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Detroit's Other Big Three: Dürer, Rembrandt, and Picasso

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15, 2006 (Detroit)—Dürer, Rembrandt and Picasso, three masters of innovation and technique in the art of printmaking, are featured together in an exceptional exhibition drawn from the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) collection. The Big Three in Printmaking: Dürer, Rembrandt and Picasso will be on view Sept. 13–Dec. 31, with 90 prints in a variety of media, including etchings, woodcuts, engravings and lithographs.

Each artist cultivated an international reputation in his lifetime and each represented the height of achievement in printmaking in his era—Dürer in the early 16th century, Rembrandt in the mid-17th, and Picasso during the first three-quarters of the 20th century. In their creativity and technical skill, each of these artists attained a stature few have equaled and all set standards to which centuries of subsequent printmakers have aspired.

“Alongside the many differences that separate Dürer, Rembrandt, and Picasso,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “There is at least one remarkable similarity: a passion for printmaking and a determination to push their favored techniques—engraving for Dürer, etching for Rembrandt, etching and lithography for Picasso—to their expressive limits.”     

Through the holdings of the DIA, The Big Three will focus on the innovations each artist introduced, and in that process also present many significant aspects of printmaking, including wood and linoleum cuts, engraving, etching, aquatint, drypoint, and lithography. A small selection of prints borrowed from local collectors will supplement the exhibition.

While a wide range of each artist’s prints will be included, three masterpieces stand out: Adam and Eve (1504) by Dürer; The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1634) by Rembrandt; and Torso of a Woman (1953) by Picasso. All three prints are exceptional on many levels and the artists meant them to be seen in that way.

Dürer's Adam and Eve and Rembrandt's The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds can be thought of to some degree as intended "show-off" pieces. In the prime of their careers, both Dürer and Rembrandt conceived these works partly to demonstrate their dazzling abilities to interpret and present well-known subjects and to do so with unmatched technical skill.

The technically complex Adam and Eve demonstrates Dürer’s amazing ability to distinguish flesh, fur, foliage, and other elements with just the strength of his hand as he cut the image into the metal plate from which the prints were made. Additionally, Dürer intentionally loaded Adam and Eve with symbolic references to call attention to his intellectual prowess.

Rembrandt’s The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds represents the ultimate in ability to handle the demands and possibilities of etching. Its complexity is heightened by the fact that Rembrandt took on the added challenges of depicting the darkness of night (very difficult to do in an etching), and conveying high emotion and dramatic action.

Picasso’s Torso of a Woman is likewise a “signature” statement meant to be bold, beautiful, and indicative of the artist’s best. It is done in the Cubist style, of which Picasso was among the major innovators. This print is a pure aquatint, a type of etching in which broad areas of tone can be achieved by using an acid instead of a tool to create hollows in the metal plate. Like the Dürer and the Rembrandt, it is a brilliant display of printmaking skill that deserves to be called an outstanding masterwork.

Other pieces in the exhibition include selected prints from Dürer’s Engraved Passion, The Small Woodcut Passion, The Life of the Virgin series and the complete Apocalypse. Among the many Rembrandts are The Goldweigher’s Field and The Descent from the Cross by Torchlight. A wide range of Picasso’s work includes the Saltinbanques made in the early 20th century, selections from his series of the 1920s Le Chef –d’Oeuvre Inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece) and both the Vollard Suite and The Dream and Lies of Franco from the 1930s.

The exhibition is free with museum admission, which is a donation recommended at $6 for adults and $3 for children. DIA members are admitted free. For membership information, call 313-833-7971.

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Programs are made possible with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.

Located in the heart of Detroit's Cultural Center, the DIA is owned by the City of Detroit and is recognized as one of the country's premier art museums.  From the first van Gogh to enter a U.S. museum (Self Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals, the DIA's collection reveals the scope and depth of human experience, imagination and emotion. Visit online at www.dia.org.

Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.