The Painter as Printmaker

Édouard Manet, The Urchin, c. 1868-1874, printed 1874.

In turning to printmaking the Impressionists continued an interest in a revival of the medium begun among artists of the Barbizon school in the previous decades. During the 1850s and 1860s, Charles François Daubigny, Théodore Rousseau, and Jean-François Millet experimented with light effects and various print techniques, including the cliché-verre, a photographic process in which the artist drew upon a glass plate covered with emulsion.

Printmakers were included in Impressionist exhibitions right from the beginning. The catalogue published to accompany the first exhibition of 1874 refers specifically to graveurs as members in addition to painters and sculptors. In 1876, the influential art critic Edmond Duranty identified innovative print techniques as integral to the Impressionist aesthetic. Among the artists exhibiting prints in the Impressionist exhibitions were Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Marcellin Desboutin, and Edgar Degas. Other members of the group such as Renoir and Cézanne also practiced printmaking. Renoir first encountered the medium as an illustrator for La Vie moderne in the late 1870s and executed prints and counterproofs inspired by his paintings in the 1890s.

After tentative attempts at etching in 1873 with the Auvers group around Paul Gachet, Paul Cézanne returned to printmaking in the late 1890s when the art dealer Ambroise Vollard persuaded him to produce three lithographs (c. 1896–97) for the Album d'estampes originales: The Large Bathers, Self-portrait and The Small Bathers, (only the latter was actually published in the Album). The National Gallery of Canada owns Self-Portrait, The Small Bathers and an important Study for the "Large Bathers." These prints are of interest not only because they were commissioned from the artist but also as they were intended to gain a larger audience at a time when Cézanne was still relatively unknown.

This exhibition will feature some sixty works drawn from the National Gallery of Canada's fine collection of Realist and Impressionist prints. Emphasizing the extraordinary beauty of the Impressionist print, the selection will also demonstrate how Impressionists artists were as revolutionary in their printmaking as they were in their painting.

Text provided by the National Gallery of Canada. Supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program. Media sponsor: The Winnipeg Free Press.

Mary Cassatt, The Letter, 1890-1891.


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