The Art Institute's amazing collection of Medieval to Impressionist paintings doesn't move around very often. But in the intimate hallway around the main staircase off of Michigan Avenue, it's a different story! There, rotations of prints intermingled with smaller paintings and sculpture change every 6 months to minimize light damage to these fragile artworks, and show off our holdings of over 50,000 prints. Like the paintings in the adjoining main galleries, the prints begin in fifteenth-century Germany in Gallery 202a (on the right of the room with Gustave Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day), and wrap all the way around the building, ending in Paris again with Degas pastels in the 1890s in Gallery 226a, to the left of the Caillebotte.
Gallery 223a is home to all things Victorian of the 1850s. The current installation may appear to include only paintings, but look closer! Two works, a portrait of Queen Victoria and a shipwreck scene (both above), are actually “printed paintings” made with a complicated printing process by George Baxter. This prolific British entrepreneur printed works to decorate everything, including needle boxes, snuff boxes, medals, Great Exposition souvenirs, and other memorabilia. Baxter invented an innovative color printing technique so that he could mass-produce commercial images that resembled oil paintings. This effort earned him the epithet “The Picture Printer.” His "Baxter Process" integrated several traditional printing techniques, combining an intaglio “key” plate that printed the main features of the design with numerous relief color woodblocks. Baxter’s subjects varied from still-life imagery and genre scenes to images depicting important contemporary events. In the portrait, Queen Victoria is seated in state with the Crown of India on a cushion beside her. This print was released just after India was added to the British Empire. Similarly, Baxter based his dramatic shipwreck tableau on the description given by the only English survivor of a shipwrecked tea-merchant ship, the Reliance. Of the 116 passengers, only seven survived. Baxter used about 8 color blocks for this print, and 12 for his portrait of Queen Victoria, in addition to the intaglio key, exemplifying the intricacy of his complicated procedure. Both works attest to his ability to fashion vibrant, captivating prints, as well as his interest in Great Britain’s triumphs and tragedies.
For a whirlwind tour of the rest of art history through prints, start in 202a for luminous engravings and woodcuts of saints and secular subjects from early Northern Europe. Continuing to your right, 204a always includes two or more of our set of fifteenth-century Italian memory cards with eerie allegorical images, which noble youths used to learn about the hierarchical world around them. 205a introduces the visual excess of the Italian and French Renaissance, and 207a highlights the broad wit of the Germans across the border, with their equal emphasis on eclectic humanism and bodily humor. 208a houses a lush group of landscapes by Rembrandt van Rijn and after Peter Paul Rubens, which will only be up through September. 209a and 212a include 17th-century Italian prints and paintings, and 213a includes more Northern Baroque and British into the 18th century, often studded with satires by William Hogarth. 216a mingles French Baroque and Rococo with an exuberance of ornament prints and ornate portrait pastels. 217a is a dark and somber corner displaying through Halloween our fantastic Irish grisaille of a little girl seemingly lost in the wood, a skeletal Piranesi and a very repentant Mary Magdalene mezzotint. 219a is always devoted to Francisco de Goya’s feverish imagination, with 225a replete with Honoré Daumier’s more lighthearted Parisian caricatures. That gallery will showcase a hilarious selection on misguided fashion to coincide with the upcoming Impressionism, Fashion and Modernityexhibition in July 2013. 220a includes early 19th century French and British prints, and 221a early German ones, now including a set of unusual pastoral scenes that suggest all is not always copacetic in arcadia.
Not all of the galleries change at once, so check back on every visit to see what’s new!
Image Credits: George Baxter. The Wreck of the "Reliance"(November 12, 1842), 1843. Gift of Henry M. Huxley. George Baxter. Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, India, etc., c. 1859. Gift of Henry M. Huxley. Schelte Adams Bolswert. Landscape with the Great Ruins, c. 1614. Print Sales Miscellaneous Fund.