying lens, and the teens were shocked to find out that the print was a woodcut. The sheer detail and talent poured into this print was revolutionary in Durer’s time.
At the Princeton Art Museum, we have a big collection of Durer’s work, including two of our very own prints of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We also have one of his original woodblocks for his printHoly Family with Three Hares. The detailing of all the lines that collectively make up shadow and form is breathtaking, especially since they were carved out of wood. Armin told us that the woodblocks were also sold as artwork, and would be chalked up to show the imagery, as seen in our woodblock.
The next Old Master we talked about was Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt used dry point and etching into copper plates to create his prints. In some prints, he also sprinkled sulphur on the copper plates to etch a dotted texture, creating a varied tonality. C.G. Boerner has a lot of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, which are remarkably small.
Studying these self-portraits brought back memories of gawking at the bare Rembrandt portraits in the Works on Paper Study Room in the Princeton Art Museum as Laura Giles, Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings, guided us through their details, historical reference, and provenance.
A print that caught my eye was a mezzotint by John Dixon titled A Tigress, a copy of George Stubb’sPortrait of the Royal Tiger. Mezzotint was a popular printing method in 18th century England, for it captured areas of tones, rather than using outlines, leaving a very soft touch to the eye. Thus the tiger’s fur is almost tangible, and her eyes shine like glass.
Her softness reminded me of a mezzotint recently endowed to the Princeton Art Museum A Sleeping Cheetah (“A Tyger”). This is a rare print by George Stubbs, the artist whose work was the original inspiration for A Tigress.
Because of the distance and the overlap in print collections, it comes at no surprise that Armin is a friend of the Princeton Art Museum! We had a quick conversation about the collection at Princeton, and he told me that he has visited to do research. This fact, along with the beautiful print of the tigress, made me feel like I was right at home.
One last treat: we got to see an Edgar Degas monoprint right before it was shipped to the MoMA for their upcoming exhibition on Degas’ monoprints. Here’s a sneak peak for you.