'Print REbels' at the City Assembly House (9th July-27th August 2021)
Posted by IGS
The contents in 'Print REbels' mark a twenty-five year collecting odyssey for Edward Twohig. Here he discusses its genesis and the Irish strands interwoven across his pioneering comprehensive book and exhibition. Pre-19th, 19th and 20th century artists are featured include Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, J.M.W. Turner, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles Meryon, Samuel Palmer, Seymour Haden, James Tissot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Georges Rouault, and Clare Leighton; Dublin born William Orpen and Cork born Robert Gibbings. (SEE THE IGS EVENTS PAGE FOR FURTHER DETAILS)
'Print REbels' as the Bankside Gallery, 2018
This touring exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder and first President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE), Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910). The selection of prints, ranging from Haden to work by current RE members, reflects on the achievements of the society and the changes it has undergone. Works by Haden’s contemporaries at the end of the nineteenth century, including Samuel Palmer (1805–81) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), hang alongside prints by current members; prints by all of the thirteen RE Presidents (from 1880 to today) form a bridge between past and present.
My chief aim in Print REbels is to reflect on past and present Members, its history, and the legacy of this Society. One of the world’s premier printmaking organisations, all of the R.E.’s Members are practising professional printmakers, following a rigorous selection process since 1881. Membership, which was and still is restricted in number in order to make it a mark of distinction, is by election based on work submitted to the Society’s Council for peer review. This Society seeks practising artists globally and intends its Membership to reflect the very best in printmaking as a creative platform in all its diversity from contemporary via traditional to innovative in the pursuit of the not yet realised.
Mytton Hall. 1859. Etching and drypoint. S.19.iii/v.
My passion for collecting etching and drypoint prints began with an acquisition of a proof impression of Mytton Hall. This composition presents an avenue of trees, its branches arching overhead with their cast shadows, vibrating with poetic atmosphere, drawn and printed in 1859 by Seymour Haden. This work captivated me though a shop window in Cork when he was 17. Haden, the son of an eminent Victorian paediatrician, pursued a full medical career as a surgeon of distinction, attending, amongst others, Queen Victoria, Charles Stewart Parnell MP and the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Wellington. However, the great interest of his life, above even surgery, was etching, and it is by his etchings that Haden is now best remembered. He was the co-doyen of the 19th century Etching Revival in Britain. Haden’s great excellence was the art of suggestion and drawing for him meant training the eye and disciplining the hand for incisions during surgery.
Haden’s finest and rarest compositions were created along the River Muteen, by Greenpark in Dundrum, County Tipperary and at Glenmalure, County Wicklow. This surgeon-etcher visited Ireland four times between 1859 and 1864. Impressions of A River in Ireland, A Bye Road in Tipperary and Sunset in Ireland are hailed internationally amongst the finest landscape etchings of the 19th century. Kenneth Guichard writes in British Etchers 1850-1950 published in London, 1977:
‘Sunset in Ireland must be one of the greatest prints ever produced in etching, one can feel the dew beginning at the end of a balmy evening in Tipperary.’
Haden A Sunset in Ireland. 1863. Etching and drypoint. S.47.xiii/xiv.
This is fortified in Raymond Lister and Robin Garton’s book, Great Images of Printmaking in 1978:
‘1863 was a sublime year for Haden in printmaking. Sunset in Ireland is one of the greatest etchings of its period. It has the potency of ‘A River in Ireland’, but its textures are still richer, with their hint of that humid dusk often encountered in Ireland. There too, a note of mystery in the river as it curves into wooded reaches. In places the lines of shading seem almost careless, where much of the composition is cross-hatched by diagonal lines. The apparent carelessness is all part of Haden’s calculated and brilliant gift of suggestion. The plate was etched on the spot at Dundrum Park in Tipperary’.
More recently, Sunset in Ireland was admired by Corkonians’ when it was exhibited in the Visible Poetry exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery in 2014 and at Gainsborough’s House Museum in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 2016.
'Print REbels' on tour in Wales, 2019
Haden’s brother-in-law, James MacNeill Whistler, was the other co-doyen of 19th-century Etching Revival. He was a major influence on Irish, British and American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like Haden, Whistler was among those who advocated for etching as a method of producing original, spontaneous art works, in contrast to reproductive engravings or lithographs. His paintings and etchings were shown at the Dublin Sketching Club in 1884, an innovative society from which several amateur and professional painter-etchers emerged. In the mid 1870’s, Haden flanked by the raffish James MacNeill Whistler and visionary Samuel Palmer were rebelling against the prevailing notion across the mid-Victorian art world and centres such as the Royal Academy, that printmaking was merely a means of reproducing paintings and not a creative versatile medium in its own right, on par with painting, sculpture or architecture. In defiance to this, their work and example set in motion the Etching Revival in Britain for the next eighty or so years, infusing wider interest in etching which made the British, Irish and Scottish printmakers of the next generations the most expensive contemporary printmakers in the world.
R.E. printmaking relations with Ireland continue to be rich, multi-facetted and at junctures, symbiotic with sagacious results. These strands were touched upon in the wonderfully insightful exhibition ‘Making their Mark: Irish Painter-Etchers & the Etching Revival 1880-1930’ curated by Dr Angela Griffith and Ann Hodge, at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2019. Two etchings by Walter Osborne R.H.A. (1859-1903) created in 1882 during his second year at the Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, mirrors knowledge of one of the earliest R.E. Member’s, Alphonse Legros’ (1837-1911), portraits in terms of technique and style. Stylistically the etching Two Figures in a Boat from 1883 by John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A. (1856-1891) is a hybrid between a Legros and Whistler’s linear etchings. In 1884 the Dublin Sketching Club initiated by the Irish etcher, Dr William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913) invited Whistler, with whom he corresponded, to exhibit his Thames Set (created between 1859 and 1879) and First Venice Set (1880) of etchings affording the citizens of Dublin an opportunity to see at first-hand work of an important international contemporary artist.
Pearsall was an acute and avid collector of Whistler’s and his brother-in-law Haden’s prints. Whistler led a peripatetic lifestyle that exposed him to several cultural environments, which enriched his artistic practice. William Orpen R.A., R.H.A. (1878-1931), who became President of Whistler’s International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1921, made a series of line portrait etchings early in his career. In 1910, as the instigation of Dermod O’Brien, Hon. R.A. (1865-1945), then President of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the comprehensive historical survey of printmaking (to date) in the British Isles was held at the R.H.A. Seventy three R.E. Members participated in this Dublin show. County Down-born, Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863-1941) learnt etching from Alphonse Legros, who was present when Haden founded the R.E. in Hertford Street, Mayfair, in July 1880. Academician and R.E. Member, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978) lived and worked in Ireland from 1915 to 1919. The Prix de Rome Scholar and R.E. Member, Job Nixon (1891-1938) created a body of drypoint prints in and around the River Blackwater between Fermoy and Ballyduff in the early 1920’s. Dublin born artist, Estella Solomons (1882-1968) befriended both Brockhurst and Nixon.
Frank Short (2nd RE President) drawn and printed by Malcolm Osborne (3rd RE President) in 1931.
Each had various Celtic roots and exhibited frequently at the R.H.A.: Sir Frank Short (1857-1945) who succeeded Haden as second President (P.R.E.) of the R.E. from 1910-1938; third President, Malcolm Osborne (1880-1963) P.R.E. from 1938 to 1962; fourth President, Robert Austin (1895-1973) P.R.E. from 1962-1970 and sixth President, Harry Eccleston (1923-2010) P.R.E. from 1975 to 1989. Irish printmakers Francis Walker, Myra Kathleen Hughes (first female Irish printmaker to be elected to the RE in 1911) and Cork-born George Atkinson R.H.A. (1880-1941), who created the exceptional Shannon Scheme series of etchings in 1929, shown in Brussels and the Paris Salon in 1930, impressions held at the Crawford Art Gallery, each learnt etching and printing directly from the avuncular Frank Short. If Haden was the R.E.’s creator and head, Short was the Society’s backbone, right up to just before the Second World War. Principal of St. Martin’s School of Art from 1912 to 1930, Fred Vango Burridge R.E. (1869-1945), was a friend and executor of Sligo-born, Percy F. Gethin (1874-1916), an Irish early 20th century etcher who was friends with Lady Gregory and Sir Hugh Lane and who chronicled Irish life within his compositions, was killed in action at the Somme. Burridge wrote to the artist Sarah Purser R.H.A. (1848-1943) R.H.A., who founded the Friends of the National Collection in 1924, sending her four of Gethin’s etchings ‘for inclusion in the gallery or museum in Dublin which you would consider best suited to house them’. They are now at the National Gallery of Ireland. Malcolm Osborne was a London neighbour of William Orpen and relative of the Irish Impressionist painter and etcher, Walter F. Osborne R.H.A., and like him, created urban scenes often with an architectural and Impressionist/Realist focus. Robert Austin was related to and worked with Percy Metcalfe (1895-1970), sculptor and designer of car mascots, Indian, Iraqi, Canadian and the Irish Saorstat Eireann coins. Metcalfe’s designs depicting various animals: woodcock, pig and piglets, hen and chicks, hare, wolfhound, bull, salmon and horse, with the Brian Boru harp on the obverse were used on each coin issued by the Irish Free State. Metcalfe undertook work for the Irish Currency Commission of 1926, which was chaired by the poet W. B. Yeats and then soon to be appointed Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dr Thomas Bodkin. Taking advantage of the State’s name change to Éire in December 1937, Metcalfe refined his engraved designs a year later, strengthening the obverse harp and the reverses of the penny - hen & three chicks design along with the horse - on the half-crown. Metcalfe accomplished this with advice and help from Robert Austin who went on to design the C Series banknotes in England from 1960 to 1979. An impression of Robert Austin’s engraving masterpiece, Girl on Stairs, 1937, is in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, which was an astute purchase from the Gibson Bequest. The influential printmaker-teacher, Tim Mara, born in Dublin in 1948, elected a Member of the R.E. in 1990 stepped into Frank Short’s role becoming Professor of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art also in that year.
Frank Short, The Headlights Over the Hill. 1927. Mezzotint. 6th & final state. H 127.
This exhibition, ‘a necklace of visual gems and revelations’ recently described by Professor Dr David Ferry, Haden’s current successor and 13th President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, demonstrates how remarkable the Etching Revival and Etching Boom era was. John Ruskin, the leading Victorian art critic and arbiter of taste, described etching as ‘an indolent and blundering art’. 150 years later Print REbels explores the great Etching Revival and the prominent artists who proved him wrong. That said, a work by Ruskin is included in this exhibition. Further, it shows R.E. Members’ prints, historic and contemporary, shining light on these artists work and bringing this legacy back into the public eye where it belongs.
David Ferry (13th and current RE President) The Aquarium Wilton House, Wiltshire from English Aquariums in Country Houses. 2017. Digital Archival Print.
Part of this exhibition includes the Print REbels Portfolio Boxset which comprises works by current RE Members, made specifically in response to this Society’s heritage. Twenty-five of these compositions were selected by Dr Jenny Ramkalawon, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum for this Print REbels Portfolio Boxset limited to eight boxes. One Print REbels Portfolio Boxset is held in the collection at the British Museum, another housed with the RE Diploma Print Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford while another was presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
Dr Caroline Guignard, Keeper at the Cabinet d’arts graphiques of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva, wrote a review of my Print REbels book in Print Quarterly, in December 2019. Here I quote an excerpt:
‘Printmaker, collector and professor Edward Twohig insists on the pervasive influence of the RE’s presidents from Haden to the present, but also shares his passion for the so-called ‘REbels’ who campaigned tirelessly for the recognition and promotion of original prints. The distinguishing quality of this publication is Twohig’s point of view on the most significant consequences of the etching revival in Britain. His genuine admiration for the founders of the RE and the scholarship he displays in his comments about each impression mirror the passion that animated Haden and other pioneers who challenged the Royal Academy’s reluctance to integrate printmaking into its programme. Print REbels successfully aims at a broad audience. The exhibits come from Twohig’s personal collection.’
Further information can be found here:
Edward Twohig is a Fellow and Core Member of Council at the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) in London. He is the first European to be bestowed with Honorary Membership of the State Academy of Fine Arts of Azerbaijan. His 100 Views of Old City, Baku was shown at the National Museum of Art of Azerbaijan in 2017. Two further solo exhibitions followed in 2018 and 2019. His ‘Super Moon 2020 Suite’ was shown at Eames Fine Art, London in February and March 2021. Twohig combines his practice with his role as Head of Art at Marlborough College in Wiltshire.
Further information from
British Museum website:
Eames Fine Art website:
'Print REbels' at the City Assembly House would not have been possible without the financial support of Northern Trust (Ireland), the Heritage Council and Camilla McAleese.