30 rare prints make French impressions at gallery show

The etching by impressionist painter Edgar Degas pictures a little girl, her expression serious, her dress formal, her long hair pinned back with a bow. The extraordinarily rare artwork is one of 30 French master prints in a new exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery.

Opening Saturday, Jan. 13, “Impressions in Ink: Prints from the Arthur Ross Collection” features works on paper by 11 of the most famous French impressionist and post-impressionist artists from the 19th and early 20th century.

“This is an extraordinary collection of master prints, and I am hoping people from all across the region will come to see them,” says Lynn Marsden-Atlass, executive director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and University curator. “I’m also hoping the exhibit is used in an interdisciplinary manner, incorporated across departments and schools at Penn.”

An opening reception celebrating the beginning of the Arthur Ross Gallery’s 35th anniversary year will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 12. The exhibit and a related March 15 national symposium will present new scholarship on 19th-century French printmaking. “Impressions in Ink” runs through March 25.

As curator of the exhibition, Marsden-Atlass has brought together these 30 prints on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, which holds the Arthur Ross Collection.

“When I looked at the history of exhibitions drawn from the Arthur Ross Foundation collection over the past 35 years, I realized we had not presented many of these prints,” Marsden-Atlass says. 

In addition to Degas, the artists include: Paul Cézanne, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Honoré Daumier, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard. 

“I focused on prints that would have been a collaboration between a master painter and a master printer,” Marsden-Atlass says. “Some of the prints are extremely rare and sometimes done only once, or in very small editions.”

Technological advances in the 19th century, such as the new technique of lithography, made it possible for painters to expand the audience for their works through printmaking.

The Degas portrait of the little girl, the “Infanta Margarita,” an etching and drypoint from 1861-62, is one of only two known to exist. Another print of note is “The Country Dance,” a Renoir etching from 1890, which relates closely to his oil painting “Dance at Bougival.” A color lithograph by Toulouse-Latrec, “L’Aube” from 1896, is noticeably larger than the other works in the exhibit, as technological advancements in the 1890s made bigger prints possible.

The exhibition’s signature artwork, “Nadia in Sharp Profie,” an aquatint by Henri Matisse, had a single state printed, and is one of five artist proofs.  

“Impressions in Ink” is the 10th exhibition on Penn’s campus from the Arthur Ross Collection. The first was held in 1981 at Penn’s Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. The second opened on Feb. 8, 1983, marking the inauguration of the Arthur Ross Gallery, part of an effort to protect and restore Penn’s historic Frank Furness building, which is also home to the Fisher Fine Arts Library.  

A philanthropist and investment manager, Arthur Ross, who died in 2007, attended the Wharton School. His wife, Janet Ross, will give remarks at the Jan. 12 reception, as will Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett and Marsden-Atlass.

Arthur Ross Gallery