Thursday, 17 June 2021

Lawrence Bell: new information & prints


Since I put up the post about Lawrence Bell recently, a number of readers have written to me, including one who sent this print from his collection today. So far as I am aware, this is the first time it has appeared online. It does have a title which I can't make out but it looks very much like southern France although I associate the white bonnets with Breton women.

The main information is that Bell described himself as an engraver living at 13a Heath St, Hampstead. The only exhibition records given were for two watercolours shown at the Glasgow Institute in 1921 and 1922. This isn't much to go on but it far more than we had previously and I would think that this must be the right person.

I have included his view of the Porta Capuana in Naples done before the houses and the upper structure were removed. They were certainly there in the earlier part of the C20th as you can see from this intriguing photograph which appears to show the street under water. Also included is one of the etchings. This is in the style of Alphonse Legros who taught at the Slade School of Art until 1893. Whether Bell was a student there is another matter but it certainly maintains the links with France.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

William Giles 'Midsummer Night': the story so far

I would like to dedicate another post to Midsummer night first exhibited in 1912 by William Giles. There are various reasons for this. Firstly, there is the sheer unforgettable impact of the method Giles dreamed up for the print. It was not simply a matter of the image being a work of the imagination; the whole process involved inventiveness at such an astonishing level, I find it hard to credit Giles gave his work so much care and attention. When Mabel Royd's husband, E.S. Lumsden, made his sympathetic portrait of Giles in 1921 (below) he decided to depict him with the tools of his trade, emphasing the artist-craftsman distracted from his work rather than a portrait that suggested traits of the personality of the sitter. It was the same dedication and power of concentration that his friend, Walter Phillips, noticed when they went out on a sketching trip around the same time Lumsden made his portrait. Phillips had left Giles sketching in front of a tree only to find him still there in front of the same tree when he went back hours later.

It perhaps goes without saying that Giles work is stylised and lack spontaneity. It can also be a touch hackneyed. As one of the curator's said at the V&A when we were looking at Midsummer night, it was typical of the era (not his exact words). What is astonishing is the intricacy of the branches of the tree and the way depiction is so intense it begins to look like fantasy. There as an occult side to Giles. Here was a man for whom the ancient places of Britain and the phases of the sun and moon had a strong meaning but a man who also held back and always kept his occult tendencies in check. How he did this is another thing and it leads on to the second remarkable aspect of this print.

In 1899, the French dealer, Goupil, held an exhibition at their London gallery of some diminutive but sensational etchings and aquatints by Theodore Roussel who lived at Parson's Green in west London. Eight years later, Goupil came up with the idea of an exhibiting society of printmakers with Roussel as nominal leader and then about two years after the exhibitions started, Roussel began making colour versions of the metal plates he had shown at Goupil in 1899. More to the point, in 1912 he exhibited Summer night at Abingdon with the Graver Printers. Whether it was was this print that gave Giles the idea for Midsummer night is hard to say exactly, but I tend to think it did simply because until that point Giles had never made a metal plate. I also tend to think Roussel and Giles were working in collaboration. Both artists were used to this. Roussel had worked closely with James MacNeill Whistler till inevitably they fell out and Giles had worked in collaboration with Allen Seaby in their final year at Reading School of Art. Abingdon is also in Berkshire where Giles came from and Giles had also studied in Paris in the late nineties before he returned to do that final year alongside Seaby.

In other respects, Giles and Roussel were unalike. Roussel was an artist in the great French tradition - objective, detached, given to formal experiment but with an inwardness and delicacy that marks out so much of French C18th and C19th art. In my view, the example he set for Yoshijiro Urushibara with the colour version of L'agonie des fleurs (above from about 1912) was more important that any of the designs he adapted from Brangwyn. It may not seem obvious now but Roussel was full of ideas, which he expressed in a series of prints where both spontaneity and subtle allusions to the art of the past were keynotes. Meanwhile Giles described himself as an art worker but followed the traditions of the British romantic movement, most notably William Blake who had been the last person to make artist's prints in colour in the 1820s.

For Roussel, printmaking was a subsidiary art he could use to explore new ideas, as French artists had been doing since Edouard Manet began making etchings in the 1860s. For Giles, it was an end in itself and if Roussel had class, Giles had appeal and I think you can see from these few examples how far each artist learned to modify their approach from the other. Roussel's Moonrise in the New Forest, 1914, (above)  is  case in point. It would not have been possible for him to make a print of such luminosity and depth of colour without the example of Giles. Too much emphasis has been placed on the importance of the Japanese manner of printmaking to these artists. Method and styles owned just as much to French art although in the end it is the sympathetic dialogue between them that provides the most interest. Take for instance, Elizabeth Christie Austen Brown's French landscape, By the lake, from much the same time  (below) to judge how far this period of creativity came out of the rapport that existed between them.

Midsummer night is the only print that I know of from the period to ever come out in three editions. The first was published in 1912 and the second was brought out by the dealer and publisher, Bromhead, whose gallery had become home to the Graver Printers in Colour after Goupil closed its London base during the war. Following the appearance of a third and final edition in 1922, Giles consigned the plates to the Print Room of the V&A for the use of students, along with six successive proofs like the one below. This meant that no-one could publish a further edition, all very well but strictly once he had fulfilled one edition, a second should not have appeared let alone a third. But artists like Giles needed to make a living so you can hardly blame him. It is also possible that the third edition came out only in the U.S. Generally, this was accepted practice. Frank Morley Fletcher issued a second edition of 100 of Meadowsweet after he had moved to California but it was not fulfilled (number 43 I think was inscribed to Seaby) and after the success of Goose Fair in 1929 and 1930, Edward Loxton Knight bought out a second edition in the States. There were also a second edition of at least one linocut by Cyril Power in Australia but the lino gave out before that could be completed.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

The mystery of Lawrence Bell


A few years ago, a reader did a lot of research into a young artist called Lawrence Bell who trained at the Bushey School of Art in Hertfordshire. Since then other documents have appeared online  suggesting that this Lawrence Bell died in France in 1916. This leaves me no nearer to saying anything very useful about this intriguing maker of colour linocuts. It doesn't help that there have also been persistent rumours for some while now that Bell was Canadian although without anyone coming up with any evidence, so I think we have to ignore that. What we are left with are the prints themselves and, as work keeps appearing on the market and finding its way onto the internet, there is now far more to go on than there was five or ten years ago.

The only dated print I know of is Winter where Bell added '36' after his signature. This makes Bell look like one of the late-comers to the colour print scene. James Milner was another. A retired teacher, he returned to colour woodcut in the thirties. Norah Pearse was yet another. Both have had posts here on Modern Printmakers. Bell has not been so fortunate despite lobbying on his behalf by loyal readers who are also avid collectors of his work. But here readers have a considerable advantage over Modern Printmakers because I own only one example, a small card I managed to pick up cheaply on ebay. The point is that this was enough to confirm the general consensus that Bell used lino and oil-based inks. It also strikes me that he may have made use of a press. This was nothing unusual. Robert Gibbings and John Hall Thorpe did the same from about 1916 onwards. Nevertheless, I think all these factors suggest someone who was prolific during the thirties when he made twenty or more colour prints in addition to etchings and watercolours.

What is unusual is how many of Bell's subjects like Kirstenbosch in Cape Province (above, top), can be identified. Another place he visited was Chateau Gaillard in Normandy and there is at least one print of Naples. But most prints depict south-east England where so many artists worked and whose subjects helped to make their prints saleable. The Mermaid Inn at Rye in Sussex (second from top) stands out as Bell at his most vigorous. It is fairly obvious to me that other subjects are the Kent and Sussex churches and the local Romanies. The churches are too distinctive  to be anywhere else while the travelling folk were favourite subjects of Arthur Rigden Read who also exhibited at Rye. Identifiable subjects were always easier to sell and while the old streets of Rye and sturdy churches of Kent provided likeable subjects, his publisher was firmly based at Burlington Gardens off Bond Street in London. The Fine Arts Publishing Company were an established business had been publishing photogravure work since the C19th and this is why I tend to think the prints were printed on a press. They are certainly relatively common otherwise readers would not be telling me they had found yet another.

I wish I could say more. Despite a reputation for including trees of the Clarice Cliff variety in almost all his prints if he could manage it, Bell's best work is rugged, autumnal and enduring. Perhaps not surprising then that anyone would claim he was Canadian. There is a sense of the pioneering outdoors in Bell. His land is a land of log-cabins and his big-scale inns and small-scale churches look as though they belong in the Rockies more than rural Sussex where inns and old churches are all the same size. That kind of wayward originality made him very much a man of his time and if the prints have a deliberate generic appeal, no one could ever accuse Bell of being bland and inoffensive. So you wonder how it could be that such an artist now is more or less anonymous.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

: Adolf Kunst : a god of small things :

It was the French artist, Theodore Roussel, who re-introduced the British to the special intimacy and pleasure to be derived from small prints when Goupil put on a sensational show of small aquatints in decorative frames he had made himself in 1899. (Roussel lived in Parsons Green in west London). Adolf Kunst was born in Regensburg in Bavaria in 1882 and spent most of his life working as an architect and teacher in Munich. Considering that he died in 1937 at the age of fifty-five, it is surprising how many bookplates he made and how varied they are. The first of them date from about 1910 and, as with so many of the artists featured on Modern Printmakers, there is not much more I can tell you about him. In other respects, Kunst bucks the trend, mainly because he was prolific so his work still isn't rare. In fact, not a week goes by without something else coming up, though admittedly not to the standard of the two bookplates for Fritz Poeverlein and Heinrich Uhl.

Both plates find Kunst at the top of his game. But what really marks him out, though, was the ability he had to make both relief and intalgio prints. At his best (as he is here) there is a subtle sense of depth beneath the directness and boldness of his images. It is spatial, yes, but it is also cultural. His tree of knowledge suggests the history of reading, the trench the death Heinrich Uhl on the Eastern Front in 1915. A contemporary of Kunst, he was a pupil of Lovis Corinth in Berlin. The bookplate Kunst made for him extends the way we think about them. At best, they are referential, appreciative and literary. Kunst's bookplates can have a sense of history and of life.

The Heinrich Uhl bookplate came up only a few weeks ago and was the cause of some determined bidding, which took it to £162. The book-bee was also for sale recently - and I regret letting it pass me by Like all the best of them, Kunst takes one idea and creates one image. But within that basic format, he has a greater range both it terms of colour and technique than most makers of ex libris. The etched landscapes are perhaps the least successful and the simpler colour images can be negligible - but then that is true of thousands of other bookplates too. 

But even there is it often hard to know the difference between linocut and woodcut. Because I own a proof of Ex libris Tilly Stock, I can see it must be lino because of the fine tissue he used. But even without having the plate in front of you, the effectiveness of the dead whitish paper of Ex libris Heinrich Uhl is apparent. These may be small things, but they are works of art where even paper and ink play a part. Some of the best bookplate are deceptively simple. What marks them out is the sensibility they express.


See the index for the previous post about Adolf Kunst's work. There are different images.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Gertrude Brodie's 'Castle Hill, Settle'


It has taken a long time for a second picture in Gertrude Brodie's lamps of Settle series to turn up, but it was worth the wait. Castle Hill, Settle (above) came up for auction in Gloucestershire this month and joins The hill over Settle (below) as part of series which may add up to about a dozen drawings. I think it depends how many lamps there were because I assume she did a picture for every lamp the town had. Brodie was born at Redbridge, Essex, in 1882 and went to Settle to teach at Settle Girls High School and moved to Giggleswick School nearby. She also had a career as an illustrator though I have only been able to track down two books, both of them literary. An edition of John Milton's Lycidas with illustrations by her appeared in 1903. The only other book I know of contains texts by French dramatists and came out in 1940.

Settle is a small town in the north Yorkshire district of Craven. As you see from the pipe going  up the wall, Brodie's lamps used gas power. The town had its own gas company and a number of street lamps were installed by the 1850s though on a visit to Settle about eighteen months ago, I noticed none of them had survived. It takes an artist with imagination to do what Brodie did and decide on a series of gouache and conte crayon drawings featuring the town's street lamps. The two pictures we know of are in the same style, with the bold drawing and subtle colours of travel posters of the 1920s. As I expected when I last wrote about Brodie, you can now she made the lamps prominent and emphasised the idea of a series by adding a small lamp beside her name like chop-marks for Koson or Urushibara. Also telling is the free-form style of the trees in line with the Glasgow School. That aside, what makes the pictures work is the descriptiveness - what surprised me during my visit was how true the colours she used are to the town and the surrounding country. This is all down to skill and a desire to get it right. (The photograph I have taken is too blue. The paper of the picture is light cream laid.)

One of the great things about the new image is Brodie's inclusion of the wooden billboard. In a neat touch of observation the sign reads 'J Handby registered plumber gas fitter heating engineer'. There is intelligence at work here. She is not only informative in different ways, she links the series up by referring to an engineer who may have installed the system. This kind of deftness and relevance puts her in the centre ground of modern British illustrative art - she just isn't as famous as Eric Ravilious or David Gentleman. But then she is not as expensive as either of them - not as yet, anyway. Someone paid £460 for Castle Hill, Settle, on 17th February, a lot more than I paid for The hill over Settle about 1984. But as both Brodie and her plumber knew, it pays to advertise. I wondered why there had been so much recent interest in such an old post of mine. Now I know.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

King of the wild frontier: the colour woodcuts of Gustave Baumann


Gustave Baumann has an ambiguous place in the history of modern American printmaking for two reasons. Firstly, he arrived in Chicago from Germany at the age of ten but returned to train in Munich as an adult. Secondly his principal training in the US was as a commercial artist and in Munich he trained at the Kunstgewerbeschule, which is usually translated into English as the School of Arts and Crafts or as the School of Applied Arts and Baumann only gradually moved away from a folksy, commercial idiom to the classic American Arts & Crafts prints he made depicting New Mexico and California that is celebrated for. In this respect, he reminds me of the Australian artist, John Hall Thorpe, who left Sydney for London in 1899 and eventually achieved considerable success by making colour woodcuts on a semi-commercial basis without ever learning how to print.

Hall Thorpe trained as an old-style wood-engraver on Sydney newspapers but never learned to print because all of that was done at the press. Baumann also worked as a commercial engraver in Chicago and took evening classes at the Art Institute before deciding to take further training in Munich in 1905. Training at the state schools was often conventional but Baumann was fortunate to study under Maximilian Dasio and Hans Neumann. Dasio had made an impact with a series of etchings, although the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco say he was also experimenting with lino, something that strikes me as unlikely. We are on safer ground with Neumann who is best known for refined colour woodcuts that depend on areas of shadow or other solid colour rather than a conventional keyblock. Neumann was thirty-two and had only begun making woodcuts in 1903 after being encouraged by Otto Eckmann, but most were were lacking in dynamism and his best prints were not made until 1907 and afterwards. (See the Index for the relevant post about Neumann and Eckmann).

Neumann was by no means a master at that point but he was a contributor to the glorious Munich art periodical, Der Jugend, notable for its vivid promotion of the great themes of modern life - fashion, design and travel. (Vol. 22, 1903, above, shows the entrance to the old port at La Rochelle). On the broader front, in a theatrical gesture, Eckmann had sold all his paintings at auction in 1894 and devoted himself to applied art. Even Dasio gave up printmaking and began designing coins and medals as a member of the civil service. This was the radical applied arts environment Baumann found in Munich in 1905, but when he returned to the States a year later, he continued working in commercial advertising studios as if nothing had happened and when he produced images for a calendar in 1910, the style was conventional and the prints relied heavily on a key-block.

                                                                                                   Annex Galleries

He spent the summer at the artists colony of Nashville in Brown County, Indiana. The woodcuts he began to make that year of Brown County were much less dependent on caricature and when he published a portfolio of twelve prints in 1912 he called In the hills o' Brown (above) modern Munich/modern Vienna wasn't all that far away and this made them obviously better so long as you liked your prints in shades of brown and orange with dominant shadows. The difference was Austrian and German artists would sometimes produce different editions, printing some by hand and sending others to be printed at a press. All the prints from In the hills 'o Brown were produced at the press of The Brown Democrat, a newspaper still in operation today. The impression I get is that Baumann was still not a professional artist but spent time working in Chicago until he left Nashville in 1917.

He visited various places that year, including Provincetown (above in 1917). After the outbreak of war in 1914, Ethel Mars and Maud Squire had left France, settled there and with Bror Nordfeldt and a small number of others founded Provincetown Printers. Edna Boies Hopkins (who had known the other two women when she was working in France) arrived from Cincinnati the following year. This meant many leading American colour woodcut artists were all in one place for the first time. Baumann then began to organise a touring exhibition of his work and went down to stay with Chicago friends in Taos in 1918 so that he could attend the opening of his show in the new state capital of Santa Fe. Offered studio space in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts and a $500 loan to start him off, Baumann decided to stay.

By then his style had begun to change and Nordfeldt arriving at Santa Fe in 1919 was probably beside the point. Having led himself up a blind alley with his development of a white-line technique, Nordfeldt had given up woodcut entirely. The sources for Baumann's change of style are not hard to find. Mars' curious mottled printing, Hopkins' glorious use of bright colour and Neumann's use of blocks of colour were all adapted in a way that was typical of commercial printmaking where style was one of the selling-points. But once he was in Santa Fe, it was the country and its people who set the tone and Baumann proceeded to make a long series of accomplished prints of the south-western landscape. Strong on atmosphere and stylishness, they are often short on detail in a way that Mars and Boies Hopkins never were. Mars, in particular, could be an attentive and witty observer of social manners and it was much the same with Hopkins. Her flower prints were always stylish but gave a real idea of the plants and their colour. By comparison, Baumann often lacked the details that gave a picture meaning and depended more on sumptuous colour and characterful buildings.

This meant American artists like Baumann didn't necessarily have it all their own way. Four years after Baumann's move to Santa Fe, John Platt swept the board in Los Angeles with The giant stride and, what was worse, in 1926 Baumann's Summer clouds was awarded the Storrow Prize for best block print only to have Arthur Rigden Read's colour woodcut Cite de Carcassonne receive the gold for best print in the show (as was only right). It was all very well praising the glories of art colony life in New Mexico, Read had tapped into the great American virtues of self-confidence, flair and showmanship to reach the top and, being a Londoner, he knew all about such things.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Some classic British colour woodcuts on ebay

At last something has turned up on British ebay that I am sure is the kind of thing collectors will be looking for. I mean one of the two images Allen Seaby made of magpies in the classic bird print years roughly between 1903 and 1910 when he turned out masterpieces like Heron, Bittern and Ptarmigan. This is not up to that standard (but then few British colour woodcuts are) and does not have the same impact as his other magpie print. The paper is wrinkled at the edge which probably means it isn't laid down - one of my bug bears.

The print was probably made in the first five years of his career as a colour woodcut artist and (but not necessarily printed then) and before he had the additional responsibility of the post of professor at Reading and before he embarked on his book Birds of the sea and air. I never thought Seaby regained the freshness, creativity and distinction of this period. The blacks are superb, especially in Heron, and the keyblock never dominates.

By comparison with Arthur Rigden Read's Night wind, which maintained current prices for that artist and sold for £1,1170 only last night, this is by far the better print. Seaby had the advantage of studying woodblock with Frank Morley Fletcher while Read could only work from his book Woodblock printing and although Seaby suffered from Fletcher's rigorous teaching in the early stages and struggled with the Japanese method, by the time he made this print he had adapted what he had learned from Fletcher and developed his distinctive manner.

Another little masterpiece but of  different kind coming up is John Hall Thorpe's Forget-me-nots from 1922. For all the easy appeal of Hall Thorpe's prints, his economy of means in this particular one is startling. Hall Thorpe was quite clear that these prints were intended for home decoration and he was careful to introduce a variety of colours and give buyers the chance to adapt the prints to their colour schemes and although he said they were suitable for both a London flat or a country cottage, it seems plain he was providing pictures for people who had both.

Whether we should consider them as works of art is another thing. Hall Thorpe took a pragmatic approach to making prints - not surprising if you consider he had no success until he began exhibiting prints in 1919 at the age of forty. He had originally worked as an engraver on Sydney newspapers where all the images were printed at the press and he always had his colour woodcuts printed at a commercial press. No one has ever said where (and he certainly didn't) but I have a good idea, I think. Printing by hand would have meant two things: the prints would not have looked so polished and it would have entailed a lot of work because large numbers of prints were made.

Also up for sale is The Chinese vase (which I think goes tomorrow) and The caravan. Personally, I don't think either have the appeal of the classic series of flower prints. The Chinese vase has an oriental-looking key-block. What is striking about Forget-me-nots is the way he pulled it off without using a key-block and instead arranged contrasting shapes and colours to define the flowers. The black backgrounds were also an important part of the effect, another reason why I don't think The Chinese vase comes off as well.

                                                                                                   Annex Galleries

Finally, there is Rigden Read's Strangers at the gate, back on after failing to sell with a starting bid of £300. I can't say I am surprised. If you are going to give a woodcut like this the remorseless hard sell, you have to know what you are doing. It is one of the many prints Read produced using a limited palette, an approach that went against the basic tenets of the colour print movement. The founding fathers all put colour first so how did Read come up with dowdy prints like Strangers at the gate? The answer is he read about C16th chiaroscuro woodcuts in the introduction to Woodblock printing and took it from there. The sweep, which was the first one in 1924, was the best, but after that almost all of them were less accomplished, mainly because the thinking behind them was conventional.

I need to add that none of the images you see here are the ones currently for sale on ebay.