There is no colour. Each piece of art is simply composed of printed lines against a white page.
Yet the Audain Art Museum’s (AAM) current special exhibition is breathtaking. The Collectors’ Cosmos: Exploring The Meakins-McClaran Print Collection, on loan from the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in Ottawa, is a spectacular exploration of early North European printmaking. It is an artistic study of the seasons, months of the year, times of day, planets, elements, and animals, the holy and the everyday, the violent and the humorous, by Dutch and Flemish artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. As I stroll from print to print with Elyse Feaver, the Audain’s engagement and volunteer manager, I am drawn to the rich details, the elaborate images, the vivid storytelling, and the historic significance of these stunning prints. Each piece reveals the Dutch social fabric and the natural world from more than four centuries ago.
Photo Scott Brammer
Photo Scott Brammer
Feaver explains that art was the rage during the 1500s and 1600s, but only the wealthy could afford to commission original paintings. The burgeoning middle class couldn’t jump in at the higher price point. “Prints were made to democratize the art world,” says Feaver.
Printmaking at the time was usually done with a copper plate, and an image was either etched in a waxy substance upon the plate or engraved directly into the metal. The plate would then have ink rolled onto it, paper pressed against it, and multiple copies created.
The exhibition is divided into six categories: Cosmologies, The World in Landscapes, Nature, Arcadia, The Carnival of Life, and Coda. It is fascinating to see both the complex pull between Catholicism and Protestantism and the rich renderings of daily life.
The collection was donated to the NGC by Montreal’s Dr. Jonathan Meakins and Dr. Jacqueline McClaran. It is on display at the AAM until May 15. audainartmuseum.com/exhibitions