- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2000

The arts in Europe saw turbulent times at the end of the 19th century.

Printmaking was no exception, as demonstrated by the exhibit "Prints Abound: Paris in the 1890s From the Collections of Virginia and Ira Jackson and the National Gallery of Art."

The 135-print exhibition, which celebrates Dr. Jackson's 80th birthday, opens tomorrow. It stands as a complement to the National Gallery's "Art Nouveau, 1890-1914" display. Both printmakers and art nouveau artists and designers aimed to reform the arts and create a new vocabulary expressing modern life.

To put the period in perspective: Artists rebelled against the academics of the official Paris salons. Political, social, scientific, technological-industrial and cultural changes dominated the modern world — and its arts.

Pablo Picasso captured the political and terrorist clashes of Barcelona through his Blue Period canvases. He used intense blues to express the misery, pain and sense of impotence of his men and women.

Paul Cezanne reinvented ways of painting nature with innovations that led to cubism. Vincent van Gogh painted his tumultuous "Starry Night" in 1889, which introduced expressionism through emotive color.

The last decade of the 19th century also saw an extraordinary increase in prints for posters, journals, illustrated books, portfolios, music primers and song sheets by artists who wanted a larger audience.

Painters favored color lithography in which they drew on a stone. It was closest to the drawing and painting they already knew, and they thought of themselves as painter/printmakers.

Pierre Bonnard even made a four-panel, color lithographed folding screen of a fashionable Parisian street scene. His use of oblique angles and empty spaces came directly from Japanese woodblock prints.

Salons had traditionally provided opportunities for French painters to reach the public. When the artists lost these venues they found patrons. The economy was booming, especially the publishing, champagne and entertainment industries.

Posters by Bonnard advertised the La Revue Blanche journal, which published articles by Marcel Proust and Stephane Mallarme. It also commissioned prints by many of the Nabis artists.

Active in France in the 1890s, the Nabis included Edouard Vuillard, Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol and Felix Vallotton. They adopted Paul Gauguin's use of flat areas of bold color and heavily outlined surface patterns.

Bonnard also produced the dramatic poster that advertised France-Champagne, the highly successful champagne of the time. Bonnard first drew the centrally placed woman with boldly stroked ink. He shows a sophisticate holding a champagne glass overflowing with bubbles. The play of surface patterns with decorative curves makes her completely charming.

Artists such as Denis and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec also produced the flatly patterned images so appropriate for posters and magazine illustrations. Denis floated a curvaceous woman holding a La Depeche banner in his "La Depeche de Toulouse" poster advertising the newspaper.

Toulouse-Lautrec's "Cover for 'L'Estampe Originale'" shows Jane Avril, a popular cafe/concert performer, studying a print at a lithography shop. It was his first cover for L'Estampe Originale.

Ambroise Vollard, Cezanne's Paris dealer, was one of several dealers who commissioned, sold and promoted prints by contemporary print artists. Exhibit co-curator Judith Brodie says, "He enticed artists to make lithographs just as Tatyana Grosman brought painters such as Jasper Johns to her lithography workshop, Universal Limited Art Editions, in the 1950s."

Vollard published the "Album des Peintres-Graveurs" in 1896 with 22 prints containing such extraordinary images as Bonnard's diagonally dramatic "La Petite Blanchisseuse (The Little Laundry Maid)" and Edvard Munch's "Anxiete (Anxiety)." The Munch is on loan from the Epstein Family Collection of Washington.

"The Jackson collection mirrors their personalities," Miss Brodie says of the couple, who live in Houston. "Mrs. Jackson has a degree in library science and thinks like a scholar. She likes the illustrated books.

"Mr. Jackson is a medical doctor and highly energetic. Both are retired. Bonnard is their favorite artist, and they like the Nabis."

The Jacksons began collecting in the 1960s and amassed about 800 works on paper. They concentrated on building a collection from the beginning.

For example, Dr. Jackson bought the catalogue raisonne on Bonnard and gave himself a certain amount of time and budget to build a collection of Bonnard's prints. He concedes that it took him 10 years and more money than he had planned.

Faced with selecting 120 prints from 800, Miss Brodie and her co-curator, Phillip Dennis Cate, director of Rutgers University's Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, decided to focus on works-on-paper of the 1890s.

The collection will not belong to the gallery immediately, and some of it is going to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. In museum lingo, it's a "partial and promised gift."

WHAT: "Prints Abound: Paris in the 1890s From the Collections of Virginia and Ira Jackson and the National Gallery of Art"WHERE: National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow through Feb. 25TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/737-4215

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