Book review

The Art of the Print: Masterpieces, History, Techniques by Fritz Eichenberg
Published by Thames & Hudson, London, 1976

Reviewed by ANDREW BOGLE

The Art of the Print is an encyclopaedic book which claims to be the liveliest and most comprehensive work ever published on the graphic arts.

It is certainly comprehensive, All the important print processes - woodcut, metal engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, mezzotint, lithograph, screen-print and monotype, as well as the photo-mechanical developments of some of these - are covered; and some less-well-known modern processes beside.

The book has been divided into sections under the more general classifications of printing processes: relief, intaglio, and so on. These break down into chapters dealing with the evolution of the processes. There is a chronology of the important practitioners and some of the works. There are chapters containing notes by well known contemporary printmakers - such as Paul Wunderlich and Warrington Colescott - on their personal techniques. A separate section is devoted to print workshops. This is little more than a list of seventeen prominent print workshops, with a brief history of the establishment of each, and the names of some of the artists who have worked there.

PHILIP GALLE (after Stradanus)
The Engravers 1600

There is no information on - what a workshop is like - the way the presses, inking-slabs, paper racks are laid out. Some photographs of the lay-out of a few workshops would not have gone amiss.

There is a section on paper - its history and the care and preservation of works of art made on it. The latter aspect is an important one. Too many prints and drawings are damaged through improper treatment and neglect. I would recommend anyone who owns works-on-paper to read this chapter.

Finally, there is a comprehensive glossary, containing 245 terms - from Acid to Zincography.

Those parts of the book devoted to the history of the print are concise, lucid and reasonably comprehensive. There are omissions however. There is no mention of the erotic Japanese woodblock prints of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: a category of prints rarely discussed or reproduced in publications on prints. Nor are the Vorticist print-makers of the 1930s in Britain. mentioned. These printmakers made an important contribution to the art of the woodblock and linocut.

Sometimes the attention given to an artist seems disproportionate to his historical importance: for example, Canaletto, of whom little more is said than: 'with him a vivid interest in architecture came to the fore in Italian printmaking'. The etching by Canaletto reproduced, Imaginary View of Venice, is incorrectly titled The House with a Date, which is really the title for the left hand side of the plate after it was cut in two.

Nevertheless a wide spectrum of printmakers has been covered; and beside the great printmakers, like Hokusai, Durer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Daumier, Picasso, are included the names of those less familiar - Amman, Seghers, Campagnola, Hollar, Bresdin, Bracquemond and Grandville, to name a few. Samples of the work of most of those artists referred to are reproduced among the 749 plates in the book, ninety-five of which are in colour.

The reproductions are of a consistently high quality, often of a generous size. The author states that an effort has been made to avoid reproducing prints that have lost their flavour through overexposure. Some of the prints have never been reproduced before. The prints are commonly labelled on the same page or the one adjacent, which facilitates quick reference. But the amount of information in the captions varies. Dimensions (which are important when the reproduction bears little relationship to the actual size) are not always provided: and the same applies to dates. Where the text refers to a particular print, the number of the pertinent plate is indicated in the margin alongside the text. Moreover, the plates have been distributed throughout the book in such a way that they are rarely more than a turn-of-a-page away from the related text.

The main shortcomings of the book have to do with the technical information. This tends to fall between two stools. On the one hand it is inadequate for the prospective printmaker, for whom how-to-do-it books will be found more comprehensive. The absence of step-by-step demonstrations of processes and diagrams of basic tools and equipment make this book unsuitable for teaching. On the other hand, there are notes on techniques by printmakers which can only be addressed to the experienced person capable of applying them.

The book is, of course, intelligently designed and particularly readable. I recommend it to teachers, art instructors, collectors arid dealers.