Sunday 31 October 2010

Helene Mass (German)

Helene Mass was born in the eastern province of Posen in 1871, the year of German unification. Like her contemporary, Ethel Kirkpatrick, she first became a painter. She had trained at the Academy of Arts in Berlin before taking up colour woodcut. How she learned and why is hard to say but her early style is well in keeping with the late Impressionism used by artists associated with the Berlin Secession. Her delicate colour woodcut 'The garden gate under blue lilacs' pins her down both as colourist and plein air. Max Uth (1863 - 1914) painted 'The beer garden' below in 1905. As we have no dates for any of her work, it is impossible to say when she began to make woodcuts but it cannot have been earlier than about 1905. She has shifted in this second woodcut towards art nouveau stylisation but in both prints the subject and not the design has primacy. Even so these were exactly the kind of blue trees the Kaiser himself took exception to. (Being a hunter, he said, he was quite sure he knew that trees were green).
This deliberate use of colour is typified by the superb poster for the third exhibition designed by Thomas Heine (1867 - 1948).
Nor could I resist adding this evocative photograph of an early hang. The man on the far right is Leopold von Kalckreuth - see more of his impressive profile under 'O was for Orlik'; also there, Lovis Corinth, third from the left, (see Wim Zwier's portrait of him) and Max Liebermann, the president, turning, as always, towards the camera.
I've tried to include only strong work by Mass. The print below, 'Children in the park' is weaker but continues her parks and gardens theme. Instead of the Luxembourg or the Grande Jatte, she perhaps gives us the Tiergarten and the lakes and wooded countryside around the city. This is what I think. It is a recognisable world, anyway, that she creates, often heavily canopied. (Unfortunately, I've been unable to include an image of a house being overpowered by Virginia creeper in the autumn).
I think these final prints see her moving to a later style, the first probably pre-war. It strikes me there is something more in keeping with Carl Thiemann. But without any documentation, it's all conjecture, really.
There has also been conjecture about her so-called disappearance. Her work certainly isn't common but the reasons for this aren't hard to see. The National Socialist Society for German Culture was formed in 1927, the original Seccession folded in 1933 - and as I've tried to get across, that was about making artists accessible to the public. Then in 1937 all modernist work was cleared from German galleries and museums. If she was still living in Charlottenberg, as I assume she was, the allied occupation of west Berlin after the second war saw her isolated in another way. One source has her resident in the city as late as 1953.
When I bought this last print, I couldn't even read her signature. At least I can see now that she was never really a ruralist. She gives us a familiar world of trees, sky and water, both elemental and suburban, ie the one we know.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

O was for Orlik: the search for a master

First Emil Orlik (1870 - 1932) failed to get into the Munich Academy of Fine Art then in 1893 he left without completing his course. Three years later he was back in the city, making woodcuts with fellow student Bernhard Pankok (1872 - 1943 - that's Orlik's 1903 portrait of him below the anarchist). The revolutionary was his first published woodcut, the ostler standing in, I would say, as Orlik's model.
As uncompromising as he was stylish, this ostler came from An Alphabet by the British artist William Nicholson (1872 - 1949). This was published in 1898, the same year that Orlik made his woodcut and also the year that he visited Nicholson in London. Nicholson was two years his junior, in fact, already married and with a failed project behind him. In 1894, he had set up the Beggarstaff Brothers with his brother-in-law James Pride (1866 - 1941), aiming to produce commercial posters in the way Toulouse Lautrec had done. Flop it was, but it was the first recognisably modern work in British printed art. The stark simple images were the result of necessary technical restraints because they needed to be produced cheaply but the effect on Orlik was just as graphic. (Despite eventual success with his book of woodcuts, Nicholson just put them behind him. You wonder what he made of his visitor from Prague.)
I'm not certain when he made his greyhound below but here he out-Nicholsons his mentor. He dispenses with colour altogether and concentrates on line, the vocabulary is more Nicholson's than the obvious loan in the anarchist print. Now Orlik is fluent.
He also had a model for the co-operation between artists that had come about in the 1890s. Co-operation and craftsmanship had as much a part to play in his father's tailoring business in Prague as it did amongst bohemian artists knocking together periodicals in Munich. The men below all look as though they are stitching shadows; one man reads, the others sew and listen; quietly this really is a wonderful piece. (Compare the use of areas of black with the Nicholson woodcut).
The tailors stand in absolute contrast to the bench of unemployed in a London park. The London types might be Nicholson but the ad hoc descriptiveness is not. Orlik is attempting the naturalism of the times. Social comment is more Nicholson; Orlik is strong on milieu but we still note the smoking chimney in the background. His observation is also acute. You still find Londoners in snazzy trousers striding down The Strand today.
Orlik had been far from idle. He was gaining some succes. His work was going into print rooms and being collected but he saw the kind of mastery he was after half-way around the world and March, 1901, saw him in Genoa, setting sail for Japan, and not just any old woodcut pilgrim but the very first. Once there he achieved a kind of self-translation that very few artists would attempt: he learned the conventions of woodcut production in a printmaker's workshop where three people were involved in the process. The people, heads down, occupied in their work, the words on the wall, are familar. Even the madder he might have seen in a Beggarstaff poster. What is new is this: subtlety, refinement.
Gone is the sparing use of colour and the awkward line. These Mount Fuji pilgrims in the straw capes and hats surge forward across planes of oriental red.
In the same way, he breaks with one convention to work on another. His Temple Garden of 1901 is as littered with symbolism as a Gaugin glimpse of Tahiti. You understand that his stay in Japan was not only about learning a craft from a master because this print is quite unlike the previous two in feel.
Even more enigmatic is the gravel garden below, the break with realistic colour complete. He has moved from Hiroshige to Erte, articulate in everything. So, somehow it shouldn't be
surprising that two years after his return he could turn out this quite masterly etching of the painter Leopold, graf von Kalckreuth (1855 - 1928). Calm, distinguished, the subtle modulation hardly monochrome at all. It is almost photographic in its confidence and a million miles away from the humble preoccupations of his Prague tailors.
Hardly surprising as well that the year after he made this print, he was offered the position of head of graphic art at the Museum of Applied Art in Berlin. His portarit of Kolo Moser (1868 - 1918) also dates from 1903, telling in the way he chooses woodcut for the stylish designer and possibly about the nearest he gets to Lautrec. One minute he speaks German, the next it's Japanese.
And finally in 1904, in this portrait of the broad-backed, bull-necked Ferdinand Hodler (1853 - 1918), we also see him gradually turning away from it all. Creased neck, receding temple, tangled ear, this is the artist no longer young, turning leftwards and away from us, to all the images that lie behind him - masterful images indeed.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Ralph Mott (British)

I recently had an email from Gerbrand Caspers asking about a couple of prints that were up for sale marked RAM (you can see them on his latest post on The Linosaurus). Quite independantly, I came across the print of Sarajevo below signed by the artist Ralph Mott. Or not by the artist Ralph Mott would be nearer the truth.
The name is a pseudonym for the British graphics agency Ralph & Mott who employed various artists - hence the wide variety of styles. The cheeky people even got someone to sign it! Some dealers and price-sites even give him dates! Not that it's a bad image; and the poster above for the English Peak District is even more desirable (it looks like Wilkinson). As I was considering a post on the subject and I had the day off, I thought there was no time like the present. Once I saw Gerrie's post this morning, I was convinced his prints were from the same operators. The question is: who were the artists they employed? Now that would be interesting to find out. Back to you GC.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Mary Fairclough in the studio

Tara Heinemann has sent me some photos of more proofs and prints by Mary Fairclough. I'm starting off with the best linocut by her I've come across, this powerful portrait of a gypsy woman. I've seen this for sale before so I'm certain it's a finished print and looks like another of her portraits based on a photograph. (Please bear in mind that many of the ones below are working proofs as Tara used to own a studio folder).

Just to show she doesn't always go for high drama, we see her in gentle mood, with this subtle study of alder trees. Although I was about to say I thought she was strongest on portraits, I love the heavy horses below. A tremendous sense of them moving forwards as they graze into the wind.

I particularly like the massed shrubs in the foreground here. Try and think of how many British colour printers at the time attempted both portrait and landscape - not many. Not entirely successful of course. The farm buildings are ungainly and the trees look obviously overprinted.

Finally her portrait of Captain Digby. This is definitely a proof. The whole image is larger and unfinished. It was a working proof for book illustration. Fairclough did in fact go on to write and illustrate books for children after the war.
Many thanks to Tara who will be standing at Antiques for Everyone at the NEC Birmingham, 28th - 31st October, 2010. That's next weekend. Be there, or be square.

Friday 22 October 2010

Walther Klemm (1883 - 1957)

Here is a print I would very much like to own but I will almost certainly never see for sale. This sums up the reputation Walther Klemm now has: virtually impossible to obtain anything worth having. Brought up in Karlsbad in what used to be called the Sudentenland and is now on the western edge of the Czech Republic, as a citizen of the Habsburg Empire he went to study in Vienna. There he met the person who was to kickstart his career: Emil Orlik, freshly back in 1902 from studying in a printmaker's workshop in Japan.
As a native of Prague where he had a studio, Orlik also knew Karlsbad and made this woodcut of the Castle spa rather in the style of Vallaton before he left for Japan. Now he was back, with a unique and tremendous experience and skill, which he began to pass on to Klemm. Why he should have made this effort, we may well never know but we can see the almost immediate effect on Klemm in his Heron print of about 1905, a stunning disquisition on mass and line. An analyst, Klemm, through and through.
He then moved to Prague himself where he met Carl Thiemann. Not only did they share the same home town, the pair set up in a studio together and produced a joint set of colour woodcut views of old Prague (a rather murky affair, I have to say). Whether or not Emil Orlik also introduced Klemm to the author of 'Metamorphosis and othe stories' in the city, I couldn't really say but the pelican below has alway struck me as half-Darwin, half-Kafka. It is his most obvious work of analysis, the way this unlikely bird offers its abnormal wing, as decorative as it's disturbing, the print a masterclass in control and tone.
Klemm and Thiemman moved on to the artists colony at Dachau near Munich in 1908. Klemm left in 1913 to take up a professor's post in Weimar, leaving Thiemann to make a whole career out of late symbolist colour woodcuts while Klemm himself never made another. (Orlik after making great efforts to perfect woodcut did exactly the same thing around about the same time.) The turkeys and pelicans always make me think of dodos. There's extinction written into them. The fact that Klemm went on to turn out alot of unextraordinary monochrome prints and illustrations - the kind that collectors like me have had to make do with - is pretty disheartening. Light, shade, line, colour - he brought them all to an almost childlike simplicity in this print of turkeys.
Look at the way he organises the space between the figures and cattle in the first print and the way he handles the recession from that high viewpoint. If that isn't print perfection, then I don't know what is.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Dorothy Burroughes (British, c1895 - 1963)

Dorothy Burroughes is an artist we know far too little about. Even the spelling of her name has caused confusion. I know nothing at all about her; the only prints by her that I have ever seen are the one illustrated here and one I used to own. Both are monochrome linocuts and very similar in style, relying for their impact on very bold cutting, powerful borders and the contrast between deep black and translucent hand-made paper. Both prints have these big structural clouds with diagonal cuts behind, with the light bouncing off wherever it can. Reproduction completely loses this effect. The subject of the one I used to own was quite opposite to one you see here: a ploughman drives a horse and plough up a far too steep hill with some very unlikely furrows zig-zagging across the picture plane. Again the same boisterous cumulus clouds. I don't think it could be anywhere but England.
Burroughes is closest to Ursula Fookes (1906 - 1991) whose linocut 'Shakespeare Memorial Theatre' 1930, is here for comparison. I don't think Fookes comes out it all that well. Just looking at these two images here, it strikes me Burroughes is the better artist although my old print was nowhere near as complex as the industrial scene. And it's this choice of subject and the deliberate feel to what she is about makes me add the famous cover of the war edition of Blast! as a tail-piece.
Incidentally, I hope the person (or institution) that now owns my old print is more deserving of it than I was at the time. (Let's face it, if I had been, I'd still have it now). They may also be interested to know it was used as the illustration for the Burroughes entry in British Printmakers, 1855 - 1955 (Garton, 1993). I can no longer lay a hand on the book and it may contain more information than I have here. It just makes you sick, it really does.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Julia Mavrogordato sets sail

In September, 1935, the SS Orion left Tilbury Docks in London on its first voyage to Sydney with hundreds of these menu cards on board. Passengers requisitioned these examples during the August, 1937, voyage. All were from a set of eight linocuts designed for the Orient Line by Mavrogordato (1903 - 1992). The card in reality is pale buff rather than the dull pink you see here. She was something of an exotic bird herself. Born on the Isle of Wight, she was educated at Headington School and St Hilda's, Oxford, her mother the artist and illustrator Elsie Napier Bell and her father from a well-known and wealthy Chios family some of whom had moved to London by way of Pera in Constantinople. (They were patrons of the Orthodox church in Bayswater's Moscow Rd). Whether or not she drew from life is open to question. Her mother certainly had New Zealand connections before her marriage. Mavrogordato herself graduated in 1925 but there appears to be no record of art school training. Perhaps having a mother an artist was enough. But I am sure having Ottoman grandparents to hand would make you feel different, certainly cosmopolitan. The subdued sophistication of these menu cards would have acted as both incentive and reminder as diners worked their way through ptarmigan, turkey and peppermint fondants (my favourites!)
I used to find the cards oddly unexciting but there's a finesse and gentleness about them that I've grown to like. They are also a good example of the increasing use of intelligent graphic design by companies and a nicely pitched blend of elegance and exclusivity. Something tells me she knew her market. (Speaking of the market, there should be lots of them out there; they were in use into the 1950s).

Thursday 14 October 2010

Richard Chopping (British, 1917 - 2008)

Richard Chopping would never have seen himself as a printmaker - later in life he came to see himself more as an author than an artist. But his career began at the age of 25 with these illustrations for British Butterflies, in the series of Puffin Picture Books.
He had been introduced by the illustrator Kathleen Hale to Noel Carrington, editor of the series. She had made the lithographs for the Orlando books and significantly enough Chopping both lithographed and wrote what must be the finest of the Puffin books.
He had trained, after a fashion, at Cedric Morris' school of art in East Anglia, never believing that he had really grasped perspective even. That stood him in good stead as you can see from the shallow depth and subtlety of tone in these memorable illustrations. He was probably also lucky with his editor who decided to offer him a subject that relied on more colours than most his other artists were allowed.
Page after page, they spring out at you, fresh and spectacular, as the day they rolled off the press. Indeed, they were so successful, Allen Lane, the publisher of both Puffin and Penguin Books, then gave him his head with the illustrations for the 22-volume British Wild Flowers.
After seven years work for both Chopping and the writer Frances Partridge the whole project was dropped due to the expense involved. What it would have been like no one probably now knows. All we have are these little books on cheap paper as testament to the belief that fine illustration could be both popular and affordable and that art and education had a common purpose.
Readers will perhaps notice the pattern in recent posts - the vigour and intensity of youthful vision. I think Chopping sums it up.
British Butterflies was published in 1943, all the illustrations drawn directly onto the plates, which were printed by WS Cowell at Ipswich. They are still available for next to nothing in both paper and board covers, on ebay and in the more eclectic second-hand book shops around the country.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

A German Deco mystery

As I now find I need a new printer for my new pc, here is a fine decorative linocut I kept elsewhere. By an artist I just cannot identify, it came to me from Berlin and I assume it's German. I would have thought from the quality that the artist would have some kind of reputation. It's printed on wonderful handmade japan, presumably a commissioned piece for Maniu Posselt. Not really the kind of thing you would stick in a book but rather what you would expect on a Clarice Cliff plate - only it's better than Clarice! Richly printed and wonderfully evocative, I hope it wins over any doubters out there: ex libris are sometimes worth buying. It's about 15 x 12 cm so is a nice-sized small print. It's exactly the kind of print that makes you want to learn more about the artist. Someone somewhere must know.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Wim Zwiers (Holland, b 1922)

A post about the Dutch graphic artist, Wim Zwiers, by way of thanks to Gerbrand Caspers for help and support. Gerbrand's blog The Linosaurus is a lively and likeable addition to the 'Raiders of the Lost Print' genre. I was pleased to be able to tip him off about Adolf Kunst (1882 - 1937) because he found (and bought) a bookplate by AK with an alacrity that impressed me no end. I am almost as pleased to say that it wasn't the colour woodcut below. This one belongs to me (and no doubt to many others).
Kunst's rough and ready approach to woodcutting isn't Zwier's style. Zwiers is one of those few artists who have mastered both intalgio and relief methods of printmaking. Emil Orlik is another one that comes to mind. Both men's skills led to teaching careers - Zwiers between 1946 and 1974, I believe. On the international scene, he's best known for his ex libris, both as a copper-engraver and a wood-engraver but he has also painted, sculpted and done work in glass.
I suppose it's the private nature of the commissions involved that explain just why so many bookplates are erotic, one way or another. These two blow-ups don't really do the vigour of one nor the delicacy of the other that much justice; they are finer in reality. But small.
Unlike British ex libris, many Europeans ones have been signed since the early C20th and many are now in numbered editions. This does guard against unscrupulous practice -I mean the photocopying of monochrome prints, in particular.