The Ateneo Art Gallery (AAG) is considered the premier museum of modern and contemporary art in the Philippines. Located at the Areté in the Ateneo de Manila University campus, along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City; the AAG hosts a collection of over a thousand paintings, sculpture, photographs, installations and prints from Filipino artists. However, part of the AAG collection are several prints by European masters, which were donated by several Ateneo alumni, to share with the rest of the Ateneo community and visitors.
The oldest print is the collection is that of the Dutch Baroque master, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669). In the 1654 etching, Rembrandt presents the “Descent from the Cross by Torchlight,” a common theme among many Christian artists. In this print, Rembrandt shows Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bringing down the body of Jesus from the cross, to prepare his body for burial (John 19:39–42). This artwork was a part of a 1654 series of Rembrandt on the life of Jesus, which include the, Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:23–24), Christ at Emmaus (Luke 24:28–29), and Entombment (Matthew 27:57-61 and John 19:38-42). Rembrandt made several copies of this print, and the other copies can found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Art Institute Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia; just to name a few.
The next set of prints are twelve lithographs by the French artist, Honoré-Victorin Daumier (1808-1879). These twelve prints are part of a thirty nine piece collection, entitled “Les Gens de Justice” (Law and Justice), which are satirical pieces on lawyers and their corrupt practices. The prints were first published in the political magazine Le Charivari, between 1845 and 1848. The insinuations of corruption were more subtle in these works, due to the French government’s banning of political cartoons in 1835.
The next piece is a genre print by the French artist, Édouard Fournier Manet (1832-1883). In line with the French Realist tradition, Manet features a scene of everyday life of the common folk, with the work “Boy Blowing Bubbles.” This etching is based on an 1869 painting by Manet, of the same title, which is now housed in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Portugal. Some critics view this piece as a vanitas, or an artwork that reminds the viewer of their own mortality, by relating the temporary nature of a bubble with human life. As for the print, some copies can be viewed at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Art Institute Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The French post-impressionist, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1864-1901), is noted for his paintings of the nightlife in the Moulin Rouge in Paris. However, in the 1898 lithograph of “Madame Réjane,” Toulouse-Lautrec creates a carefree portrait of the famous French theater and silent film actress, Gabrielle Réjane (Gabrielle Charlotte Réju, 1856-1920), who was a muse for many artists, such as painters as Toulouse-Lautrec, Giovanni Boldini, Théobald Chartran, Ramon Casas, photographer Paul Nadar, and playwright Marcel Proust. Other copies of the print can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Clark Museum in Massachusetts, Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Hight Museum of Art in Atlanta.
An interesting print is the comic paneled print by the Spanish cubist Pablo Picasso. Born Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, the artist created a series of 11 etchings and 67 drawings turned wood engravings (cut by George Aubert, 1866-1961) for a republishing of the story “Le Chef-D’œuvre Inconnu” (The Unknown Masterpiece) by Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). The book was originally published in 1831 by de Balzac, and Picasso republished the book with his works in 1931. The basic premise of the story of the young French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Flemish painter Frans Pourbus the younger (1569–1622) witness the skilled brushwork of the fictional master, Frenhofer, as he demonstrated on Pourbus’ work of Saint Mary of Egypt (344-421). However, no matter how skillful Frenhofer is, he admits that there is one painting that he could not complete his own painting of the famous courtesan called Catherine Lescault, which he has been trying to complete for ten years. And with the help of Poussin, Frenhofer seemingly finishes the painting, only to have Poussin and Porbus notice some details that seemed incomplete. This causes Frenhofer to go mad, destroy the artwork, and later kill himself. This story has resonated with many artists, including Picasso, in regards to the drive of the artist to balance his work between perfection and imperfection.
The German Expressionist painter, Max Beckmann (1884-1950), shows a drypoint portrait of a woman entitled “Mink von vorn mit grosser Frisur” (Mink, Frontal, with Elaborate Coiffure). The print was first made in 1913, but was only published in 1922. Another copy of this print can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Although the German artist, Käthe Rupp-Schmidt Kollwitz (1867-1945), is known for her expressionist works, however her prints in the AAG collection feature her earlier social realist works. Influenced by the impact of World War I on the ordinary German people, Kollwitz shows the economic hardships with her 1923 lithograph “Children Begging Food” and the 1921 etching “Plowmen.” Unfortunately, this suffering was what Adolf Hitler used to rally the German people and form the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) or NAZI Party, and even kick out artists such as Kollwitz, whom Hitler called “degenerate artists.”
These prints, as well as those of the Filipino artists, are also part of the proposed Printmaking Institute that the AAG wished to establish. Aside for showcasing the works of masters, the Printmaking Institute is supposed to give training for budding artists in various printmaking techniques, such as lithography and etching. To continue the exploration of printmaking, the next article will delved deeper into the twelve lithographs of Honoré Daumier, the “Les Gens de Justice.”