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.
1 day 17 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago TOMORROW at 4:00—See the world premiere of “The Electric Stage” by performance collective Manual Cinema.
Manual Cinema uses vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live camera feeds, sound design, and a live music ensemble to create immersive visual stories on stage and screen.
1 day 19 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago A Sunday on La Grande Jatte has been among the museum’s most beloved paintings since it first entered the collection in 1926. ARTicle celebrates the birthday of Georges Seurat, with some fun facts about this pointillist masterpiece.
2 days 12 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT Ladies strike a pose in Blackstone Hall, 1909.
Demolished in 1958, the enormous two-story gallery once spanned the area between where the Asian art and Prints and Drawings galleries are today and housed over 150 plaster cast sculptures, many replicas of Greek and Roman art received as gifts from the French government.