Sunday, 14 November 2010

Carl Thiemann (German, 1881 - 1966)

And now we finally come to the inscrutable Carl Thiemann. Always quite hard to know quite what to make of this artist but here goes. He spent his childhood in Karlsbad or Karlovy Vary as it's known in Czech. The town was then a part of Austria-Hungary, an empire that ran from the German border only a few miles from Karlsbad to Brasov in what is now central Romania. That would have meant very little to Carl who lost his father at the age of eight. What that meant was that instead of becoming an artist, he had to study business and help support the family. Even so, by 1905, when he was in his mid twenties, he was a student at the Prague Academy.

He followed the conventional course, studying painting, etching and lithography but when he met Walther Klemm at the academy all that went out the window. Colour woodcut came into his life - so much so he has come to exemplify the central European woodcut artist, period. How did he get there? Certainly Emil Orlik was of profound importance. He had passed on the Japanese technique to Klemm and in 1906 the pair of Karlsbaders set up together in a studio outside Prague and began on a collaborative book detailing the backstreets and allies of the old town. (See the first image). Subdued, subtle, he concentrates on the cramped life of the everyday. Staying with the elongated image, he introduces pattern, light and water and finally sets sail.

By 1907, he was creating image after image, some realist in a Japanese way, others like the one below far more dependant on the stylisation of art nouveau. These are landscapes of atmosphere where nothing happens. A sail is lowered, someone has left a washing basket in the street, and that's all.

What does happen though is that, as the year progresses, his palette finally begins to brighten and he starts to make the images for which he is now so famous. 'Birch trees in autumn' is, of course, a classic image by him, extraordinary for the vivid concentration and play of light. Others were more daring but no one made the Secession look as natural as he did. And this may help to explain why the following year he moved to the artists colony at Dachau some miles from Munich. It had been founded in the C19th but Thiemann and Klemm were among a second wave of younger artists (the Berlin secessionists like Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth being among the first) who had revitalised the colony.

Klemm stayed for five years but Thiemann married, built a house (see below) and got a job at the Munich Debschitz school in 1909. He certainly looked harder at the natural world and the landscape around him. But with a wife and family to support, I suspect the businessman he had had to become came into play once again.

Look at the way he adapts the wildly symbolist landscape of the Munich painter Franz von Stuck. He dumps the academic rigmarole and fancy-dress von Stuck loved and gives us uncomplicated image after image. Highly prolific, he worked in both colour and monochrome, producing cheaper unsigned editions detailing the woodwork of medieval Germany as well as the stark trees and glamorous boats that set the collector's heart beating.

He produced this snowy road to nowhere in 1909 and was elected a member of the Vienna Secession the following year. Basically, his career had taken off, with a very recognisable style and successful exhibitions.

Interesting as well to see what Klemm was doing at the same time. His 'Great Horned Owl' of 1911 has the sense of delicacy and living things that Thiemann never really has.

But Thiemann is the ultra colourist, quite able to describe this azalea in its pot, ready to hang on the sitting room wall. Klemm's art is an art of the mind, in the end; his friend appeals to the eye, he aims to impress (and he succeeds).

I have to say I particularly like 'Stream in winter' from 1915. He takes a suprisingly raw and painterly approach and very much succeeds in getting across the density of the air and the coldness of the stream. It is decorative and all tone but this is also the real frozen world of war-time.

He was still only in his mid thirties here, moving from the lyrical colourism of the early century towards the deco of the post war period. This print of an absurdly colourful lake is as elegant as Erte but less effortful. I still remember my amazement when I found 'Abend' below in a junk shop - the intensity of the colour, the deeply stylised horizon, the dishevelled sails. It is cold and unlikely as a dream but utterly desirable.

I think he knew this. It is the only print I know by him which he printed with a different colourway. It may well have been for the market (it was also sold by picture dealers in England) but there is also the sheer flair and joy of pure printmaking here. I have it beside me now and I assure you reproduction doesn't communicate its impeccable sense of scale or the daring of the raggedy keyblock or the depth of colour. My best buy ever...

I'm not sure in what order the tragedies struck Thiemann but both his wife and daughter met early deaths. Certainly, I've never seen any work later than his Venice pieces of the twenties but he was famous enough into war time. The Anscluss had taken place in March, 1938, followed by the Sudenten crisis in April, and the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1939. A 6oth birthday exhibition with over 200 exhibits was organised in his home town of Karlsbad in 1942 which was by then part of greater Germany (See map). It was a normal thing for German-speaking artists and writers to move between countries - I wanted to describe the way Orlik, Bormann, Leschhorn and Klemm all did this. It strikes me that Carl Thiemman did it with conviction.


  1. Dear Charles,

    I am a bit interested in Thiemann’s art myself, also because I happen to live only 5 miles away from the house in Dachau where he used to live and work. I find your observations very much to the point.

    However, I must admit that I don’t think that the ships were Thiemann’s greatest works. I feel that the Japanese were much better in designing naval motifs, especially Hasui and Hiroshi Yoshida (Do you know his woodcut “Three Little Islands”?). I get the impression that Thiemann tried to show that he could do this as well - and normally failed.

    I prefer the woodcuts in which he follows his unique and individual vision, such as the “Birches” that you mention. I love them not only for their breathtaking display of colour, line and light. I also find it remarkable that in Thiemann’s print there is nothing of the lank elegance that these trees so often stand for in art: He was more interested in the trunks, and he shows them in close-up, all twisted, as if the trees had to struggle to grow into the light. You mention in your blog that Thiemann had a hard life and repeatedly was struck by loss of his loved ones, and I cannot help but think that the “Birches” also reveal parts of the artist’s character and feelings in that regard.

    This might be a daring and subjective interpretation. But on the other hand: isn’t this what we expect from the greatest of art that displays landscape – and especially from woodblocks – that it mirrors the human soul!


  2. Firstly, Klaus, thank you for taking the time to comment with such care. I strongly suspect that you will have a print of 'Birch trees in autumn' beside you as I had 'Abend' beside me. 'Abend' is the only Thiemann I own unfortunately but what you say sums up the problem of talking about prints when you have to rely on books and online images. To some extent I was dependant on Per Amman's 1989 book 'Woodcuts'.

    You were certainly correct to detect a preference (actually it's for post 1918 prints) but I am sure that if I had also had some birch trees beside me, I would have been just as appreciative! It's always better to write about art you can see in front of you.

    You might see that I've posted Yoshida's 'Three little islands' alongside 'Abend' for people to compare. (I have to admit, I didn't know it). Although Thiemann had looked hard at Japanese woodblock, I think he remains more European in his approach to woodblock making than either Klemm or Orlik. For all the similarities, the two prints are very different in feeling and I have to say that for me personally that is where Thiemann wins out - on feeling.

    Which brings me to your insight into his treatment of birch trees. I do completely agree and don't think what you say is subjective. It's the combination of structure AND feeling that is often so extraordinary in his work. They are often both tough and atmospheric, the light and the leaves move around these formidable trunks. As you say, for all their decorative qualities, these birch trees of his are how they actually are.

    I am going to re-post on Paul Leschhorn, another artist with more trees than people.

  3. i love how many images you have found by so many of my favorite artists, many i've never seen.

    though you probably already know all of them, here are three other artists who liked to play with color

  4. Lotusgreen, I go back to a time well before the web so can fall back on books and catalogues (as well as things I own). The problem with the internet is that it does tend to reproduce itself.

    I try not to duplicate too many images and with you and Clive out there - specially you - that isn't always easy! So, thanks for the appreciation. And for the link.

  5. me too -- re: going back to "book time." i not only have bought a lot of books on the subject, but also while i published a magazine during the 80s and early 90s i was able to request and receive review copies of all these wonderful books that were suddenly being published. so now i have a whole wall of them.

    but you take these wonderful photos which i can never seem to get, and plus i suspect that you have quite a number of spectacular books i've never even seen! (i'm trying to hold back waves of envy!)

  6. No spectacular books, as you imagine, lotusgreen. A few nice books, yes, but more importantly a patient and thorough image-researcher.

  7. I have a picture of Abend. it indicates it is the original. signed in what apears to be pencil. It looks like its on japanes/rice paper 8.5 in by 15.5 in. signed C thiemann. Any idea of value?

  8. Sory about the late reply. I've been away.

    The value depends on the condition and also where you sell it. 'Abend' also is far from rare. It should fetch the best prices in Germany and Austria and it seems to come up on ebay there for €200 or €300 but I can't say I follow Thiemann prices.

  9. "One day" I would say to myself sitting, "I am gonna check out who this 'C Theimann' fellow who created this piece of art" "Abend" hangs (in all places) in my half bath off from my family room. Its always had a very uncommon dreamlike quality to it. I know...some people read newspapers in there...Well, the piece...since having read your blog has been moved to a more prominent location in my family room. I recieved the piece from a relative's left behind items after her death. My only regret is having not taken the accompanying art piece resembling an odd mixture of Asian/European landscaping...but the same woodcut work.

  10. I'm glad to hear Modern Printmakers has led to Thiemann being upgraded in your household. I wonder where that is? I mean, which country do you come from? I am very curious about old people who had work as good as Thiemann to leave for relatives. I found mine is a junk shop.

    Did you see that I have another post called (I think) Three Versions of 'Abend'? Just google it.

  11. My aunt was an officer in the American military during WWII. She served as the lead healthcare provider for many of the Nazi concentration camp survivors. So, much of her travel was spent throughout Europe...primarily Germany and Italy. Abend is a not a rare piece. It is one that could be found in many countries. When I would visit her. This particular piece always caught my eye. So, when she passed away I was asked if there was anything I might want from her home. I immediately made a request for the Thiemann work. As I mentioned before. I regret not asking for the accompanying Thiemann work. I am sure, without knowing the significance of the piece....that piece may have found its way into a closet or a thrift shop....

  12. It was the same story everywhere. Work like 'Abend' was sold by British provinical art dealers in the 1920s but eventually they were disregarded by the people who inherited them.

    Your aunt obviously had a good eye because by the the time she acquired the Thiemanns after the second war, he was out of fashion. 'Abend' was one of his most successful prints.

    Because he was a professional artist and made prints all through his career, there is still alot of his work available in Germany but he is still very collectable, all the same.

  13. In the lower left corner there is pencil writing I can barely make out what is written. I do recognize "Abende" clearly. BUT, there is a long etching above the title to the piece is this a common marking?

  14. Some of the woodcuts were inscribed by Thiemann 'Original holzschnitt handdruck' ie original hand-printed woodcut, followed by the title, 'Abend'. I think that must be what yours says. Inscriptions by artists are always on the left.

    The top left has Thiemann's monogram TC. Is that want you mean by a long etching?

    By the way, William P Carl Fine Prints has 'Abend' for sale at $1,500, probably twice as much as you should have to pay.

  15. One thing I forgot to say was that your aunt may have bought the prints directly from Thiemann himself. The artist's colony he lived in was near Munich. That might help explain why it is inscribed.

  16. After further review, you described exactly what I believe is written in the lower left hand corner. I read many things that have described the monogram "TC" in the upper left. So that was clear to me. But, that lower left inscription had me stumped.

    This process of discovery with you has been quite exciting. As for the know what that is all about. You can price it at a million, but, it still needs an admirer to buy it at that price. Such, is the world of dashed hopes and dreams.

    Thanks for walking me through this moment with TC...

  17. Oops....I just noticed...its "CT" not "TC." Thanks again!

  18. I think you could read it either way because it's a C crossed with a T. I think he had other monograms.

  19. This discussion has truly re-energized my fondness for Thiemann and it's exciting to see how much more work is viewable online these days!

    I remembered there was a striking poem on my blog about that colony along with some info about CT. It's HERE.

  20. What a surprise! I thought about you when I was doing the post about Campbell Grant, who came from Oakland, but I didn't think we were going to hear from you. I know I haven't said much on Japonisme but I had a whole year preoccupied with family problems. Is the blog pending, or what?

  21. You never talk about that kind of thing, Charles; I'm sorry to hear it. I must have missed the Campbell Grant post --not a name that I'm familiar with, so I'll have to check it out! I guess the problem is that, despite my knowing how wrong it is, I do most times look at the images you post, but fail to read the copy. I do look at every picture, though.

    As far as I'm concerned at the moment, I'm not continuing the blog. That's what feels right for me now. But... I should add that -- well, you know the magazine that I published from 1981 to 1996? I have been dreaming over and over recently that I was publishing one more issue! So "done" doesn't always mean the same thing.

  22. I thought it would be something like that. First Clive, now you.

    I know what you mean about looking at the pictures. I do much the same, so it's OK. Japonisme was specially demanding at times - the small print.

  23. Back in 1995 my great aunt died. I had a cheap painting from her in a frame. My wife wanted it re-framed and took it to a framer. Got a call a few days later saying they had found an original painting inside that frame. We had no idea this was behind the original tucked away to preserve it I guess. We have always wondered about it and still do. This has been on our wall for this past twenty years inside the new framing. It is without a doubt a Carl Theimann original titled "Schwane". Shows 3 Swans on water, reflected in the water. Mostly green colors. Bottom left are the letters C with the T overlaying it and under that it says "original" followed by two more words I can't make out. Any ideas on this would be great. Would like to know the history. We live in Colorado. My Great Aunt was from Hungary. Never ever saw this painting until after she died. She was born in 1898. The painting is signed on the lower right side.

  24. If anyone knows anything about this Schwane painting I described about please contact me at Thank you

  25. Well, it isn't a painting, it's a colour woodcut, made by Thiemann in Germany in 1916, and shows swans on a lake at Nymphenberg. He almost certainly used another woodcut of swans by Hans Neumann as a model.

    The inscription you can't read will say, 'Original holzschnitt handdruck' ie original hand-printed woodcut.

    Thiemann was well-known and it's possible your great-aunt bought the print in Budapest or Vienna. You could also buy his work in England after the first war.

    You will be pleased to know Paramour Fine Arts at Franklin, Michigan, have it for sale at $1400. It would be less in Germany but he is very collectable all the same.

    I will do a post showing both swan woodcuts, so you will be able to see the Neumann.

    1. WOW, thank you. Have had this "colour woodcut" (don't know what that means) for over twenty years now and always wondered about it. I was hoping for 14 million but I guess that isn't the case. ha ha However, it is definitely worth keeping and preserving, and probably having re-framed again professionally. Something to pass down to my Grandkids with a story behind it. It will always be a mystery as to where did it really come from, who really bought it, aunt Martina or someone else.

  26. If you have it framed again, make sure the framer uses acid-free mounts because they will help to preserve it for your grandkids. It looked in good condition.

    A colour woodcut is a type of print where the image is built up by cutting into blocks of wood, which arwe then inked and printed in succession. Thiemann was a great expert.

  27. I do believe the framing it is in now was done with the acid free paper or mounts. Wife was pretty good at making sure of that due to some other paintings we have had framed. I think they called it "museum framing" or something like that. Thank you for the help.