Sunday, 22 May 2016

To Tangier with Ethel Kirkpatrick


Some months ago a reader sent me this new image of Ethel Kirkpatrick's The orange seller. I had only seen it in a catalogue before and was very glad of the opportunity make yet another claim for Modern Printmakers' to have the final word on Kirkpatrick. That aside. I think it also goes some way to give more of an idea of her range. I have no absolute proof but I think she was showing here a part of the casbah at Tangier. The orange seller's clothes are right for the period (by about 1910) while the palm leaf baskets behind him are typical of Morocco.
Anyway, here she is, far from the dull skies over London or the limpid dawn over the Venice lagoon. For a change she tackles the stunning light of Tangier. Not everybody has taken to it; Francis Bacon complained. Others adopted an orange-seller to give their image local colour, all the time moaning about the white walls. Kirkpatrick turned that to her advantage and let the astonishing light from the sea speak for itself. Just look at the way it bounces off the building beyond those signature mauve shadows. Fifty years or so later, the British playwright. Joe Orton, noticed the same kind of light. 'The town lay spread beneath us, and the bay and the mountains in the distance, a soft almost purple light covered the whole scene.' And while it would be easy to mock Orton for seeing Tangier through a Hendrix haze, he went on to describe the way life was enhanced by the light as if one were living in a painting by someone French and famous. (He was more than a touch na├»ve.)

Eugene Delacroix was French and very famous and found Tangier brimming with subject matter. Before I had saw anything from his Journal, I was struck by the way fifty-year old men digging a hole in the street in the old town had the dignified faces of Masaccio saints. Delacroix went one better, and I know exactly what he meant when he said, 'The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus... ' I think Kirkpatrick might have noticed something similar, judging by her orange-seller, and even if she didn't, here we have another version of the Latin Quarter, done with that searching sensitivity she always brought to her work.

I have added Ada Collier's Sweet market, Tangier  (courtesy of William P Carl Fine Prints) and Mary Macrae White's intrepid view of Fez, in case anyone missed them the first time around.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Yet more from British ebay

One of the minor pleasures of researching artists is attempting to trace their West London studios. There used to be a large number of these and many still survive but their locations are often far from obvious. Many Georgian and Victorian houses were equipped with basements simply because street-level was higher than ground level. I remember being fairly convinced I had found Robert Gibbings studio because they could all be seen on the first and second floors of what are now family houses and flats. Yet I wondered how on earth he had got his Albion press up there. The answer is he hadn't because Bolton Studios had been built on unused land behind the row of studio houses and so were at ground level and had never been visible from the street. (You pass under an arch to get to them and, of course, it was gated and there was no going in to see exactly where he had printed off those wonderful colour woodcuts of his).

By the time I came to Arabella Rankin, I should have known better and it was only by chance that I realised that West Studios like Bolton Studios were down some steps below pavement level and were private and secluded. It made sense. So, it was fascinating to see this  colour woodcut by her showing The Temple on Edwardes Square (above) just a short walk from her studio. As I have never even seen her work for sale ever, I would have been tempted by this, even thought it isn't Rankin at her best. But I am off to Wales tomorrow and that is that. Of course, it all depends what it goes for. I would guess it comes from the early twenties before she made her glorious prints showing the island of Iona. The use of mottled colour, shape and blank space is all very typical of her. The lack of a keyblock is notable, too, but I am not so impressed by the use of that emphatic double outline. That aside, it could quite easily be workaday modern Japanese. It has their kind of abstraction and restraint, qualities very much to the fore in the great Scottish prints she made.

Less distinguished because it is less original is John Souter Bulloch's etching (above). A Scot like Rankin, I don't know much about him but he had a go at all kinds of stuff from linocuts to bourgeois portraiture. Here he took the bohemian route to success because he had obviously been looking at Augustus John's etchings of Dorelia and added some Gerald Brockhurst (as unlikely a combination as you will find) while having the model adopt a pose that was striking enough to make me look again even if it all had a definite sense of deja vu. It's all in there somewhere, a dash of the French academic tradition, a hint of seriousness and I mean, I think it's pretty good but I'd sooner have his linocut of ducks. Less hefty by half.

So, ebay is looking up. We have had an etching by F.L.M. Griggs, albeit with a hole in it (not that such a defect deterred everybody), Mabel Royd's Christ in the carpenter's shop, Edgar Holloway and now  because we also have the tender and attractive colour woodcut of winsome deer by Barbara Harvey Leighton (top) and one you will have to pay £390 for if you want it because Canadians can be just as expensive as Americans.

Going on to recent sales, I was a bit surprised by Geoffrey Wedgewood's engraving Fishmarket, Naples going as high as £193 even though it is a complex and distinguished print and one I would have liked to own (if I weren't sinking almost everything I have into this cottage in Wales). Just as surprising was Elyse Ashe Lord's daft confection going for as little as £83. So, perhaps there is justice in this world, after all. Unless, of course, you are buying colour woodcuts. And then, I am afraid, there is none.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

William Neave Parker: 'March' and other prints on ebay


There continues to be something of a trove of prints by the British artist and illustrator, William Neave Parker, on ebay, and for those who missed the opportunity the first time round, you can have another go at prints like his fetching Bear and his surprising period-piece, March. Who would have thought he could have stretched to satyrs and nudes? And what was he doing calling his print March? It's all rather unlikely and I begin to wonder if there isn't something I have missed about Neave Parker (and, goodness knows, I searched and searched).

Going by the last round of bidding, there were other people taken with this print. What kind of print it is, I wouldn't like to say. It is described as a linocut (and Neave Parker certainly made some in colour) but the style looks far more like wood-engraving. But I kind of doubt it is either. Does this matter? Hardly. Even with the obvious condition of the prints, these would be nice to have. A mite conventional, yes, but also perhaps deceptive. Parker was never serious about prints. I think they were something of a sideline. He was certainly more Hall Thorpe than Bresslern Roth and once you see his original work in front of you, it is disappointing. The effect is too flat and unexciting, there is none of the thrill of a finely-made print. All the same they are both well-drawn and sufficiently individual and quirky to be tempting. Once bitten, though, twice shy.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Lill Tschudi: the Latin Quarter


Somewhere or other Stendhal mocked the Jardin des Tuileries for being a superficial imitation of Italian style. (I can't remember exactly what he said). All the same, with its self-conscious swags and fountains, its singing and light-heartedness and grace of manner, it strikes me that Paris is a Latin city just like Nice (for instance) and what I like about Lill Tschudi's French linocuts is how much of a Latin she became while in Paris and Jeu de boules (1934) sums up exactly what I mean.

She was thorough when she came to make her linocuts. Scale drawings and studies in gouache or watercolour survive for a number of them and what is interesting is how much the sense of scale and perspective changed once she translated the image into linocut and the textures of the printing were left to speak for themselves. But something got to her in Paris and I think the French linocuts are Tschudi at her best.

Apparently, she saw an exhibition of Norbertine Bresslern Roth's prints while still a girl at home in Switzerland and it was then she decided she, too, would turn into a maker of stylish linocuts but first London and then Paris got in the way. In the early thirties she went off to take Claude Flight's now famous weekly class in linocut at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London. Flight certainly had a way with him when it came to students following his 'I belong to no school' example but Tschudi survived his rather doctrinaire approach and, as you can see from Jeu de boules, she was able to combine the flat, rhythmic designs of the typical Grosvenor linocut with a strict sense of space, perspective and original form of which Georges Seurat had been the modern master. What Seurat didn't have but what Jeu de boules does is a representation of Gallic masculine posture. And it absolutely oozes concentration.

So, how did she do it? While Flight in London was still banging on about the futurists and vorticists as if they had only happened the week before, in Paris there had been a 'return to order' and, interestingly enough, what Tschudi did was to become a student of three of the most orderly of these artists. Gino Severini  had even been a futurist before the war but had made the great return to the twin shrines of tempera and mosaic. But perhaps, as with so many others, the greatest of her teachers was Paul Cezanne. You only have to look at the way he simplifies form and also lets both the paint and the canvas have a say in his self-portrait of 1900 to see what I mean. By comparison, Flight was clueless.

So, how many teachers did she need? Severini was based part of the time in Rome and part of the time in Paris and I don't know anything about his classes or if he gave any. Andre Lhote was a decorative cubist and ran his own academy that attracted many artists of talent (and showed commitment by continuing to teach during the German occupation of Paris). But most famous of them all was Fernand Leger, very noticeable on the internet nowadays for the almost endless series of photographic portraits that testify to his physical presence and allure. And it is all very French (and Italian) and you wonder to what extent these three different men were as much models as teachers because the actual subject of Tschudi's French prints is the male form, pure and simple. They sing, they dance, they do the Twist.

What I am also saying is that she was taking on ideas and I think her considerable achievement was to make prints that are buoyant, colourful but that make sense simply because she had thought them out. She isn't the engineer that Leger was; nor does she have the cool beauty of Severini, but she can move us around her pictures with skill and conviction. It's always an interesting journey, we don't trip over too much stylisation and we see the male form from various angles. Its cubism with gusto, that's what it is.                                               

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Walther Klemm and Carl Thiemann, two masters of the colour woodcut at Dachau

Just opened on Friday at the Art Gallery, Dachau, 'Walther Klemm und Carl Thiemann: Zwei Meister des Farbholzschnitts'. The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Carl Thiemann on 3rd December, 1966. It runs until 15th August, 2016, and may be the one and only opportunity to see the work of these two famous colour woodcut artists side by side. The gallery at Dachau has a large collection of the work of both men.

The show re-unites two old friends who were brought up in Karlsbad in the old Sudetenland, studied at the Prague Academy and shared a studio in the city, then moved to Liboc in the Czech countryside. Klemm saw the work of Emil Orlik in Vienna after Orlik's return from Japan and showed Thiemann how to make colour woodcuts. They published their first prints in a portfolio they called Alt-Prag about 1905 and, all in all, this is a chance to see the way young artists commonly worked together during this important period. There is an informative preview (in German) at .

Just how much they had in common they had at the time may be judged by two of the woodcuts here. The third one is Klemm's Moorbach from 1908, the year they both began to work at the artist's colony in Dachau. (The other two landscapes are by Thiemann, including a version of his Kiefern am Grunewaldsee). The exhibition takes their Dachau as its central subject. Klemm left Dachau for a post in Weimar in 1913 and eventually stopped making colour prints. Thiemann stayed for the rest of his life. The photograph below, taken in 1906, shows the two friends, with Thiemann on the left.

Many thanks to Klaus for letting me know about this exhibition. Other details can be found on the Dachau museums and galleries website.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Z was the zoo


In 1896 this famous poster designed by Theodore Steinlen was used to advertise a tour by the company from Le chat noir cabaret in Paris. With its alley cat looking as fierce as a Japanese kabuki actor and the bold use of red and black, it helped set the tone for what was to come, both the forthright appeal of modern advertising and the eclectic appeal of modern art. Steinlen was not the first artist to mix the skills of printmaking and commercial art. In Britain, William Blake had learned his skills as a fine commercial engraver in the late C18th but the reliance on imagery over content was new and the effect in Britain, Austria and Germany was immediate.

Readers may doubt that Allen Seaby's exceptional image of a cockerel had Steinlen's cat as a predecessor but I can assure them that the fame of Steinlen's poster had reached provincial Reading where Seaby was teaching and that he was familiar with it. (And I am afraid I am not saying here how I know). But for all its fame and skill, I tend to think Steinlen's poster was soon improved on. L.H. Jungnicke;l's magnificent Tigerkopf  (1909) is a good example of the way an artist can strip away irrelevant detail like hammy Japanese lettering and arch stylisation and produce something of remarkable power. Jungnickel himself was a commercial artist and here you see the early stage of Andy Warhol's Marilyn (1962).

The whole thing really is a story. Artists are forever picking up ideas and Le chat noir attracted so many kinds of people, everyone from bohemian artists and performers to Edward, Prince of Wales, it's hardly surprising a mere poster could have such a large effect. Others perhaps were more subtle but perhaps no one was more effective. But if we have to start somewhere, we have to begin with the Swiss artist, Felix Vallotton, who led the way with a woodcut of Paul Verlaine (himself a patron of Le chat noir) in 1891. It remains odd and perhaps isn't much of a woodcut in itself. I prefer his later woodcut of Verlaine from Le Livre des masques (1898) but Vallotton went on to describe a world in woodcut where all the creatures lived, from bohemian poets to communards to cats, they were there. His remarkable image Two cats was published by the German magazine, Pan, in 1895.

It was not only the images that themselves or the modern subjects that represented a great innovation. By drawing on the tradition of books of woodcuts, Vallotton provided artists with yet another precedent. La flute appeared in his 1896 book, Six musical instruments. It ten re-appeared in the Saturday Review in London in 1897 as H.M. The Queen by William Nicholson. For Nicholson, the image was a great coup and made him famous overnight. Not that he had been unoriginal. He had had the bright idea of removing the Prince of Wales from a double portrait photograph of the Prince and Queen Victoria (a photograph that appears to have disappeared from the internet) and substituted the Queen's terrier.

I think his debt to Vallotton is obvious and like Vallotton he also went on to make his own series of woodcut books for the publisher, William Heinemann (whose nerve had failed him over H.M. The Queen). Where Nicholson did move forward was in his use of colour. Curiously, Nicholson's woodcuts were not cut at all but engraved on end-grain. I suppose he had needed to provide his publishers with a durable material like box-wood. He certainly had no intention of using the finicky wood-engraving style commonly used by newspapers.

Just as influential was his book An Alphabet. (The date is usually given as 1st January, 1898, but it appeared in time for Christmas, 1897.) For all his modern boldness, Nicholson regularly fell back on a folksy style and the longer he went on the more he relied on a period feel that tends to set the tone for a lot of British illustration. But once the folksiness is removed, we are left with the sumptuousness of  images such as Moriz Jung's Jaguar from his Tier-ABC made about 1906 while still a student at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule. By comparison, Jungnickel's Tigerkopf is conventional. Jaguar is out-and-out Vienna Secession while Tigerkopf  is Secession modified by a visit to the zoo.                                                                  

After that, there was no holding anyone in Vienna back. The posters produced by Erwin Puschinger and other artists for the Jagd Ausstellung of 1910 may well be fussier and less original than some of the best posters of the period (and there were a lot of them) but no one after all was looking at posterity. Peter Behren's woodcuts had been appearing in Pan around the same time as Vallotton's work but his poster from the 1910 Deutsche Werkbund falls back on a more conventional fine art approach but I like it all the same for its sheer bravura.

Huehner (1907) was the nearest Carl Thiemann came to the commercial poster style but he was a fine artist by training and more associated with Munich than the more radical styles of the Vienna Secession. All the same, I have always thought this woodcut was Thiemann at his exquisite best. It sums up the modern need for fine but uncomplicated imagery. His woodcut landscapes tend to start looking like paintings for all the woodcut feel they have. The sheer decorativeness and subtlety of colour is what makes this Thiemann's greatest and most telling print. But then Thiemann had looked around the farmyard, not just the zoo.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The colour linocuts of Norah Pearse


A copy of Exeter School of Art magazine with a lithograph on the front by Norah Pearse came up for sale on ebay a few weeks ago.Sadly, I missed it. Not that it was much good (the drawing was haphazard)  but The cloakroom had a St. Trinian's sense of anarchy and fun typical of Pearse. (See note below) The girls were larking about in gym-slips and it reminded me what kind of institution an art school in the 1930s really was. It was a school; the students were in their teens. Nor were they there to train as artists. The whole idea was to send them off later for a year's teacher training, a fact that goes some way to explaining why it is that so many of them were skilful  enough to make good prints but were often hopeless when it came to drawing.

As for linocut, it had been promoted as suitable for use by children in Vienna long before it arrived in Britain. It didn't make the break-through here until the 'Children's Art Exhibition' was held was held in London in 1921. Allen Seaby must have gone to see it because he was writing about linocut for educational purposes soon afterwards. Claude Flight's much more famous book Lino-Cut followed in 1927). Lino isn't very durable but it is easy to manipulate and, as Flight never tired of saying, it was simple enough to achieve a sense of being modern. Whether or not this makes Pearse's Seals worth £200 is another thing, but after seeing St. Trinian's, I think I would pause for thought before I coughed up. But I did buy in the Cotswolds (above) and I'm glad I did.

Splash shows part of the sea-front at Exmouth in Devon very near to where I had a bed-sit type of flat in the mid-seventies, so, for all her ways, I must take Norah's side. (She came from Exmouth and she appeals). What should be obvious by now is that Pearse was aware of London trends (and exhibited with the Graver Printers) and had what Clive Christie would always call 'an aesthetic'. The subdued tones of the prints are very thirties just as much as the observation of social life. What is interesting is the way Pearse moves easily between the social life of seals and tigers and even trees and the everyday activities of human beings. She also makes good use of the pliant line that linocut so readily allows without going in for the kind of pattern-making that followers of Flight tended to adopt after a stint with him at the Grosvenor School. Grosvenor is there, for sure, but it isn't brominent.

Where she does depart from Flight and all of them is in her use of perspective. She was more modern in her subject matter than in her manner. Of tigers, watched by children has the Pearse sense of humour, the unpredictability of the tigers matched by the kiddies beyond the bars. I have no doubt she knew the linocuts of Norbertine Bresslern Roth but again she goes her own way and this is why she interests me. Look at the way she plays off the tiger-stripes and the bars, and the effects she gains with patches of light and shadow. The anecdotal humour shouldn't detract from the complicated arrangement of the print. It wasn't that easy to get all the figures right and she wisely limited herself as always to a narrow range of colour. And again it works.  Picasso it isn't but nice it is and it's a shame this is the only image available. Of course some readers may recall my first tentative post on Pearse but most prints I know of are now here (except a jolly image of surfing, which is just to muddy and small). At least we now have a better idea of what she could do.

As for St. Trinian's School, it first appeared in a British film in 1954, based on the work of the cartoonist, Ronald Searle, and with an eccentric headmistress played by the character actor, Alistair Sim. Some very wayward schoolgirls indeed were a great part of the success of the film and I always found it hilarious. It went on to become part of a series of five. Go to YouTube and behave!

And thanks to Gerrie Caspers at The Linosaurus for sorting out the lithograph from Exter.