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.


  1. No doubt Klemm is one your loves. The outburst of highly interesting postings and inteligent observations a pleasure to read. And learn.
    His cattle market diagonal composition in black and white is just wonderful. He is telling a story in a little square. It must have been almost scientifique designing it.
    Analising the the Turkey composition you are right: everything is perfect here. The light, the animals caracter, the sloping field, the posture and pace, the colors and temperature, the time of day, the harmony and balance of all components.

  2. PS: together with Clive's posting on Walther Klemm (jan. 2009) resulting in pretty broad nutshell view in this wonderful artist.