Günter Brus, Arnulf Rainer

[no title]


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Günter Brus born 1938
Arnulf Rainer born 1929
Drypoint and etching on paper
Image: 429 × 296 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

[from] Deepening with Clouding Over 1985–6 [P77235-P77239; complete]
Vertiefung mit Bewölkung

Portfolio of five prints in drypoint and etching over heliogravured botanical images, various sizes; printed by Peter Kneubühler, Zürich and published by Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf and Vienna, and Maximilian
Verlag Sabine Knust, Munich in an edition of 50 with an additional set of 10 with Roman numerals, a set of 10 artists' proofs and a further set of 10 designated not for sale
Each inscribed ‘G. Brus’ below image b.l., ‘A Rainer’ below image b.r. and ‘35/50’ below image bottom centre
Purchased from Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1987

P77236 [no title]

Drypoint and etching 429 × 295 (16 7/8 × 11 5/8) on wove paper 565 × 400 (22 1/4 × 15 3/4); plate-mark 429 × 295 (16 7/8 × 11 5/8)

P77235-P77239 depict dense clusters of drypoint lines by Rainer and fantastical figures and organic forms etched by Brus over nineteenth-century botanical imagery. The botanical images of imprinted plants were transferred to etching plates by Karl Imhof, a printer based in Munich, using a heliogravure process. Printed in black, the prints are related to a series of drawings made by Brus and Rainer between 1984 and 1985 on botanical prints taken from the same source. P77235-P77239 were made shortly after the drawings, also given the same group title ‘Deepening with Clouding Over’. Seventy-four of the drawings, including two in the Tate Gallery's collection (T05212 and T05213), are reproduced in Günter Brus Arnulf Rainer: Vertiefung mit Bewölkung, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Hamburg 1986, pp.31–2 (in col.). Rainer had made collaborative work before, in the mid-1970s with Dieter Roth, but this was the first occasion he and Brus had worked together. In conversation with the compiler in Graz on 29 September 1989, Brus recalled that the idea to make a series of etchings based on botanical images originally came from the publishers, Sabine Knust and Heike Curtze.

Throughout his career Rainer has made drawings over photographs and prints. His drawings usually consist of dense bundles of lines obliterating the images beneath, or lines that accentuate certain features of those images. In conversation with the compiler in Vienna on 9 July 1993, he likened the process to a collaboration with the originator of the image he has chosen to draw on, and said that the botanical prints selected for P77235-P77239 gave Brus and himself a point of reference for their own images. Following the same method used for the collaborative drawings, Rainer worked on the plates first before sending them to Brus. The artists made no corrections to the plates after both had made their contributions. In conversation with the compiler Brus said that he had been obliged to work around Rainer's vigorously drawn shapes, because the deeply incised lines created an uneven surface on the plate with their burred edges. By contrast, in the drawings he had been able to draw freely over Rainer's chalk, crayon and watercolour marks.

In conversation with the compiler on 9 July 1993 in Vienna, Rainer suggested that his contribution of ‘energetic lines’ emphasised formal aspects in each composition, which Brus complemented with fantastical figures and verbal descriptions. Brus described his motifs as ‘purely imaginative’ and derived ‘entirely from inner inspiration when looking at the plates’. The combination of poetic descriptions and images, often embryonic, protean forms surrounded by a halo of lines or colour, is common in Brus's art. The inscriptions in P77237 are, like the imagery, poetic and alliterative rather than explicit, with arrows linking words and word clusters to particular motifs. They are as follows: ‘Elder-dairyman’ (‘Fliedermeier’), ‘Nothing’ (‘Nichts’), ‘Cosmos’ (‘All’), ‘Stag Cherry Beetle’ (‘Hirsch Kirsch Käfer’), ‘Non-star’ (‘Unstern’), ‘Star’ (‘Stern’), ‘Horse-tail’ (‘Schachtelhalm’), ‘High Seat’ (‘Hochsitz’), ‘Parliament’ (‘Parlament’).

The botanical prints were chosen by Rainer, who has collected old prints for many years from dealers, anti-quarian bookshops and at auction. He said they were inexpensive when compared to botanical drawings or prints by well-known artists specialising in the genre. They are impressions of actual plants, not illustrations, and are called nature, or plant, prints. Techniques for printing fragile materials were perfected in the nineteenth century and the precise impressions of leaf shapes and plant structures were used for scientific documentation before the invention of photography made nature printing redundant. In conversation Rainer said that he had been attracted by certain structures among the imprinted plants, but that his choice was limited by the types of plant selected by the botanist, which, in the case of P77235-P77239, were predominantly Austrian meadow and marsh species. Between 1985 and 1987 Rainer made several other series of works based on images from the natural sciences and these works are illustrated in Arnulf Rainer: Naturgeschichte - Fauna, Flora etc., exh. cat., Schloss Grafenegg, Lower Austria 1987.

The nature prints chosen for P77235-P77239 and the related drawings came from the same source, Constantin Freiherrn von Ettingshausen's and Alois Pokorny's Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum: Die Gefässpflanzen Österreichs in Naturselbstdruck mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Nervaton in den Flächenorganen der Pflanzen, published in ten volumes in Prague in 1873, a copy of which is in the Botany Library of the Natural History Museum, London. The complete set of volumes contains one thousand plates, with some depicting more than one botanical specimen. The following plates, listed in order, were the sources for P77235-P77239: vol.I, pl.66, ‘Melica nutans Linn.’ and ‘Melica uniflora Retz’ (wood melick); vol.IV, pl.322, ‘Teucrium montanum Linn.’ (mountain germander); vol.IV, pl.377, ‘Imperatoria Ostruthiam Linn.’ (Staartgras); vol.IV, pl.313, ‘Glechoma hederacea Linn.’ (ground ivy); vol.I, pl.253, ‘Doronicum neudtvichii Sadl.’ (no common name). Through the double reversal of the original being copied and then used to make another print, P77235-P77239 share a similar orientation with von Ettingshausen's and Pokorny's nature prints.

The earliest known nature prints were made in the early sixteenth century. In the following centuries various methods of nature printing were developed, including techniques to soften plants so that only the structural skeleton was printed. Typically, lead plates were used. However, the relating softness of the metal prevented many impressions being taken. Large edition became possible when Alois Auer (1813–69) of the Vienna Royal and State Printing Works developed the use of electro-chemical processes to galvanise the image onto copper plates. Auer published his discovery in 1853, and between then and the 1890s the Vienna Royal and State Printing Works published more than fifty volumes of nature prints. A short history of nature printing may be found in Eckhard Schaar's essay, ‘Uber den Naturselbstdruck’, in Günter Brus Arnulf Rainer: Vertiefung mit Bewölkung, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Hamburg 1986, pp.73–8.

The plates for ‘Deepening with Clouding Over’ were printed in early 1986 and signed by both artists in April of that year. This information was supplied by Stephan Schuster of the Maximilian Verlag, Munich in a letter to the compiler dated 21 July 1992. After the edition was published Rainer worked on the plates again. He made a number of proofs, but planned no further edition (letter to the compiler of 13 August 1992).

The artists have approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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