An introduction to the largest but least known part of the gallery’s collection – its holding of prints.
Spanning more than 500 years and encompassing a variety of techniques, the print collection is largely the result of a series of individual gifts. But by far the largest contribution came from Sir Robert Witt, who established an image bank library for art historians. While the majority of the Witt prints reproduce works of art in other media, his collection also included unique impressions of proof states by the 16th century artists Jacques Bellange and Johannes Stradanus.
Key examples of early prints include Andrea Mantegna’s The Flagellation of Christ, Canaletto’s views of 18th century Venice and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Rabbit Hunt. The latter is the only print executed by the artist himself, for which he chose the etching technique as it allowed him to render the scene with a naturalism comparable to drawing.
The possibilities of printmaking greatly expanded in subsequent centuries. In 19th century France avant-garde artists embraced the medium; Edouard Manet paying homage to Old Masters, Paul Gauguin reviving the woodcut and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic depictions of Parisian entertainment. Examples of works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse reveal their tireless experimentation, which restored vitality to printmaking in the 20th century.
Contemporary works include those by Lucian Freud, modern master of the medium, and Chris Ofili whose prints, both figurative and abstract, are telling of where the genre stands today.