Géricault to Gauguin: Printmaking in France 1820–1900 

Le chapeau épinglé 1894, Renoir, Pierre-Auguste (1841–1919), France. Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1962. Te Papa
Le chapeau épinglé 1894, Renoir, Pierre-Auguste (1841–1919), France. Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1962. Te Papa

Some of the most renowned French artists of the 19th century are represented in this exhibition of etchings, drypoints, lithographs, and woodcuts from Te Papa’s permanent collection. It illustrates the revival of printmaking that occurred in France in the second half of the 19th century.

The prints represent a diverse range of styles and techniques and include works by members of the Barbizon school, and the impressionist and post-impressionist movements. The display offers an opportunity to see work in another medium by artists who are better known as painters, such as Corot, Manet, and Renoir, as well as works by master printmakers such as Legros and Bracquemond.

Japanese woodcuts are also included to illlustrate the significant influence of these prints on French artists of the time. French artists became aware of Japanese woodcuts (ukiyo-e) in the late 1850s. Apparently printmaker Félix Bracquemond came upon a copy of the sketchbook Hokusai Manga at his printer’s workshop in 1856; it had accompanied a consignment of porcelain.

Artists such as Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cassatt, and Toulouse-Lautrec were interested in the asymmetry and irregularity of Japanese prints. Japanese images consisted of off-centered compositions with no perspective, light with no shadows, and vibrant colors on plane surfaces. These elements were in direct contrast to European art and were enthusiastically taken up by 19th century artists, who believed they freed art from academic conventions.

Henri Toulouse Lautrec introduced elements of Japanese woodcuts into lithographs such as Le coiffeur. These elements included flat stylized areas of colour, expressive line and the extension of the composition beyond the picture area.

By far the most significant development in French printmaking was the rediscovery of etching as a medium for creative expression. In the early 19th century etching was seen mainly as a means of reproducing paintings and drawings. Later, landscape painters began to see it as a viable medium for making original images.

Both the artists of the Barbizon school and the impressionists were attracted to etching, as it allowed for spontaneous, sketchy lines and hatchings, and for the use of the white paper to capture effects of light on the landscape. Copper plates could also be taken out-of-doors to record the variety of nature on the spot.

Following on from the North Island tour of Drawn from Italy: Mantegna to Kauffman, and the South Island tour of Painting the View: Constable, Turner, and British Watercolourists 1760–1860, Te Papa is proud to present this selection of 34 works for tour to South Island venues.


18 August – 30 September 2012

Forrester Art Gallery, Oamaru

13 October – 25November 2012

Eastern Southland Art Gallery, Gore

8 December 2012 – 17 March 2013

Dunedin Public Art Gallery