Colourful paintings are usually the first thing that springs to mind when people think of Impressionism. However, several Impressionists – including Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro – also created exquisite prints. As in their paintings, they sought to produce personal impressions of fleeting moments.
To capture the ever-changing effects of nature in their prints, the artists created different states (versions). In each version, they manipulated the plate in a different way and with all sorts of materials.
The etching revival
Well into the 19th century, prints were still mainly used as a medium for reproducing paintings. This all changed with the etching revival (circa 1850). The Impressionist printmakers were keen to elevate printmaking to high art and believed that a single print could be an artwork in its own right. Artists including Pissarro and Degas drew their designs directly on the plate. They also presented their prints at exhibitions, alongside their paintings.
Le jour et la nuit
In 1879, Degas had the idea of creating a print album, together with others including Pissarro and Mary Cassatt. They called it Le jour et la nuit, the Day and the Night. The title refers to the contrasting qualities of light and dark in printing. We do not know why, but the album was never actually published. However, their collective efforts, are an indication of the importance they attached to printmaking now. The few prints that they created for the album are nothing short of stunning.