Wednesday, February 7, 2018

From sketch to press: On printmaking

Rarely we are allowed to see and reconstruct the creative process behind a print. Let's face it, it is almost impossible to picture in our mind the amount of work an artist invested in turning his idea into something visible also to other people. The long and complex process from the sketch to the press is very well documented in a series of items in our collection.

Of the print Deathmask with sunflower and dagger (64887 and 64888) by Laurent Verwey van Udenhout (1884-1913) Antiquariaat Arine van der Steur has the very original sketch, drawn on the verso of cardboard, the preparatory drawing, on its recto, and three impressions of the finished plate in different states.

64887 verso
In the sketch, Verwey van Udenhout clearly studied the space of the representation, drawing a border which is slightly smaller than the actual plate.
Here, the artists designed the shadows that the various objects would have to project on the background when invested by a light coming from the right (in the sketch, from the left in the print).
In particular, he made sure that the dagger, the sunflowers with split stem and the death mask would emerge from the background with the help of their dark cast shadows.

64887 recto
For the preparatory drawing, the artist used the plate to trace, all around it, the actual external margins including the final composition. Now the focus is on all the chromatic values. The drawing looks very similar to the final result, in reverse, in terms of dark and lit areas. Visible are the most essential lines, defining the shapes of the three objects.

Finally the three states of the etching.
The first state in our collection looks like a painting. Before pressing the etching, the artist probably brushed the surface of the plate with acid to obtain a soft brownish tone all over the impression. Such a tonal veil would be visible only for very few impressions. The lines are still thin and didascalic, whereas the other prints show a progressive flattening of the plate.
Likely Verwey van Udenhout retouched the grooves with dry point, to make them more visible once pressed. In later impression, the initial tone is completely vanished.
The ultimate effect is rather harsh, the lines are very dark and broad, and contribute to give the idea of a bas-relief rather than a work on paper.

left to right: early state and other proof in 64887 and 64888

The same creative process is also visible in another couple of sketch-etching by the same artist (64976). Here, though, the composition is somewhat dissimilar between the original drawing and the final result: the man with a moustache is sitting, but in another position and with a different gaze in the eyes.  The focus of the artist is always the facial expression, rendered with the high printing quality the young Verwey van Udenhout had achieved.

Anna Bianco