The New York Public Library is exhibiting Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570–1900 until 31 January 2016. The exhibition includes engravings, etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs compiled by Henrietta Louisa Koenen (1830-1881) that have not been exhibited since 1901. The collection is supplemented with works from NYPL’s holdings, including material from the Spencer Collection and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Printmaking, and Photographs.
Koenen was the wife of Johan Philip van der Kellen (1831-1906), the first director of the Rijksmuseum Print Room in Amsterdam. Beginning in 1848, Koenen collected prints made by women artists from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Although women printmakers have been traditionally overlooked, Koenen’s collected works include those of now-celebrated eighteenth-century women artists and printmakers, such as Angelica Kauffmann (1740-1807) and Maria Cosway (1760-1838).
Additionally, Koenen’s collection includes prints made by Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764). Also referred to as Madame de Pompadour, Poisson was the official chief mistress of Louis XV (1710-1774) from 1745 to 1764 and an influential patron of the arts. Poisson etched many of her works based on drawings by her instructor and court painter François Boucher (1703-1770). The process of etching involves a printmaker using an etching needle to scratch lines onto a prepared plate, which is then dipped in acid to abrade the lines of the design. Printmakers can use these plates to reproduce hundreds of prints before the plates show any sign of wear. Poisson’s etching was part of a wave of late seventeenth-century prints created by women from the leisure classes and one of the amateur works in Koenen’s collection. Rather than signifying someone inexperienced or inept, in Koenen’s time the word “amateur” retained its original meaning, “lover of art,” and denoted a non-professional artist who was both a patron and a student of the arts.
Anyone interested in women artists and printmakers from the long eighteenth century would enjoy the New York Public Library’s exhibition of Koenen’s wide-ranging collection, as well as the supplemental works from the Spencer Collection and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Printmaking, and Photographs. Be sure to see this unique exhibition before January 31, 2016.
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