2 February 2016
The fin de siècle printmaking revolution can now be explored via a new, permanently accessible online collection.
Starting today, the Parisian print world can be discovered online. Due to its size and light sensitivity, the Van Gogh Museum’s spectacular collection of nearly 1800 prints, posters, and books cannot be exhibited in the permanent collection on a continual basis. The new website makes the complex and fascinating Parisian print world accessible to the public. Visitors can now browse the collection at their leisure, exploring the various links and connections that the site has to offer. This unique design allows visitors to decide for themselves how much information they would like to absorb. All prints are now available at high resolution and can be zoomed up to the very fibres of the paper they are printed on. The online print collection, developed by the award winning web agencies Fabrique and Q42,will appeal to numerous target groups. Thanks to the multi-layered offering of information, the site will serve the needs of a wide range of individuals, from young, visually-oriented users to serious academics. The development of the Parisian print world site has been generously supported financially by the Vincent van Gogh Foundation and Fonds 21.
The online print collection launched today fulfils a long-cherished dream of the Van Gogh Museum: to make a unique print collection available to the general public with no restrictions in time and space. The website is permanently accessible, shows the entire collection and is continually supplemented by new acquisitions.
Discover the dynamic Parisian print world of the fin de siècle
With regard to its collections, the Van Gogh Museum is constantly experimenting with innovative types of digital access and knowledge sharing. The Parisian print world is a perfect example of our use of these new technological possibilities; in the online collection, scholarly research data are presented in a dynamic and integrated manner. By clicking on one of the images next to a print, for example, a new window pops up showing a new object from the collection, highlighting the larger connections automatically. By presenting the overarching themes and connections of the collection via concise, informative texts, rather than explaining the individual works of art, the website offers a new kind of digital publication that can be continuously revised and supplemented. The online access to this print collection reveals and elaborates on innumerable artistic and historical connections using interactive tags and hyperlinks. This is of crucial importance, because the Parisian print world was a tightly knit community—each individual print is connected with countless other prints in many different ways. For instance, artists shared the same influences and characteristics in style, and their subjects, techniques and types of paper are equally similar. Artists often collaborated with the same printers and publishers, made prints for the same illustrated books and magazines, and cooperated with the same café-concert artists, theatre producers, and dealers.
Accessible and associative
Visitors to the Parisian print world can wander associatively through the visual world of printmaking. They can decide for themselves how much information to absorb and how deeply to probe the world of printmaking. For example, visitors can search the name of ‘Ambroise Vollard’ and discover that this charismatic art dealer was one of the most important cultural big shots of the fin de siècle. The website also offers insight on the overarching themes of the collection. The heading 'intimacy' for instance, explains why the prints so often feature atmospheric interiors. This manner of navigating, which focuses on the experience, is an important starting point for the art enthusiast. The online print collection also offers the option for direct hits. Thus in one click, visitors can retrieve all the prints that relate to a specific musician (e.g. 'sheet music'). Moreover, all prints are accompanied by information from the most important catalogues raisonnés and scholarly publications, making the website a valuable work of reference. Each print comes with a bibliography. In this manner, the site offers various layers of information, from the major cultural themes of the fin de siècle and a representative survey of nineteenth-century printmaking, to highly detailed information about each individual print.
Nature of the collection
In 2000, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation bought for the museum a private collection of prints from the fin de siècle in France (consisting of 786 prints and 18 artists books), one of the most impressive, international collections of the art of printmaking in its glory days. This print collection is of major significance to the Van Gogh Museum in accordance with its aims to make the life and work of Vincent van Gogh and the art of his time publically accessible. The rage for prints was beginning to take hold during the years when Van Gogh lived in Paris (1886-1888). He and his brother Theo followed these developments and started collecting prints from their contemporaries together. Thanks to this collection, we can now charge the trajectory from Van Gogh's predecessors to his friends and contemporaries and, subsequently, to artists that were, in their turn, influenced by them. The collection is continually growing — recently the museum acquired the print series Intimités by Félix Vallotton, as well as a number of important prints and posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Background: revolution in printmaking during the fin de siècle
In France, until the mid-nineteenth century, the art of printmaking had been used primarily to reproduce existing works of art in print, such as paintings and sculptures, so that they could be available for a broad public. Printmakers copied artworks assigned to them as faithfully as possible. This changed completely during the second half of the nineteenth century. As artists began to experiment with the medium as a fertile mode of creative expression, each print came to be considered a work of art in its own right. While editions had previously been determined by market demands and the condition of the plates, a limited edition now became a deliberate choice to make the prints rarer and therefore more valuable. This development soared during the fin de siècle (1890-1905) when a new generation of artists took up the art of printmaking as a modern medium. The print artists shared a similar fascination for modern life, including the scintillating Paris nightlife, Japanese woodblock prints, and the intimate domestic lifestyle of the well-to-do bourgeois. They shared ideas about modernity and art with each other, as well as with writers, poets, and philosophers. This rich creative exchange was expressed in the prints of this period. Though these developments gained momentum after Van Gogh's death in 1890, the printmaking revolution cannot be viewed in isolation from his contemporaries and the generation of artists that followed.
The Parisian print world has been developed by Fabrique and Q42 for the Van Gogh Museum and is partly made possible by the Vincent van Gogh Foundation and Fonds 21.