Moyse’s Hall Musuem, in Bury St Edmunds, is staging an exhibition of prints showing how they have developed

Peep into the past - print

Peep into the past - print

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Prints have taken many forms and served many purposes over the centuries. At their most basic, prints are simply impressions. Fossils are prints; they trace and preserve the precise outline of some long vanished creature.

Coins achieve something similar; they are stamped with an image, and that image can be copied any number of times.

In an age without photography the most obvious function of prints was to enable images, whether of people or places, to be copied faithfully and widely disseminated.

The development of different printed media enabled any image to be produced cheaply and circulated widely. During the 18th century topographical prints, showing sites and buildings of historic interest, became increasingly popular as more people travelled and tourism began to develop. The current temporary exhibition at Moyse’s Hall contains a selection showing different views of the abbey ruins as seen by various 18th and 19th century artists. These chart the shift in popular taste as they move from the architectural precision of early 18th century prints, like ‘The South View of St James and the Priory Church at Bury in Suffolk’ by Kirby, to the picturesque overgrown ruins loved by the romantics, such as Strutt’s 1820 print ‘The Broken Bridge from the Vine Field’.

The popular print soon moved on from its basic function of providing illustrations. The very ease with which prints enabled images to be reproduced soon suggested another possibility; prints could convey a message by distorting reality instead of copying it. A print could reach out to make a point for a mass audience. Caricatures could be cheaply produced, and widely reproduced, to shed satirical light on the issues of the day. While these were often politically based cartoons, some artists, like Henry Bunbury, preferred to target the social absurdities of the time in comic prints, such as ‘A Smoking Club’.

After the invention of photography, artists, following the example of William Blake, began to explore the creative potential inherent in the different print media themselves. The simple but powerful impact which an artist like Sybil Andrews can produce in a linocut, through the use of colour blocks, is very different from the fine detail possible in a dry point etching like those by Alfred Blundell. In this exhibition you can compare their individual responses to the Breckland. Andrews’ ‘Tumulus’ and Blundell’s ‘Sunset at Icklingham’ were both produced at around the same date, 1935, and both focus on the conifers which typify the Breckland landscape..

The exhibition of prints is currently on display at Moyse’s Hall Museum.