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Beautiful art can come from removing color instead of adding it. That’s the technique behind mezzotint prints. Visitors to the Cincinnati Art Museum will be able to view forty-two examples of this illuminating craft, in this fall’s exhibition Darkness Into Light: Mezzotint Rediscovered. The exhibition, drawn from the Art Museum’s permanent collections, will explore the medium of mezzotint, a tonal technique in which the artist works backwards, by working from a dark plate to light. It will trace the development of mezzotint from its beginning in 1642 through its phenomenal growth in the eighteenth century, where it served for the dissemination of copies of popular paintings, to its resurgence as a creative process in the mid-twentieth century to today.
According to Cincinnati Art Museum’s Curator of Prints Kristin Spangenberg, “We have so many wonderful velvety impressions of this technique from four centuries, I really felt our public should see the range of this art. This show covers the full spectrum.” Forty-two pieces ranging from 1642 to 2008 will be on display, including a whole group from the 1943 Herbert Greer French bequest which are “scratched proof impressions.” According to Spangenberg: “It’s a medium that is due appreciation and that’s why I called it Darkness Into Light Mezzotint Rediscovered. We have an opportunity to rediscover the process, and the artists in the mid 20th century because we rediscovered it and artists in the 20th century did discover it as a creative medium.”
Mezzotint, from the Italian mezzo-tinta or half-tint, is a process of working from dark to light. To create a print the entire surface of a metal printing plate is roughened with a special tool, the rocker (a serrated chisel-like tool)passed over the plate repeatedly in several different directions so that the roughened plate prints a deep velvety black. The artist creates the image by selectively scraping and burnishing areas to produce highlights and middle tones out of the dark ground. It’s rich blacks, its subtle gradations of tone, make it ideal for the reproduction of paintings.
During the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, mezzotints were the only means most people had of becoming acquainted with the paintings of major artists. In the hands of talented printmakers such as Valentine Green and John Raphael Smith mezzotint transcended its reproductive function to become a work of art in itself.
After the invention of photography in the 19th century, mezzotint was rarely used in the mid-20th century. Its most distinguished mid-20th-century advocate, Yozo Hamaguchi, a Japanese artist living in Paris, developed techniques for printing color mezzotint, and other artists, such as Mario Avati of Great Britain and Merlyn Evans of France, have mastered it.
“It is amazing to see how the images shine in mezzotints,” says Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky; “You get a sense of the full depth of a space or the curve of face appearing, as if by magic, out of the darkness and into a sensual presence.”
About the Cincinnati Art Museum
Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Art Museum is closed on Mondays. The Art Museum is FREE, EVERYDAY! The Art Museum is located at 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For general information, call (513) 639-2995 or visit www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is supported by the generosity of individuals and businesses that give annually to the ArtsWave. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund the Cincinnati Art Museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The Cincinnati Art Museum gratefully acknowledges operating support from the City of Cincinnati, as well as our members.