Sunday, 13 September 2020

Edna Boies Hopkins: the Derbyshire connection

Back in 1908, the educationalist Samuel Clegg published a monograph about the American colour woodcut artist, Edna Boies Hopkins. This included an odd passage where he said he  regretted that her prints had not been made available 'for art school purposes'. In those days it was common practice for art students to study and copy the work of other people. Alphonse Legros taught his students at the Slade to distinguish between the hand of Raphael and the work of his two assistants. But this didn't make the remark any less odd, at least not till he wrote a second monograph about Allen Seaby who did make imperfect (and unsigned) proofs of his own prints available to schools at a reduced rate.

Boies Hopkins was a student of Arthur Wesley Dow, himself a well-known art educationalist by the time Clegg was publishing his monographs. Whether she made her own proofs available is another thing but British students did nevertheless make use of her work in a very direct way as you can see from the nicotianas below.

Clegg was headmaster of the new Long Eaton School and one of his school governors acquired four  recent prints by Boies Hopkins for the very purpose. I can't remember offhand whether Nicotianas (below, 1909) was one of them but judging by the children's work made only four years afterwards in 1913, it was. So, here were thirteen and fourteen-year old Derbyshire school children cutting and printing their own colour woodcuts in the Japanese manner with Boies Hopkins examples supplied for them to study by the school. 

But why use Boies Hopkins and not Seaby? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, Boies Hopkins concentrated on one image rather than make a complex picture and, secondly, although Boies Hopkins had gone to Japan in order to learn how to make a keyblock, by the time Clegg wrote his article, the keyblock was no more than a vestige in her work and often wasn't there at all. This all made the process of cutting and printing much easier for the children.

On of these lucky children was Edward Loxton Knight who went on to train at Nottingham School of Art where he specialised in commercial art. When I first wrote about Loxton Knight, I had no idea about the survival of this remarkable series of school prints but, as you can see The primrose-seller (1929) his first professional print, the Boies Hopkins lesson sunk in. It is not so much the flower subject that was like her as the overall tone, particularly the way the print was wiped in the same downward manner Boies Hopkins was using before the first war.

As you can see, Loxton Knight had learned to use a keyblock to define smaller shapes and to provide moulding for larger figures like his primrose-seller. Ironically, he didn't use the Japanese manner at all but printed all his blocks with poster colour, adapting the flat Japanese style to give the contemporary feel of commercial art of the period. But he certainly got away with it and, so far as I am concerned, this first print of his was the most satisfying he made along with The Nottingham Canal.

It is in the nature of commercial artists to make use of approximation to gain their effect. But there was another sleight of hand involved in The primrose-seller and one you could only be aware of if you know this location well. The primrose seller is standing on the north side of the market square in Nottingham where people were still selling flowers and newspapers when I grew up. The problem is from where the man is standing, it is impossible to see the spire of St Peter's church at the bottom of Wheeler Gate. It just looked better that way, that's all.

Gordon Clarke

Monday, 19 March 2018

Haydn Mackey's 'Jacke of Newberie'

Every once in a while an artist who isn't all that talented manages to excel himself. Exactly how they do this isn't always obvious but with Haydn Reynolds Mackey's linocut Jacke of Newberie my first impression is the print  was by Arthur Rigden Read, albeit Read out on the booze. The colours are right (more or less) and the limited use of colour is right and the print takes Read's gold medal La cite de Carcassonne, with its heraldic shield and lettering as its starting-point. I have to say if it had been by Read, I would have bid without hesitation. As it is,  I decided against, simply because there is something both spurious and irritating about the work of Mackey.

Mackey trained at the Slade School of Art and had the benefit of attending the life-class under Henry Tonks but by and large, Mackey liked to represent heavy horses as much as human beings. With Jacke of Newberie he was successful because he simply bought together horses and with a sense of character and theatricality and I have to say it worked. I would mind less if  Mackey's prints weren't so manufactured. He didn't use the demanding Japanese manner but added colours in an odd way. Only the keyblock was printed, so you miss the real interest that an original print can have and they end up having more in common with the kind of hand-coloured work made by William Nicholson or the Cuala Press. You have to see it in context and I know very little about Mackey or what relations he had with other printmakers (if there were any). I just thought Jacke of Newberie was well worth a look but whether it was worth spending good money on is another thing.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The woodcut technique of James Alphege Brewer


In the last post I wondered about the technique that James Alphege Brewer used when he came to make his colour woodcuts. Since then, Ben Dunham has sent me other images I hadn't seen plus a label that says Brewer's print Lake Thirlmere and Helvellyn was printed by hand by the artist. Fortunately, there are other details of the print on the website where it was sold. You can judge for  yourself, but the conclusion I have come to was one I didn't really expect to make.

Another thing I suggested in the post was that Brewer knew the work of John Platt and possibly used his 1938 book to learn the technique. I also wonder whether Brewer may even have studied with him. Platt was working at Blackheath School of Art not that far from the subject of Brewer's impressive woodcut Pool of London (top). I don't want to detract from Brewer's achievement, but compare his print with Platt's Sails from 1933. Brewer's style and high colouring is more old-fashioned and similar to the kind of images of Newlyn and London Ethel Kirkpatrick was making in the 1890s. It still remains an accomplished piece of work and if you look at the two details below, from Lake Thirlmere and Helvellyn, you will begin to get an idea of how original Brewer could be when it came to making prints. It is very much like Allen Seaby's and also reminds me of  SG Boxsius' extemporised foliage in Autumn (the word Boxsius used himself).
Not only that, you will notice that Brewer used Japanese technique in areas of  Lake Thirlmere - there is obvious application of the medium by hand, which is similar to bokashi. The details are expressive even if the overall effect of the print is conventional. But then compare the details of Lake Como (The pergola) (second from bottom) and you see him taking a different, more impressionist approach. You will notice obvious signs in both of application of the ink by hand. That strongly suggests Brewer was using a watercolour medium in common with the majority of British colour woodcut artists at the time rather than the printer's ink used by most of the colour linocut artists. I also think you can see the way the ink has run to the edge of the block. I like the camouflage effect he achieved here very much, something that suggests wartime as well Platt's brown and green on Sails. Even more original is the use of shape in Mont Blanc (bottom).  No other colour woodcut artist was working in this way but it is similar to does Platt's way of building up images from pieces of tissue  laid over each other- one that he taught to his students.



Saturday, 21 October 2017

The colour woodcuts of James Alphege Brewer

No-one could blame James Alphege Brewer for the war. It was bad luck that he began to make these colour woodcuts only a year or so before it began. Then, when it was over, this kind of art was not only out-of-fashion in Britain, it was derided, and soon forgotten, lost under a great surge of  abstraction no-one understood, least of all the artists. Some were able to adapt. Edward Bawden had used linocut before the war to produce designs for wallpaper, but after the war followed the modern trend and made big-scale colour linocuts. Others could not.

Brewer was one of the very last British artists to make colour woodcuts. They first appeared at the Society of Graphic Art exhibition in 1939 and presumably he had begun to make them some time before. Colour woodcuts are by no mean easy to produce but there is no sense of the beginner in the earliest ones like Mont Blanc or On the Dochart, Perthshire. This presents a problem in itself. Brewer was self-evidently a professional printmaker. For most of his career, Brewer's stock-in-trade had been colour etchings of architectural subjects and most of  his recorded prints were made after his marriage to Florence Lucas. Her great uncle, David, had been a mezzotint engraver who had worked with John Constable on English landscape untill Constable's death in 1832 and after that with Constable's family to 1840. Lucas himself died in Fulham Poorhouse in 1881, but as an apprentice under S.W. Reynolds he had joined a distinguished line of  English engravers that went back to the great mezzotint tradition of the C18th. Continuing that tradtion in the family may be one reason why Brewer entered into a collaboration with his wife's brothers, George and Edwin Lucas.

At the the time Brewer began to work on his colour etchings, many British colour etchers exhibited with the Society of Graver-Printers in Colour. They accepted a degree of collaboration on original prints, but the kind of work Brewer was doing with the Lucas brothers was too close to the old school of reproductive etching and engraving. (John Hall Thorpe who had trained as a reproductive wood-engraver in Sydney and who could not print his own work, found himself in a similar position). Yet Brewer was adaptable. Few artists use both intalgio and relief methods of printing. More to the point, the only other British artists I can think who changed from intalgio to relief (and not the other way around) were John Dickson Batten and Leslie Moffat Ward. But Ward made his colour woodcuts in the twenties when things were going well and exhibited with the Graver-Printers. My own view is that a woodcut like Mont Blanc (top) and Lake Como (The pergola) (second from top) represented Brewer's way of moving away from the etching tradition towards work that appeared to be modern. John Platt wrote the introduction to his book Colour woodcuts in December, 1937. Platt was headmaster at Blackheath School of Art at the time and had stopped using the keyblock about 1934. The changes of tone he introduced were also similar to the ones that appeared in Brewer's work three or four years later and I would suggest Brewer knew Platt and his work and his book. He was by then the leading British colour woodcut artist, after all.

At Westminster School of Art (where he had studied before the first war) Brewer found himself surrounded by the leftovers of the Architectural Museum that had been housed in the building. Draughtsmanship is certainly to the fore, but it would be a mistake to underestimate Brewer. His sense of colour was acute and when it comes to his woodcuts, the reminders of artists as diverse as Oscar Droege, Francis Towne and John Sell Cotman are all to the good. For a change, there is an undoubted touch of Jean Harlow's Hollywood in Lake Como (The pergola). It is not just elegant froth, it's consummate froth. Most British colour woodcut artists would have avoided such pale tones to avoid any comparison with  watercolour. In this sense, Brewer was something of a one-off although his work does bear comparison with James Priddey. For me, the problem is Brewer could not get away from the generic lonely pine and lonely sail so beloved of Edwardian British art.

So far as the technique  he used goes, the general opinion is that Brewer used a water-based medium to print with, but did not print on japan. There was very little use of a keyblock. Too much black would have detracted from the gentle mood. This made the printing of a woodcut like Lake Como (The pergola) complicated. Generally, this only comes out when the prints are seen close to.  How he printed them is another matter. Personally, I would assume he used some kind of press.  It really is up to readers who own them to say what they think. I don't own one and have never seem one either.

The general impression given by The garden of the villa Carlotta (below) belies the subtlety of the arrangement, especially of the almond orchards in the foreground. Collectors of Brewer's etchings may well be bemused by his change of manner, but the fact that he could change and beat other British colour woodcut artists at their own game says a good deal about his standards of workmanship.  It may not always appeal, but Brewer's professionalism is just as impressive as the distant grandeur of his mountains. In 1938, John Platt advised would-be colour woodcut artists to study the work of great masters like Hokusai and Utamaro. It was to Brewer's credit that he didn't.

Finally, I  would not have written this post without Ben Dunham's research and encouragement and you will see the link to his excellent Brewer website on my blog list.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Charles Paine, his life and work, by Mark Allaby

Here, at last, is a short book that gives a real idea of what it was like to be a graphic artist during the nineteen twenties and thirties. Charles Paine's uncle showed some of his work to the designer, Gordon Forsyth (who was then working for Pilkington's near Manchester) and after a favourable reaction from Forsyth  suggested to Paine's father that he ought to study art rather than work as he was in the production of rubber. He was shown the door. Mark Allaby doesn't say who supported  Paine's eight years of study at Salford School of Art (where he was trained to make stained glass) and then at the Royal College, but after reading this valuable book twice, it does seem remarkable that so much talent could have gone down the Swanee. Paine never had a straightforward career and his life was not always an easy one, but here are designs by someone who took his work as seriously as his father appeared to take his own.

Paine followed a general course in design at the R.C.A. Walter Crane described the college in 1898 as a kind of mill for teachers and according to Henry Moore, it was much the same at the time Paine graduated. The diploma course he took was a preparation for a job as a teacher of art at a state school and, going by the enthusiasm expressed by his students in this book, Paine was an inspiring teacher. What is noticeable about the work illustrated here is the inspirational tone: a talent for psychology and design had been uncovered; here is graphic design that speaks with skill and directness, something that was new in 1919 and 1920. Boat race 1921, with its downward view of the boats on the river, was so original and impressive, it became a default setting, with Kearny and Burrell in 1924, Percy Drake Brookshaw in 1927 and Cyril  Power's The eight (1930) all following in its wake.

After graduation in 1919, he was offered a job by Frank Morley Fletcher running the department of applied design at Edinburgh College of Art. Fletcher had worked on a stained glass project with students at Reading and two years later another stained glass artist arrived, apparently to take over from Paine. This was John Platt,  but Paine and Platt were by no means equals.  Platt would have great success with his colour woodcut The giant stride at Los Angeles in 1922, but Paine was the better draughtsman, closer in his modern sensibility to younger R.C.A. graduates like Eric Ravilious, and he moved onto work  as a graphic artist for the firms of Guthrie (who made stained glass in Glasgow) and Sundour at Lancaster. Colour woodcut was in his make-up as a designer; Boat race 1921 was inconceivable without the example of Hokusai and his colliery scene takes the schematic approach of the colour woodcuts of Edward Loxton Knight see here.


In 1923, Fletcher left Edinburgh to work at the Community Arts School in Santa Barbara and Paine went to work with him as head of applied arts on two occasions in the twenties (and would have returned a third time if the school hadn't hit such hard times). In fact, after his second stint, he and Fletcher handed in their notice on the same day. It was a pattern, never staying anywhere very long untill he and his second wife settled at Welwyn Garden City. Eventually, she bought a house on Jersey without his knowledge and both went there to live. By then, he was cut off from the places he needed to be to more a proper living as a commercial artist and he turned to watercolour. At this stage of the story, I become nervous, wondering what I will find, but his watercolour designs are excellent and nearly not well-known enough. The plan is to give then a post of their own.

All this depends on Mark Allaby. Apart from the boat race poster, everything you see here has not appeared online before and is a testament to the care he has taken with this book and the presentation of Paine's imagery - with much of it available only on CD. The book is a half-way house between biography and Paine's graphics and is intended not only for readers interested in his designs and watercolours.  There is a lot of material in the form of appendices; nothing much is left out and none of the images in this post  can be found in the book. Sometimes I got lost, especially over Jim (who was a girl) and I would have rather had Paine referred to as 'Paine' rather than 'CP', but these are quibbles. For a book that has been published by the author, a mere two typos may well be a record.

Mark is seriously considering a Charles Paine blog. He has some diverse material, which I think would be a considerable interest to any student of mid-twentieth century design, a period that has remained fashionable for almost forty years. Only ten copies have been printed so far, but Mark tells me if there is real interest, a revised edition (less the typos) may be printed. Contact me at and I can pass your details on to the author.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Charles Paine: a new book by Mark Allaby


I have just heard today from Mark Allaby who tells me he has published a book about the talented British designer, Charles Paine, a designer, I have to add, who gets the full approval of Modern Printmakers. As soon as I get a copy, I will be reviewing the book and giving details of how you can get a copy of your own.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

From Corot to Urushibara: Corot, E.C.A. Brown and Theodore Roussel


In 1907, the National Gallery in London acquired Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's Marsh at Arleux (below). The picture had been painted in Artois in 1871 during the revolutionary period of the Paris Commune. Many artists had left the city and moved to the Pas-de-Calais and continued to paint whatever they saw there. But Corot's picture is strange, lacking in detail, laden with atmosphere and with a deliberate lack of finish. There is a sense of dislocation and foreboding that looks forwards to modern art. Corot is not an artist  I would associate with an image, pure and simple, but it does show exactly why French artists had so much to learn from colour woodcut artists like Hiroshige to whom the meaningful image was naturally a part of what they did.

By the lake (at the top) by E.C.A. Brown was first exhibited (so far as I know) in February, 1911, and shows one of the lakes at the village of Camiers in the Pas-de-Calais where she lived with her husband. The couple moved backwards and forwards between France and accommodation in London and while I do not know whether Brown saw Corot's picture newly-arrived at the National Gallery, you will agree, her woodcut takes so much from Corot, it is uncanny. The picture was given to the Gallery by Mrs Edwin Edwards. She and her husband had made strong links with French artists, including Henri Fantin Latour and Alphonse Legros, as well as Whistler, who had been close to Theodore Roussel, and it is always possible that all these artists had already seen the Corot.n at their home.

Brown knew Charles Bartlett who went to work in Tokyo with the publisher Shazaburo Wantanabe and, as Modern Prinmakers said some while back, used Georges Seurat's A Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jatte as a basis for his colour woodcut Silk merchants, India. What you see here is the first time a British colour woodcut artist made direct use of modern French art rather than a Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut. Roussel's  Moonrise from the river made in London (where he lived) in 1914 is an interesting variation. The mood has changed again to something far more neutral. There is more I could say, but what you can see here is the beginning of Urushibara's work with Frank Brangwyn and this is why.


All of these artists - Corot (above and below), Fantin-Latour, Whistler, Legros and Roussel - made prints and all of them, apart from Corot, knew London and some of the artists working there. For Corot what mattered most in a picture was what he called himself 'the value of tone' - and he meant the tone of the overall picture, so it made particular sense for him to produce etchings because he could explore and use tonal value in a new way. Corot was remarkably diverse in the things he did. Despite the basic similarity of the subjects, The dreamer (made in 1854 but not printed until 1921), is very different in approach - basically a type of northern expressionism, if you like - from his etching, Near Rome (1866) He was a translator and an interpreter and that would make him interesting to other artists.


One of them was Brown. By the lake was not the only print she made that drew on Corot. With others, it is just less obvious, but I think it is still there and the French art historian and critic, Gabriel Mourey, who saw Brown's prints when they were first being exhibited in Paris, said the same thing: 'the countryside between Montreuil-sur-Mer and Etretat is the countryside of Cazin and Corot'. Corot was based at Arras in 1871, but he and his biographer-friend rented a house at Arleux 30 km to the east during July and August, where Corot made a prompt return to the scratchy technique of the first etching.

There are two points here. The importance of French art to the first British colour woodcut artists like Brown hasn't been talked about. It has been very easy to discuss the importance of Japan simply because so little is known about what they were doing and what the artists were actually thinking and doing (and because some of the people doing the writing knew more about C19th Japanese colour woodcut than they did about C19th French etching). The fact that Brown and her friends and colleagues were using the Japanese method is almost beside the point; her husband's prints were mainly colour etchings and as she was the better printer, she printed at least one of them herself (above). And what she achieved there was a sense of tone; it was already an interpretation of Thomas Brown's work because he was never as subtle as that.

Urushibara's main contribution to Frank Brangwyn's Bruges portfolio (1919), above, was its tone. This wasn't a by-product of being very clever when it came to making prints. As The Studio said in 1920, he was translating Brangwyn and to me, at least, that is what Corot was doing, and what Brown did, when she printed her husband's fishing fleet at  Etaples. She was a co-artist on that print and signed it on the left. This was where Urushibara's work with Brangwyn began; this was the environment Urushibara came into when he arrived in London in 1910. People talk as if he were some kind of boy-genius who has arrived from the wilds of Tokyo and did it all by magic. Urushibara was in Paris over the winter and where By the lake, as well as Roussel's etchings, was exhibited and I would think it likely that he saw all of them, along with other colour woodcuts by British artists, simply because his French colleagues were interested, too. So, I am not saying he began by studying Corot etchings; there was no need to, he was surrounded by people who had.