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Ulrike Keuper: Unschuldige Betrügereien. Reproduktionsgrafik nach Handzeichnungen (= Kataloge der Sammlungen der Universität Trier; Bd. 10), Trier: Universität Trier 2023, 98 S., 42 Ill., ISBN 978-3-9817758-7-7, EUR 12,00
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Rezension von:
Camille Serchuk
Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, CT
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Anna K. Grasskamp
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Camille Serchuk: Rezension von: Ulrike Keuper: Unschuldige Betrügereien. Reproduktionsgrafik nach Handzeichnungen, Trier: Universität Trier 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 4 [15.04.2024], URL:

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Ulrike Keuper: Unschuldige Betrügereien

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This compact catalogue of an exhibition of prints entitled "Unschuldige Betrügereien" ("Innocent Deceptions"), held in 2023 at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich and the Universitätsbibliothek in Trier, is itself a kind of innocent deception. Although specifically focused on prints that reproduced drawings, primarily in the eighteenth century, and the techniques, exempla, and practitioners that developed, printed, disseminated, and consumed such prints, its purview extends far beyond the scope of this medium and period. Although the catalogue draws on examples from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, its focus on the eighteenth century is deliberate: drawing was then particularly valued as a genre and a source of knowledge of artistic style valued by connoisseurs. As the art market expanded beyond its traditional elite audience, demand for drawings grew, but so too did demand for more affordable alternatives (78). Rising demand was also tied to a growing appreciation of drawing for its own sake, which itself was connected to other trends in connoisseurship and artistic training.

The catalogue questions longstanding structures of art historical thinking - among others, that genius is revealed by a distinctive quality of line or mark-making, the traditional emphasis on the singular masterpiece authored by a solitary draftsman, and the assumption that drawings represent (only) the initial stage, instigating ideas later developed by the artist in other media. It examines notions of technological progress, of the status of the original and the copy, and of fidelity to the original in terms of both material and process. It provocatively considers the many relationships between and among processes of production, reception, and collection. The exhibition's attention to broader historiographical and methodological questions was particularly well suited to the pedagogical settings in which it was mounted, and, in its wake, the catalogue engages a wide audience.

The exhibition and catalogue take their name from a French portfolio collection of prints entitled Impostures Innocents (1734) and that explains its premise. Prints that reproduced drawings sought to replicate rather than translate the images on which they were based, capturing the ostensible spontaneity, individual mark-making, and dynamism of the original form, despite the fact that the result belied all of those features. Although imitative, such prints - in a variety of ways - often announced their own reproductive character, and so were not fraudulent. The complex operations of the reproduction of a unique, intimate, and gestural form, using a technique that was laborious, time-consuming, and multiple, are therefore fundamentally paradoxical.

The catalogue is divided into two sections, which are loosely divided between production and reception. The first, entitled "Blatt" ("Sheet"), examines the eighteenth-century printmaking processes that were used to reproduce drawings, focusing - as its title indicates - primarily on the single sheet; the second, "Mappe" ("Portfolio"), considers the forms and contexts in which reproductive prints were transmitted and their value for artists, collectors, and scholars.

Keuper traces the trajectory of the reproductive print through numerous techniques (engraving, etching, mezzotint, aquatint, lithography, etc.) and explains the features and limits of each for the purpose of copying drawings. Some processes were limited to smaller editions, like woodblock and mezzotint (32). Engraving could capture the character of pen and ink drawings, but was ill-suited to reproducing drawings in chalk, or capturing the gestural quality of drawing; aquatint, in contrast, could capture fine detail, reproduce a wide variety of tones and values, and even simulate brushstrokes (32). Etching could also imitate qualities of drawing, particularly if certain etching tools were used (35). By the end of the eighteenth century, a wide variety of print techniques could simulate chalk, charcoal, and ink washes and watercolor. Lithography, however, was not so much a process of "graphic imitation" but instead a kind of drawing process itself (36).

In addition to this thorough canvas of technical processes, Keuper investigates the many dimensions of the tension between the drawing and its printed double, troubling our understanding of the primacy of drawing as a means of indexing the signature mark-making of an artist. Both Pliny and Vasari considered the line as the fundamental expression of a distinctive artistic identity, and the line has since been lionized as the unique fingerprint of the artist. But prints that reproduced drawings could replicate this singular linear signature exactly, undermining the unique status of line as an identifying feature. And the value of the copy was in its exactitude, not in the addition of flourishes on the part of the copyist. Early modern reproductive prints also call into question how we value the work of the artist, undermining longstanding assumptions that the creation of art is a solitary heroic process grounded in invention and genius.

Prints increased access to the works of a single artist and also could serve as a kind of collection, a museum, that could gather significant works together for the purposes of further examination, study, and reflection. Starting around 1700, the collection of prints known as a Recueil made it possible to gather images dispersed in different collections for the purposes of connoisseurship and comparative study. The Recueil Jullienne, for example, published between 1726 and 1735, was a four-volume collection of 351 etchings of the drawings of the recently-deceased Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). This monographic collection represented one approach; another, exemplified by the Recueil Crozat (Volume I, 1729; Volume II, 1742), instead reproduced both paintings and drawings from the collection of Pierre Crozat (1665-1740) as well as some works that belonged to the crown. These collections of reproductive prints were early instruments that helped to foster the comparative method that became so fundamental to art history as a discipline.

The catalogue also shows how reproductive prints contributed to the modernization of the art market. Some artists, like François Boucher (1703-1770), saw the potential of print to increase their artistic status and prestige, to document their work and style, and also to reach beyond the customary audience of aristocratic collectors of their work, so that the emerging appreciation of art among the bourgeoisie could also be satisfied. Boucher capitalized on the emerging market, producing drawings specifically intended for reproduction, working with engravers to ensure their reproducibility, and adapting his style accordingly (69).

Reproductive prints not only circulated the singularity of a drawing to a wider audience; they were also intended to inform and educate their viewers, other artists, art students, collectors, and connoisseurs. Art academies encouraged the publication and circulation of information about new techniques that enabled greater mimesis of the various media of drawing. For the purposes of training, published reproductive prints could eliminate structural obstacles, so that individuals seeking to learn drawing outside of the usual urban art centers (including inhabitants of provincial areas, and women, who were excluded from traditional art training) could use them to study drawing from exemplary models (80-1). The dissemination of prints was also seen as instrumental in fostering, reinforcing, and preserving standards of good artistic taste, so as to ensure quality in the arts.

Like the prints that are its subject, this fascinating catalogue that would seem to be addressed to a specialist audience reaches beyond it to consider questions of authorship, techniques, materiality, markets, and contexts. It exemplifies how art historians can use their research subjects as lenses through which to engage a wider readership.

Camille Serchuk