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2010/11 Winter Catalogue > 2. A Superb Image by Howard Cook Master of Modernist Printmaking



2. A Superb Image by Howard Cook, Master of Modernist Printmaking

Howard Norton Cook. “Mexican Interior,” 1933. Etching [from an edition of 50]. Plate mark: 16 1/8 x 10 5/8." Sheet: 17 5/8 x 12 1/4." Signed and dated in pencil, l.r.: Howard Cook imp. 1933. Titled in pencil, l.l.: Mexican Interior. Other (later?) inscription in pencil, l.l.: original etching; Fine Print year 1933; l.r.: born Mass. U.S.A. 1901. With Los Angeles Art Association Exhibition label. Exceptionally dark and crisp impression. Excellent condition. Rare.

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Under the spell of Mexico and its art, Cook’s work took on a new breadth and monumentality. The central figure of the etched version of Mexican Interior, for example, is a weighty, plastic form delineated with strong draughtsmanship and intense, sculptural contrasts of dark and light. The dark tones, composed of many fine, sensitively etched and inked lines, are not opaque, but richly luminous. Indeed, light seems to pervade the image, forming a nimbus around the head of the figure and evoking a presence that is at once humble and hieratic. —Janet A. Flint

In his lifetime, Howard Norton Cook (1901-1980) developed a national reputation as a painter and muralist. Today, however, he is better known as one of America’s premier printmakers. His printmaking spanned five decades, with his work of the 1920s and 1930s considered to be his finest. Mexican Interior is a superb example of Cook’s printmaking achievements during his sojourn in Mexico, a time when he produced many of his strongest images.

Cook traveled to Mexico in 1932–33 on a Guggenheim Fellowship in order to pursue “a pictorial study of a civilization unaffected by the machine age,” as he wrote in his application . . . “To make a series of drawings and prints in etching, wood-engraving and lithography depicting the people of Mexico, their occupations and crafts, their peaceful and self-reliant lives.” The village of Taxco provided the perfect setting. He and his wife, the artist Barbara Latham, settled there after a brief stay in Mexico City. By then, Cook had fallen under the spell of the Mexican muralists, especially the work of Diego Rivera, whose aesthetic and stylistic innovations inspired a turning point in Cook’s work. Up to this time, Cook had created mostly abstract cityscapes and some landscape prints, but under the influence of the muralists, he now applied modernist principles to the human figure. During his year and a half in Taxco, he made countless portrait studies from locally hired models and became a keen observer of the colorful village life and its customs. While Cook abstracted his figures into idealized shapes with powerful tonal contrasts, at the same time he maintained a genuine sense of human warmth. In Mexican Interior, the iconic quality of the central figure lends a mystical atmosphere to this domestic scene.

Mexican Interior received an extraordinary series of honors in 1933, the year it was presented: the John Taylor Arms Prize at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of American Etchers; first prize at the Annual Print Exhibition of the Philadelphia Art Alliance; selection for Fine Prints of the Year at the Brooklyn Museum; cover image for the October issue of Harper’s magazine. Original imprints such as the one offered here are held in a number of important permanent collections including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Ref.: Janet A. Flint in Duffy, The Graphic Work of Howard Cook: Catalogue Raisonné (1984), pl. 31, p. 36; cat. no. 174.

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