On Arcadia

by Susan Tallman

January 2015

Shepherds, scatter the ground with leaves, cover
the streams with shade (such Daphnis commands),
and raise a tomb, and on it set this verse:
“I was Daphnis in the woods, known from here to the stars,
lovely the flock I guarded, lovelier was I."

Daphnis, the mythical poet-shepherd mourned in Virgil’s fifth Eclogue, is the embodiment of a particular European dream: rustic pleasures divorced from the machinations of power and the pursuit of gain—a world of sheep, panpipes and poetry. But like the visual artists who would later follow him into Arcadia, Daphnis was not without ambition: with his lyrical evocations of the simple life he competed with men and gods. That kernel of conflict—the desire to live in the moment and to be remembered for all time—gives Arcadia its grit. The perfect Arcadian artist celebrates the mundane through means so perfectly calibrated they almost—but not quite—escape notice. One could argue the entirety of art rests in that “not quite.”

This issue of Art in Print is designed as a topographic tour of Arcadia spread over five centuries. The idea was sparked by the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett’s 2014 exhibition “Arkadien: Paradies auf Papier: Landschaft und Mythos in Italien” organized by Dagmar Korbacher (and reviewed in this issue by Ulrich Pfisterer). Dr. Korbacher opens our issue with her study of Giulio Campagnola’s rare, limpid engravings, among the first to build the softness of Arcadia from incised copper. Christian Rümelin shows how, a century later, Claude Lorrain adapted the by-then familiar views of Rome to serve the bucolic temperament of Arcadia, transforming the European understanding of what landscapes could be and mean. Robert Fucci follows these ideals as they migrated north, where 17th century artists such as Jan van de Velde II invested the flat fields of Holland with scenes of Italianate pastoral bliss. Two centuries later, as F. Carlo Schmid shows in his article on German Romantics, the egalitarian bonhomie of Arcadia became the focus of political and social aspirations.

Twentieth-century positivism transformed the poetic idyll of Arcadia into a viable destination, at least on weekends: Elaine Mehalakes surveys the deployment of Arcadia in posters designed for the London Underground, while William Cole’s account of Marcel Pautot’s tiny gypsographs shows the idyllic instinct still thriving in mid-century Provence. In his book review of Gillian Pedersen-Krag, Brian Cohen examines a contemporary artist who invokes the stasis and melancholy that are as fundamental to Arcadia as happy ewes.

As Korbacher points out in her essay, however, Arcadia’s power lies in its role as an alternative to the demands and distractions of urban life. In our reviews section, Laurie Hurwitz surveys the mammoth Hokusai exhibition at the Grand Palais and the extraordinary career of an artist intensely engaged in the vibrant world of his time. Paul Coldwell looks at the career of the under-recognized German artist K.P. Brehmer, whose print projects for decades skewered the socioeconomic shenanigans of the postwar world.

The winner of this issue’s Prix de Print, selected by Diana Ewer, is Victoria Burge, whose Island knits together the heavens and the South Seas—real places endlessly used as backdrops for the projection of dreams.

Finally, Richard Tuttle has created a new work art for this issue, designed to take form in the ordinary paper and commercially printed page of Art in Print. The songs of Daphnis, after all, were played on simple panpipes. Perhaps, Tuttle suggests, “a good print is a trip to Arcadia and back.”