“The Etching Revival: Its French Sources and American Legacy Campus Gallery,” is the current exhibit at the Samek Art Museum‘s Campus Gallery, running through Sunday, Sept. 29. Admission is free to the Campus Gallery, which is on the top floor of the Elaine Langone Center and open Tuesday through Sunday between 12 noon and 5 p.m.
In the mid-19th century, French artists began exploring the creative potential of etching, a medium previously used to reproduce paintings for publication. Spurred in part by their European counterparts, late 19th-century American artists began to explore the medium’s possibilities. The American prints of this period feature many subjects favored in France, but filled with turbulent skies, deep shadows, and energetic lines common in American paintings of the time.
By the early 20th century, landscapes in art were increasingly focused on growing cities and the mechanization and isolation these urban centers brought. In the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, pastoral scenes were imbued with nostalgia. A few American artists returned to rural subjects in prints and paintings. In many of these, the energy of line apparent in the first prints of the American etching revival had taken precedent over the landscape. These stylized and nostalgic rural images of the 1930s now define the Regionalist style, most associated with artists Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.
Artists of the American etching revival paved the way for a 20th-century reinterpretation of the national landscape through their focus on expressive line, striking contrasts of light and shadow, intrepid rural workers, and a quickly-industrializing nation.