Prints at the Getty, Reviewed by Lindsay McGee
While visiting the current "Recent Prints Acquisitions" at the Getty, I was most drawn to Carl Wilhelm Kolbe the Elder's piece entitled Fantastic Oak Tree in the Woods, a nineteenth century etching/engraving. At first, I was more impressed by some of the other prints displayed, particularly one titled Light, by the French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon, namely because he is one of my favorite artists and I hadn't before realized that he worked in printmaking.
However, upon looking at the Fantastic Oak Tree for a second time, I became absorbed by the artist's attention to detail, as well as the drawing of a landscape that depicts a single tree in the midst of an expansive forest; all rendered fairly realistically.
In the lower right-hand corner of the print there is a man with a quiver of arrows slung on his back. The man is sitting on the ground, facing the tree, which is extremely large in comparison. He could almost go unnoticed, given his size in relation to the rest of the print and the egalitarian manner in which he and the rest of the forest are rendered; neither stealing the other's attention. I could almost imagine sitting in a secluded forest, with the quietude of nature replacing freeway static and an expansive wilderness in place of the urban landscape, which is why I chose to write about this piece. I believe the mark-making and the method chosen for this print lends itself well to the content.
I recently saw a video of Stephen Colbert interviewing astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, during which Tyson stated: "Some of the greatest poetry is revealing to the reader the beauty in something that was so simple you had taken it for granted." Similarly, I think this print has achieved the same level of success in that Kolbe the Elder has revealed to the viewer the beauty of a simplistic scene of a forest wilderness through such a complex process and a high attentiveness to detail.
Note from RS: Carl Wilhelm Kolbe the Elder is so obscure that he doesn't merit a mention in Linda C. Hults definitive work "Prints of the Western World." He was a German artist who began his career somewhat later in life, teaching art and the French language. Because of his fascination with depicting just such trees as Lindsay notes, he was nicknamed "Eichen" (Oak) Kolbe.