Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) were contemporaries and sometime friends. The younger Gauguin was the gifted amateur and collector -- encouraged in his art by Pissarro and Degas, who invited him to join the fourth Impressionist exhibition of 1879. These artists were among the most dedicated, experimental printmakers of this period. Pissarro and Gauguin were together frequently into the mid-1880s, after which Gauguin went his own way.

Gauguin’s exceptionally tactile approach to his art is nowhere more evident than in his woodcuts. The bond between the representation and the physical medium is heightened in these compositions by the juxtaposition of open and solid areas, modulated by his use of superficial scratching of the block to soften the forms. He also sometimes over-printed an image with a veil of color selectively applied to the same block, and invented a method of creating chiaroscuro woodcuts from a single block by overlaying a color impression of an early state with an impression on translucent paper of a later state from the same block. In this, he anticipated Picasso’s innovations in his printing of multi-color linoleum cuts from a single block.

Pissarro, in his prints as in his paintings, appears always to be most interested in distilling the special feel of a scene, the impression of the moment. In the etched landscapes and country scenes, he frequently uses varying densities of aquatint grain as a graphic equivalent of color. In the extraordinary first state of Paysage sous bois à l’Hermitage, he exploits the abstract quality of distinct layers of aquatint grain to create the structure for his image.

He was a prolific etcher, but, like Degas, worked in this medium for his own pleasure, printing only a few impressions of each state. His lithographs naturally relate more to his drawings, but benefit from the extra attention he evidently invested in their composition, while gaining strength and presence from the greasy black of the printing ink. Some of these works are of the utmost rarity, printed in only four or five impressions.

Pissarro’s monotypes, frequently nudes seemingly inspired by Degas, are in the classic tradition, offset from a metal plate smeared in rich printer’s ink. Gauguin’s watercolor monotypes evolved as a means of transforming the watercolor image into something still more soft and ambiguous. The offset of the wet image to another moist sheet, sometimes followed by fresh additions in thinned pigment, creates a diffuse image, quite unlike the monotypes of any other artist.

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