Excelling in eerie effects and seductive textures, the late 17th-century medium of mezzotint blossomed from an amateur fascination and hobby of members of the nobility to the 18th century’s most popular reproductive printmaking method. Mezzotint engraving allowed artists to burnish soft highlights and volume into a textured copper plate that would otherwise print in a solid tone. This shading method contrasted dramatically with the standard intaglio medium, which involved either painstakingly incising engraved lines with a burin (a metal-cutting tool) or etching looser lines into a plate with acid. Ideal for nocturnal scenes, portraits, reproductions of paintings, lush landscapes, and garish anatomical and botanical studies, the versatile medium later lent itself to color printing and remains in use today.
Burnishing the Night brings together mezzotint prints, books with mezzotint illustrations, and other works on paper from the permanent collection that span the medium’s predominantly Northern European origins through its worldwide use in the 20th century. Several works in the show are by Irish mezzotint engravers, especially Thomas Frye, whose imaginative head studies will also be featured in this spring’s highly anticipated exhibition Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840. Frye’s evocative Young Man with a Candle from 1760 demonstrates the liquid effects made possible by the mezzotint medium, from the bulging, startled eyes to the dancing candlelit shadows and dripping wax. The viewer waits with bated breath along with this startled youth, enjoying the theatrical uncertainty of a ghost story, printed in velvet tones.
A complementary and concurrent installation in Gallery 208A, Printing Darkness and Light in the Dutch Republic, details how Rembrandt and other artists created their own dramatic “Dark Manner” or “Night Pieces” without the use of mezzotint.
8 hours 52 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT 1983: The museum held an exhibition for the collection of Jalane and Richard Davidson, Chicago collectors of contemporary American realist drawings. Acknowledged at the time for collecting against prevailing art world trends, they amassed a comprehensive collection of work spanning the careers of both well-known artists—like Jack Beal, pictured here with Jalane herself and a portrait he made of her—and lesser-known Midwestern artists. The entire Davidson collection was bequeathed to the museum and saw another exhibition devoted to it in 1999.
13 hours 20 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Who's ready to experience A Lot of Sorrow? The National aren't playing Lollapalooza this year, but festival–goers can still see the band perform their ballad “Sorrow” on repeat for six hours, in an intensely durational film by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
Now on view in the Modern Wing
1 day 4 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Support the many fine programs of the museum and discover an interesting array of home décor, jewelry, art reproductions, and more in the Museum Shop’s Gift Catalog.
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