Friday, April 6, 2012

Currier & Ives: Impressions of America - New Britain Museum of American Art

Currier & Ives, American Forest Scene/Maple Sugaring, 1856. Lithograph (after a painting by A.F. Tait), 18 11/16 x 27 in. Collection of Dorrance Kelly

Currier & Ives, A Midnight Race on the Mississippi, 1860. Lithograph (F.F. Palmer on stone from a sketch by H.D. Manning), 18 7/16 x 28 1/8 in. Collection of Dorrance Kelly

Nov. 12, 2011 - Apr. 29, 2012

Currier & Ives: Impressions of America will contain approximately twenty of Currier & Ives’ most iconic and highly-prized prints from the private collection of Dr. Dorrance Kelly.

Frequently referred to as the “Printers for the People,” Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives took advantage of what was then the newly-invented process of lithography to make ownership of full-color images possible for the general public. Imported to the United State in the 1820s from Bavaria, lithography allowed for a quick and relatively cheap production of prints using limestone as the printing surface. With over 7,500 different images in existence, Currier & Ives lithographs accounted for three-quarters of the American print market. Capturing a wide array of themes—from daily news to homely genre scenes—they became some of the most popular and recognizable representations of life and times in America.

Included in the exhibition is the print “Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat Lexington on Long Island Sound on Monday Evening January 13th, 1840,” the first commercial success of Nathaniel Ives after he opened the printing shop, N. Currier, in 1835. The depiction of the 1840 disaster secured N. Currier’s place in the newspaper industry. Recognizing the public’s thirst to have images widely available for consumption, the firm (renamed in 1857 when James M. Ives was made partner) quickly expanded its repertoire from strictly documentary works to artistic portraits, captures of daily life, landscapes, and scenes conveying the spirit of sports culture, technological progress, urbanization, and westward expansion.