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Will Barnet (American, born 1911), Makeshift Kitchen, 1935, aquatint and etching on paper, 6 ¾ x 7 ¾ inches. Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of art, University of Richmond Museums, The I. Web Surratt, Jr. Print Collection, M1996.01.04.
Feb 20, 2001
throughMar 25, 2001

American Prints from the 1920's & 1930's: Selections from the Permanent Collection

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American printmaking experienced a surge in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s, when many artists began looking to their own environments as subject matter. Urban and country life, realistic or idealized, appeared in the work of Social Realist and Regionalist artists. Their images were used as illustrations for novels, poetry, short stories and advertisements. Influential to the style and quality of printmaking at this time was the immigration of artists from Europe. Of the nine printmakers represented in this exhibition, three were born abroad and one spent his childhood in Germany before returning to America in the late 1930s. Their origins are as varied as their media — etching, aquatint, wood engraving, and woodcut.

We would like to thank the many donors who generously gave these prints, woodblocks, and books to the Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond Museums. Thanks also goes to Dr. Welford Dunaway Taylor who lent advertisement tear sheets featuring a few of Rockwell Kent’s images. The exhibition was co-curated by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Assistant Director of University Museums, and Meg McLemore (AW ’01), an art history and studio art major.

Richard Waller
Executive Director
Univeristy of Richmond Musems

About the artists

Will Barnet (American, born 1911)

In 1930 Will Barnet moved from Massachusetts to New York, where he studied printmaking at the Art Students League. He soon became a master printer for the league and in his spare time he worked for the government-sponsored Works Progress Administration art program by printing for project artists. Throughout his career, Barnet experimented with several artistic styles, including both abstraction and realism. In his earliest compositions he focused on his immediate surroundings such as his family, children, neighborhood, tradesmen, and laborers. His works often show the concern Barnet had for the social problems in America during the Great Depression. Makeshift Kitchen (1935) is one of his earliest prints. It is a record of tenement life and suggests the endurance of human spirit under oppressive conditions. Highly influenced by the French artist, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Barnet captured social urban life of the 1930s in his drawings and prints.

Charles Burchfield (American, 1893-1967)

Charles Burchfield grew up in Salem, Ohio. Childhood memories and a love of nature became the subjects for the majority of his artwork while he studied at theCleveland School of Art. A fascination with light, wind, and clouds can be seen in the prints Cain (1926) and Whirling Wind (1923), shown here. Critics described Burchfield as a thoroughly American artist because he combined the American scene with characteristic American realism and romance. Burchfield depicted villages, houses, and buildings, believing that these edifices would reveal American life through a sense of place. It is possible that The Gossips (1926) is a scene from near Burchfield’s own house in Gardenville, New York. His prints in this exhibition were created in collaboration with J. J. Lankes.

Fritz Eichenberg (American, 1901-1990)

Fritz Eichenberg was educated in Germany as a printmaker and illustrator. In 1933, he and his family escaped Nazi tyranny and immigrated to New York. In the United States, Eichenberg continued to illustrate literary classics such as the writings of Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, Swift, Poe, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. He produced prints until the mid-1980s and taught at Pratt Institute and the University of Rhode Island. He created a series of wood engravings that recorded his first impressions of New York. The Aquarium (1934) was one of the first of Eichenberg’s prints made in America, along with scenes from the subway, Little Italy, Harlem, the Bowery, and the Upper East Side.

Lyonel Feininger (American, 1871-1956)

Born in New York, Lyonel Feininger was sent to Germany in 1887 to study music, however he spent the next several decades in Europe painting. He also established himself as a professional illustrator. His work appeared regularly in European magazines and newspapers as well as American publications such as the Chicago Tribune. Upon its opening in Weimar in 1919, the Bauhaus hired Feininger as master of its printmaking workshop. In 1937 he moved back to America and settled in New York. Highly influenced by cubism and German expressionism, Feininger created landscapes that exhibited compositions of strong abstract order and design. He referred to this style in his work as a “crystallization” of nature in art, which is clearly seen in Wald-Kirche (The Church in the Woods) of 1937.

Rockwell Kent (American, 1882-1971)

Born and educated in New York, Rockwell Kent studied with several painters, including William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Between the two world wars, Kent held a reputation as a noted artist for his paintings, etchings, and lithographs. His style focused on the precise rendering of forms and sharp contrasts of dark and light. Doremus and Company, an advertising agency, commissioned Kent to design a series of prints that appeared in newspapers and magazines. J. J. Lankes was selected to engrave the woodblocks following Kent’s designs.

J. J. Lankes (American, 1884-1960)

In 1917, J. J. Lankes created his first woodcut while working at a factory in Buffalo, New York. He moved to Virginia in 1925. Lankes created approximately 1,300 designs and earned the praise of many contemporaries. His major subjects were the natural beauty, history, and people of pre-industrial America. He found vitality in many buildings and landscapes and recorded it with meticulous detail. In the 1920s and 1930s, Lankes worked as an illustrator for several prominent authors such as Robert Frost and Ellen Glasgow. He also collaborated with Rockwell Kent and Charles Burchfield on prints in this exhibition.

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)

When he was eight years old, Marsh came to the United States from France with his American family. After graduating from Yale University, he worked as an artist for Vanity Fair, the New York Daily News, and the New Yorker. Beginning in 1920 when he moved to New York City, Marsh depicted the vitality of life in New York and was considered a Social Realist along with such artists as Isabel Bishop and Raphael Soyer. Many of his paintings and prints presented scenes of New York bars and dance halls. Star Burlesk was first created as a painting of the same title in 1933 and is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The print he made is the reverse of the painting.

William Schwanekamp (American, 1893-1970)

Born in Buffalo, New York, William Schwanekamp supported himself as a student at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy by painting signs and later through the Boston Fine Arts Academy by lettering boats in Boston Harbor. He spent most of his career working for advertising agencies. He etched and painted in his leisure time on lunch breaks or at night, and he was a talented member of the Buffalo Print Club. His best known work depicts the alleys and buildings that he saw from his downtown Buffalo office, although he was also inspired by the rural landscapes near his summer home in Cowlesville, New York. The landscape in this exhibition is probably one such country scene.

John W. Winkler (American, 1890-1979)

Born in Vienna, John W. Winkler immigrated to the United States in 1910. He settled in San Francisco and entered the San Francisco Institute of Art in 1912, intending to learn cartooning. His interest quickly turned to fine art, and he began drawing scenes from his surroundings. These early prints of Chinatown were completed after school in his free time. By 1918 he had established himself as a master etcher and a “master of line” according to his close friend and artist, John Taylor Arms. Winkler often reworked his plates and printed new editions. Some of the prints in the exhibition are later editions printed under his supervision from plates he etched in the 1920s and 1930s.