Monday, April 11, 2011

Mezzotints and Mistresses

Have you heard about the blockbuster show at the VMFA? No, not him!

Whereas the P-Man's show features his many periods, this one features a variety of big-name artists.

Even the less art-savvy will recognize rock stars like Rembrandt, Matisse, Whistler, Manet, Turner, Lautrec, Goya, and Corot.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the poet William Blake is represented.

If it sounds like an artistic party, it is. "A Celebration of Print: 500 Years of Graphic Art" is as much an overview of the printmaking tangents of art's biggest names as it is an overview of the 10,000-piece gift to the VMFA of Richmond-raised Frank Raysor.

And this show is a mere 100 pieces out of that 10,000.

I see years of stellar printmaking shows in VMFA's future, a fact which makes me very happy.

And as impressed as I was with seeing how so many talented painters fared as print makers, it was the lesser-known print makers who had me lingering in front of the brilliance.

Hailing from Scotland, James McBey's etching "Venetian Night" showed the atmospheric effects of the darkened canals; it was stunningly beautiful and had none of the crisp lines so typical of etchings.

Englishman Frank Short's mezzotint "Orion over Thames at Ranelagh," with its subtle gradations of tone was almost photographic and absolutely stunning. With a step back, it was completely believable as a drawing.

Richmond-born Nell Blaine's "Window Still Life" immediately called to mind painters Pierre Bonnard and Eduoard Vuillard's busy canvasses.

The charming scene was full of domestic details: a drink with a straw, a candle holder, a window table.

A more recent etching and aquatint, Richard Haas' 2007 "57th Street Looking East" was also almost photographic in its detail and overall impression.

Only in the sky portion did it appear to be an etching.

This ability of print makers to create nearly perfect images was no doubt the impetus for print maker Felix Bracquemond to found the Society of Etchers in 1862, intended to preserve that art form against the encroachment of photography.

Fortunately for people like me who appreciate both, they were able to co-exist.

I'd gone to the show with a friend after a delightful al fresco lunch at Lamplighter (he tried to tell me how good the a/c felt inside, but I was having none of it).

What we were having was the Goatherd's Mistress (leeks, asparagus, goat cheese and ham on ciabatta) and the Lamplighter (apples, strawberries, nuts, bleu cheese, mesclun, chicken salad) in the warm spring air.

Nearby, a toddler was contained under a picnic table and a couple discussed another couple guilty of too much PDA.

Meanwhile, we were still talking about his breakup and his relationship future, which is roughly the same conversation we were having about me a couple of years ago.

Even so, I'm no expert on the subject.

Friend was unable to resist treating himself to a whoopee pie for dessert but then said he was too full to eat it, so he bagged it to take home.

Or maybe he was punishing me for making him sweat outside while we ate.

Entering the museum, he acknowledged that he was a tad sweaty.

"Smells like boy!' he said, quoting a co-worker who'd told him that when he'd gotten sweaty at work.

Pshaw, I told him, no girl's going to care about boy smell when he's got a whoopee pie to share.

I still didn't get a bite.

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