Shopping period can be a time of great frustration, stress and disappointment. Your professor tells you that the section is full. You have a pset, but you don’t even know if you’re going to take the class. At the Yale University Art Gallery, you can blow off some steam by looking at images that will make your Yale problems pale in comparison. The new exhibition at the museum displays war and execution, people being gored by bulls and limb dismemberment. And that is only the first floor.
“Meant to Be Shared: Selections from the Arthur Ross Collection of European Prints” provides a treat for students returning for the new semester. Both the immense breadth and fabulous quality of the etchings acquired by the New York businessman and philanthropist Arthur Ross can be viewed on the YUAG’s first and fourth floors. Known for his Central Park conservation efforts, Ross also acquired over his lifetime an astonishing collection of prints that span several centuries and periods of European art.
The collection has two main focuses. On the first floor, the exhibition highlights the famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya, whose political and allegorical prints remain among the most iconic images of the 19th century. “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” perhaps Goya’s most famous print, depicts bats and owls haunting a forlorn sleeper and can be found in the left-side gallery.
Goya’s prints often investigate these dark, psychological themes. His series of prints “La Tauromaquia” demonstrates the art of bullfighting, contrasting its beauty and athleticism with its brutality and cruelty. Another series, called “Los Disparates,” or “The Follies,” expounds on the dark subject matter with surrealistic, very modern images of goblinlike creatures and other nightmarish subjects that one would not necessarily expect from the early 19th century.
However, the collection also showcases a diversity of works. The 18th-century Italian Tiepolo family’s traditional etchings, mostly of pious Christian characters, contrast Goya’s more dramatic prints. Pieces by the French artists Honoré Daumier and Camille Pissarro guide the displayed legacy of printmaking towards a more contemporary context. Daumier’s almost-cartoonish prints offer social commentary, while Pissarro focuses on nature and subscribes to the Impressionist tradition.
Another artist on the lower level, Édouard Manet, uniquely incorporates splashes of color into his works and draws inspiration from literature. His “Raven” series, an ode to the Edgar Allen Poe poem, is a collection highlight.
The exhibition continues to the fourth floor and time-travels several centuries into the past. In the James E. Duffy Gallery, visitors discover some of the first artists to utilize the etching technique. The collection emphasizes the artist Canaletto and his “vedute” series, which depict Venetian scenes. Canaletto’s linear design structure illustrates the immense beauty found in the Italian city’s architecture, naval power and seascapes. The works of Mortimer Menpes, a later artist, hang next to Canaletto’s and show a more industrialized Venice. Together, these artists demonstrate the passage of time through the city’s architecture. While one of Canaletto’s prints displays a canal’s construction process, Menpes’ depict a city closer to our current understanding of Venice.
Finally, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s works dwarf the prints in the rest of the exhibit. Piranesi’s mythical scenes, often depicting iconic Roman monuments, are so full of splendor that one could miss some intricate, wonderful details in the prints. Small characters and intimate actions — women strolling through ruins, dogs playing and people bartering — hide within the works’ grand scales.
Arthur Ross’ collection is one of this year’s must-sees at the YUAG. Organized to take the visitor on a journey through time and artistic movements in Europe, the exhibit manages to both surprise and delight.