With its elephants and owls, its dodo birds and tigers, centaurs and angels "Man and Beast: The Washington Print Club 8th Biennial Members' Exhibition" is a show as entertaining, as scary and amusing, as would be a visit to some great wizard's zoo.
Nudes, of couse, are nice, as are lussh green landscapes and sunsets on the sea. But this delightful show, which opens today at the National Collection of Fine Arts, reminds us why artists by the thousands -- from cavemen to Disney -- have busied themselves putting beasts of all descriptions into their works.
It may be that such pictures now please us more than ever. Cars have replaced horses, airplanes fill our skies -- when was it that you last saw a badger or a lizard or a grazing deer? We were closer once to animals than we are today. Pictures such as these help assuage our loss.
All the 64 prints on view were drawn from the collections of members of the Washington Print Club. Durer and Picasso, Gauguin and Chagall, Edvard Munch and Peter Milton, H.C. Westermannn and Warhol are among the artists represented.
Some of them are fantasists. Why, the viewer wonders, has Max Klinger's bear treed a naked woman? Many batlike devils, and as many angels, dance in Escher's colored woodcut. Young two-tailed mermaids happily cavort in David Humphrey's monotype. And Dennis Corrigan's weird and witty etching is accurately titled "Nathaniel Hawthorne Posing With a Formally Dressed Gopher."
Other prints on view recalll the thrills of circuses. The Goya, for example, portrays a calm white horse balanced on a tightrope. A splendid old engraving here, circa 1620, done after a Rubens, with its swirl of long sharp spears, screaming huntsmen, whipping tails, is even more dramatic. It is called "The Lion Hunt." The lions appear to be winning.
Other prints here were made to evoke laughs. Leonad Maurer's woodcut shows a glum Picasso, in a role reversal, posing for a Minotaur. Mabel Dwight's "Queer Fish" shows a fat bald fish gazing at a fat bald man as if he's found a friend. On display beside them are pictures more detached, almost journalistic. "Mooooo," a splendid aquatint by California's Stephen McMillan is among the nicest. It prsents, as one might guess, a close-up of a cow.
Felix Buhot's etching, done in 1879 of wintertime in Paris, is among the saddest, for it is full of dying carthorses and hungry, howling dogs. "The Confrontation at the Bridge," a Jacob Lawrence serigraph, shows a police dog snarling at courageous, frightened marchers. Among the master prints on view is one that is half joke, half scientific study. It was etched by the Dutchman Claes (Nicholaes) Pietersz Berchem (1620-1683). It is titled "The Cow Pissing." She must have drunk a river; as she gratefully relieves herself, goats watch and donkeys laugh.
Not all the prints have animals as their central subject. Durer's 1504 woodcut "The Flight into Egypt" from his "Life of the Virgin" includes a cloud of angels -- and, almost as an afterthought, a little tweeting bird, a pair of lizards and a reclining stag.
There are even a few prints here that show no beasts at all. One, a large and wonderful 1917 lithograph by George Bellows is called "Dance in a Madhouse." "Cagney" is the title of the Andy Warhol. Though men and beast are different, men are also often bestial.
Three jurors -- Janet A. Flint, the curator responsible for the admirable print shows at the National Collection; Alan Fern, director for special collections at the Library of Congress, and Louis Andre the dealer -- chose the works on view. It must have been great fun to select this exibition. It is surely fun to see it. It closes Nov. 30.