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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

The exhibit of modern prints in Fogg Museum affords the opportunity of seeing lithographs and etchings by Pissarro, Manet, and Renoir, in addition to the infinitely finer and more interesting products of contemporaries such as Benton, Picasso, Matisse, Lehmbruck, and Rivera. It is interesting to find what these men have to say for themselves through the simple medium of the print, for none of them are generally thought of as lithographers or etchers. Their reputations are founded upon their ability to paint, and although the distance which separates a painting from a print is not great, it can not be denied that each of these two modes of expression has its own distinct and essential peculiarities.

Certain artists can shift from palette to lithographer's stone without varying either the quality or the type of work which they usually produce. Take Matisse, for example. His art is primarily decorative and is intended to soothe and placate rather than incite the spectator. Matisse relies mainly upon the sensitivity of his line and the balanced harmony of his color to attain this end; but strangely enough, when he leaves the field of color and portrays a subject through the print medium, his result is the same, namely a rather abstract picture which is neither more nor less than merely pleasant. In his ease, the use of color contributes toward the ultimate effect but is not essential; Matisse is primarily a draftsman and secondarily a painter.

Rivera, however, is primarily a painter. Despite the fact that he too is, in a sense, a decorative artist, his work manages to transcend the limits of pure decoration, for his color is not simply color "in vacuo," but is integrally connected with the subject he happens to be concerned with. So that when we find, as we do in this exhibit, one of Rivera's prints, we no longer find Rivera in his complete form; we find a carefully executed piece, one worthy of praise but something which is emasculated when compared to his painting. Now these distinctions which I have made are in no way intended to be an index by which the artistic value of a lithograph or an etching can be judged; my only purpose is to show that because of the nature of certain artists' styles, and because of the differences which exist between using color and using only various values of black and white, quite often an artist cannot fully express himself with equal facility in both ways. Matisse can because his manipulation of line happens to be effective, whether it be clothed in color or not; Rivera cannot because his color is a part of what he is attempting to convey, and without it his work lacks an important element. Matisse's work is emasculated to begin with, so that when he uses an emasculating medium, not much change is noted; Rivera is more of an earthy artist, and his entrance into lithography, which can turn into an unearthy medium, weakens his effect.

The exhibit of Pre-Columbian Art is still being shown in Fogg, and even those who are uninterested in art are urged to see it. This, coupled with the modern print collection, is ample indication that the Museum has finally hit the jackpot.

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