Saturday, 22 July 2017

Summer holidays


Modern Printmakers will be on holiday from today for a week, so there  may  be a delay to replying to comments. Please leave them all the same for other readers.

Friday, 21 July 2017

A Sussex wave from Japan, the colour woodcuts of Eric Slater & Arthur Rigden Read: Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

In 1934 Arthur Rigden Read gave fifteen of his colour woodcuts to Hastings Art Gallery. I don't know of any of his contemporaries who was quite so generous. Read's prints were by no means cheap in the thirties and if he had been thinking about posterity, the British Museum or the V&A would have been the places for them to go. But, no, Read kept it local and I assume the fifteen colour woodcuts form the basis for the current exhibition at Hastings.


The exhibition also includes prints by Eric Slater who is nowhere near as good a printmaker as Read, but he will help to bring in the crowds. It would be fair to say they formed a local school of sorts in the late twenties and thirties, but the Reads lived in Sussex for twenty years only and many of his subjects were French or Londoners or people like the Romanies who came from nowhere, so it's a shame curators try to give a minor artist this duff local slant. Read may be minor but he deserves better. As does his wife, who appears in a number of his woodcuts.

The show runs from 27th May to 3rd September and will appeal to the summer crowds as well as local cognoscenti. It will be worth going simply because I know that Read bequested a number of prints that are rare enough to be unavailable anywhere online. Certainly I have never seen  some of them, but they have not been included in the booklet that has been published to coincide with the exhibition. But the less said about that little effort the better.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Yoshijiro Urushibara, a Japanese printmaker in London: Hilary Chapman & Libby Horner


The problem with quite a few people who write about art is that they do not know how to look at pictures and they do not know how to look at pictures, because they have not looked at enough of them and do not know their  Manet from their Mategna. This may not always matter all that much, but in the case of the subject of this book, he was not only Japanese, he had been trained to work in the style of other artists, and then worked with many artists in France and Britain and no-one is more nuanced than Yoshijiro Urushibara. Ignore this at your peril. Unfortunately, the authors do.


But there is more. It is imperative, if you want to study any artist properly, to have a chronology of their work and, basically, a catalogue like this ought to do the job. What is lacking with Urishibara is an adequate number of dates for many of his prints and no amount of other detail can make this book do what it says it does. In that case, why did they try? And the answer is, 'Because they wanted to'.


They are not the only writers to divide a catalogue into rather naff sections like 'Florals' and 'Creatures'; Dominique Vasseur inflicted the same indignity on poor Edna Boies Hopkins in 2007, but what else could they do?  The predicament was a predicament of their own making, but producing a catalogue is one way of avoiding too many critical judgements, except of the very obvious sort. All we get is Chapman saying she believed the work he did with Brangwyn was his best. She doesn't explain why, so I needn't say why I disagree (although I think earlier work like 'Ruins of a Roman Bridge' are very good): what you see here is what he did best.


Obviously, not only these; there are others, but I have written about Urushibara's prints elsewhere on Modern Printmakers. Libby Horners' essay on the artist is very good and well-researched though some material is still missing. Hilary Chapman's essay 'Urushibara and the British colour woodcut in the Japanese manner' is thirty years out-of-date and counting. Why bother?


One criticism that has been made about  this book concerns the size of the illustrations. The standard of photography is good and I would say that everything you want to see is there, along with a lot of things you would not want to, minor work after Frank Brangwyn being my own bugbear. It's the same with the text in the main catalogue, which has you wading through details  about exhibitions and incomprehensible lettering. If you enjoy flipping backwards and forwards, this may well be the book for you. This is a missed opportunity to do Urushibara justice. The authors only had to look at Robert Meyrick's 'Sydney Lee' of 2013 to see how this new book should have been done, but  this is all we have and I am afraid Chapman & Horler will be the standard text, whether we like it or not.


For a different view of the book, read Darrel Karl's insider take on things on 'Eastern Impressions'

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ken Hoshino


As it is Urushibara week, I offer this post on the scholar and dealer, Ken Hoshino, as my contribution. Hoshino was born in Japan but  left in 1898 to study at Columbia University in  New York City. Following graduation, he then moved to London where he eventually set up a business selling prints on Chancery Lane.


He was in business by 1907 when he sold 23 images to the British Museum. The woodblock by Utagawa Yotohiro (top) was one of them and the image of fighting during the Sino-Japanese War by Gessa  c1904  (below) was another. In between them  there is a 1912 advert from the Froebel Society Journal for the popular bird and flower prints. (I await identification  and I am not  going to put much money on Koson).


Hoshino's London career came to an end shortly afterwards. He fell ill and returned to Japan, leaving the business in the hands of a British employee who ran it until the end of the first war, when Ken's nephew, Hiroshi, came to London and instead of selling prints, imported Japanese celluloid toys, which were passed on to East London traders at considerable profit. Such is life.

It was this later period that is perhaps of most interest to Modern Printmakers. In 1910, William Giles produced a colour print of Stonehenge (below) based on a series of drawings he had made and in its turn, this became the basis for a colour woodcut by Urushibara, or, rather, a series of colour woodcuts where the Japanese artist built on the variants Giles himself had made. The whole process for Giles had been a complex one of selection where many of the esoteric overtones of the sketches and etchings he made, were removed.

Urushibara's images were made some time around 1912 or so. Many are signed and are quite clearly colour woodcuts, but at some point at least two different images were published by Ken Hoshino and Co. According to the Japanese Gallery the Hoshino Stonehenge print they had for sale was a lithograph. It had a chop-mark like the one you see here and an inscription (see below)  but no signature.  I have never seen one of these Hoshino prints, so I am  not going to go in for any guesswork or conjecture. It's  interesting all the same to see Urushibara taking a commercial approach (as his old employers did in Tokyo) at a stage where he was beginning to make prints of his own. It was not untill 1920 that The bamboo vase, his first truly independent colour woodcut, was first exhibited in London. It was a long apprenticeship but there is a process here, I think, and an acute one.


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Yoshijiro Urushibara, a Japanese printmaker in London: Hilary Chapman and Libby Horner


It was in the nature of things, I suppose, that  Yoshijiro Urushibara went to live somewhere on the boundaries of Holland Park and Notting  Hill  (according to which source you go to) when he first came to live in London. Never an easy printmaker to get  quite right, the first attempt to locate this intriguing artisan-printmaker, teacher and friend has been made by Hilary Chapman and Libby Horner in this book published in  May, 2017. It is essentially a catalogue of his prints and includes essays and other biographical material.


My thanks are due to Darrel Karl who alerted me to the publication on his blog and who  helped the authors with his considerable expertise. (The link is on my list). I will be reviewing the book once my copy arrives.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Colour woodcuts up for sale (and one you missed)

A reader commented a few days ago that he was lucky enough to buy four Kenneth Broad colour woodcuts and now has one of them for sale. I suppose between us Clive Christy and myself managed to raise the profile of Broad and I have also worked with his grandson to put together a check-list of his colour woodcuts. So, I do not want to sound proprietorial about Broad but, as my reader offered to send an image of 'Across the harbour, Whitby', I thought it was about time I posted it myself.


But, you will see I have begun this post with a print by the Austrian artist, Engelbert Lap, simply because it is one I am selling myself. Yes, I know, it's shocking but the renovation of my cottage in Wales calls for firm action. So, Engelbert must go. Nothing wrong with it. It's in wonderful condition and well-framed and comes up for sale at Mellors and Kirk, Nottingham, on 23rd and 24th November, 2016. The catalogue should be online of not now then soon. The image you see isn't mine but shows another impression that was sold not long back in the US. There is another version here for interest's sake.


But much dearer to our hearts than Lap is Kenneth Broad and I was very lucky to pick up this unsigned impression of  'The harbour, Britainy' not so very long ago on ebay. No one else was interested presumably because no one had identified the print as by Broad. I only had the title to go by but I think it's Broad at his crowded best and will going on the wall in Wales once it has been framed (and the wall has been painted). It belongs to a later group of prints that includes, 'A Breton Fair' and 'The quay, Whitby' that were all exhibited at Colnaghi in London in 1932. More formal than his earlier prints, they find him making use of perspective in a manner no other British colour woodcut artist could. Trained as an architect and with an individual sense of colour, he may not have been much of a water-colourist, he could make literate and very satisfying prints.

As you see, 'Across the harbour, Whitby' isn't half as good. I would date this to 1921 or 1922 and is similar in approach to 'Mitcham Fair'. He had found his own subjects but he was still not all that successful with the Japanese method he was using and that makes the prints look rather slapdash. By 1922, when he exhibited 'The fair, Southwold' at the Royal Academy, he was in control. That isn't to say, everything after that was good but by and large he had a fair number of successes. This is not the impression currently for sale; this one belongs to Broad's grandson but no doubt you will be able to contact the seller somewhere below (if he sees this new post, that is).

Last but far from least, is the work of another British artist dear to the heart of many readers. It is of course our own S.G. Boxsius. The only image of his ploughman generally available till now was so small, it was hard to make any judgment about the print. It presumably shows the South Downs in Sussex. There are a number of images of Sussex by him and I always believed it was an early work but looking at it now, I am pretty sure it's linocut, so who knows? I don't have a date or title. He was certainly making linocuts by 1925 but there are no firm dates for his prints until 1930. Notice how Boxsius the subtle colourist is already at work and, let's face it, anything by Boxsius is worth having if you have some cash to spare. This one belongs to long-time reader Klaus Voigt who can be contacted at This one is the image for sale and it's the first time a good image of this particular print has appeared online so many thanks to Klaus for that.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Some colour woodcuts on British ebay


There has been such a dearth of good colour woodcuts on British ebay for such a long time, I began to wonder whether anything decent would ever appear. Kenneth Broad's pair of nursery printsare now for sale and they are good, but we have seen them more than once before and, what is more,  I remember the way they set the whole show rolling when Clive Christie bought them soon after he had started his old blog 'Art and the Aesthete'. Arthur Rigden Read's virtuoso Stormy seas has never appeared on British ebay. The only image available online until very recently was one lifted from The Studio, a 1920s reproduction that did Read's print little justice.


Stormy seas is not Read at his very best. It owes a lot to Hans Frank's 'Seagulls' of 1924 although in many ways, it's the better print. Read was never averse to pinching good ideas and often made witty use of other artists but he had a weakness for birds and they failed to bring out the best in him. 'May morning' was an early exception; for all its bravura and undoubted skill, Stormy seas is seascape and Read just wasn't any good at landscape and was wise enough to avoid it and concentrate on figure subjects or still life. Am I being too critical? I don't think so, because when Read's prints were good, they were very good indeed, he just wasn't a good enough artist to avoid a hackneyed image like this one. That aside, the sense of the waves and the play of white and green is pretty sensational really and very clever. The print makes a very rare use in British colour woodcut of the technique known in Japan as karazuri or shallow embossing. You can make out what is happening on the detail at the top. And in case, you dod not recognise this image I have used here from its recent appearance, it's because the proof you see here belongs to Gerrie Caspers from The Linosaurus, so many thanks to him for a superior photograph.

Far more of a surprise for me was the appearance of Phillip Needell's The mill at Cley. I'd never seen this before and was not at all aware that Needell could turn out anything as good as this. It is just as conventional as the Read but unlike Read, Needell understood the conventions of landscape art well enough to come up with this pleasing and delicate image. If it owes quite a lot to French artists like Henri Riviere or Lucien Pissarro, the way he has broken the image down into a series of marks is surprisingly modern for him. We could have done with more of that and less of the mill. It is certainly far more satisfying than E.A. Verpilleux's lurid treatment of the same subject. At £200, it was not a bad buy either and I was expecting it to fetch more.
Needell and his wife spent a lot of time in France, especially after his retirement. The sketchy understatement, the delicacy of mood and poetry of space recalls personal favourites like Corot and Seurat and it shows how much an artist who lacked thorough training as Needell did, could nevertheless respond to great artists and make something satisfying of his own. I only wish he has done more like this. Or perhaps he did and we still haven't seen them.

Hugo Noske has never really been on my radar and has never had a post to himself on Modern Printmakers but why this fruity autumnal image remained unsold the other night, is just beyond me. The colour is rich, the description of dahlias, rudbeckia, helenium and montbretia is apt and frisky and it would look better on a wall than either the Read or Needell.  Not evocative enough, I suppose, no real sense of the collectable about it, that would be it. Solid, yes, but all the same, I think it's rather glorious.