Various print dealers made annual visits to the BMA’s print department, during which we were able to look through several boxes and portfolio carriers they brought. More often than not, we retained one or more works for possible acquisition. One day in 2011, a particular dealer came who always had great stuff to offer. Out of one of the medium-sized boxes came an etching by Horst Janssen. It caught my eye immediately for several reasons. One, it’s totally cool. Two, the subject is Edgar Allan Poe, who Baltimore claims as one of its own because he died here. Three, Poe’s poem The Raven is the reason Baltimore’s NFL team is called the Ravens. Four, Horst Janssen was unrepresented in the collection. Five, museum director Doreen Bolger was working on an exhibition about Poe and it seemed a great addition. Six, we had been searching for an appropriate work to bring into the collection in memory of Doreen’s mother, who had recently passed away (back then it was customary for museum members to send in some money to be put toward an acquisition for a particular person’s retirement or death). In other words, it was a no brainer.
Horst Janssen was an amazingly prolific printmaker in nearly every technique (everything but screenprinting). He completed landscapes, portraits of notable people including Edgar Allan Poe, erotica, as well as a huge number of self-portraits. A glance at a sequence of the self-portraits shows every bit of his hard life, which was challenging: he never knew his father, his mother died when he was fourteen, he had multiple marriages and children, he was an alcoholic, and probably had a host of other issues. As for Poe, Janssen portrays him as a bit of a kook, or at least as a tortured soul like the artist himself. Poe’s nose seems to have broken down, his eyes are unfocused, the bags under his eyes rival his eyebrows, his hair is a fright, a bug crawls up the right-hand side of the composition, and his tie seems to be made of a crustacean of some sort. This is a portrait of a tortured artist/creative, raising all sorts of questions about artistic genius and whether one must be a bit crazy to access that kind of creativity. But that’s a debate for another day.
Horst Janssen (German, 1929–1995)
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1988
Sheet: 686 x 483 mm. (27 x 19 in.)
Plate: 559 x 381 mm. (22 x 15 in.)
Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased in Memory of Alice Bolger with funds contributed by her Friends, Staff and Board of Trustees of The Baltimore Museum of Art, BMA 2011.70
© Horst Janssen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Horst Janssen (German, 1929–1995), Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1988, color etching, sheet: 686 x 483 mm. (27 x 19 in.); plate: 559 x 381 mm. (22 x 15 in.), Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased in Memory of Alice Bolger with funds contributed by her Friends, Staff and Board of Trustees of The Baltimore Museum of Art, BMA 2011.70 © Horst Janssen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
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Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.