Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Josephine Siccard Redl (1878 - 1938): Istria

If any artist could be a perfect fit for this blog, the Austrian artist Josephine Siccard Redl may well be the one. I say Austrian but she was born in Prague and almost certainly spent only part of her adult life in Vienna. Siccards had been artists there as far back as the late C18th and she herself became a fairly standard colour woodcut artist. Then I take it she moved south to the coast of Istria. And I think it was Istria made her into a mature and quite exceptional printmaker.

The peninsula lies at the head of the Adriactic. When she was born, it was part of Austria- Hungary, with a population of Slovenes and Croations and people on the western coast who spoke a Romance language that is a cousin of modern Italian. This led to the province being given to Italy in 1919. The artist was certainly there some time after that. The first image is inscribed: 'Harbour of Laurana, Italy'. You can see the village marked on the map, across the gulf opposite Fiume. I have to assume she was living there, or in the area, because many of these prints have local connections, but I cannot be sure of this.

The boats are trabacole. They are Venetian luggers, with two masts and triangular, or lug, sails. You will see how well she handles the complex arrangement of masts and sails, rigging and bulwarks. Here is someone with a love of the sea and boats. It is her use of rich brown and gold that marks out this mature work. The boats also have the sturdy treatment of Carl Thiemann with subtle and striking rhythms across the picture plane.

This chapel by the sea is also near Laurana. I specially like the worn uneveness of the path and the shadow. The clarity of the light helps to explain why she went to Istria.

I couldn't be 100% sure that these are Istrian country women but they are drawn with such sympathy, I had to include them. Some Austrian artists at the time went in for images of country people and it's a shame we don't have more figure subjects by her. I like the way she insists on their privacy.

There is nothing shy about these daffodills. I suppose they were a subject she had to tackle at some point. They are stylised but unlike her contemporary English wood-engravers, she knows where to stop. What matters is the subject; the manner of representation is always subordinate. The broad brushwork on the gleaming Chinese jar is in vivid contrast to the jostling daffodills. She is the most painterly of all the colour woodcutters, even more than Thiemann.

One certain fact we have about her is that having come to Italy, she then left for Argentina, where she died at Rosario just north-west of Buenos Aires in 1938. We can only guess at the reasons. In 1922 Mussolini led the blackshirts on the march on Rome and by 1927 there was enforced Italianization of the population of Istria - no education in their own language, for instance.

This next ship is a nao. To be exact it's the 'Santa Maria' that carried Christopher Columbus to the Americas. Whether or not she made these prints in advance of the journey to Argentina or afterwards, I can't say, but I would say before. When I first saw them, I thought at first she had joined the ranks of the galleon artists - they were popular images during the 1920s and 1930s in Britain. But it shows real imagination to turn her attention to historic ships when she is going on a similar journey herself. This isn't the usual historical pastiche. The boat is lively and buoyant

I have to say 'Bon voyage' untill the next post with this last image of Columbus' three ships sailing off into a very Siccard Redl sunset. The 'Santa Maria', which Columbus had never been happy about, was to run aground in the shallows off Hispaniola where he abandonned it. I think you will agree that Josephine Siccard Redl also told a true if poetic story and kept afloat.


  1. Charles,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, not only for the intersting information about Siccard Redl's life, but also for the empathic tone of the text!


  2. Klaus, it was one emphatic person responding to another. If you enjoyed it, well, so much the better! Gruss von Istria.

    And, responding to a comment Gerrie made ('WHERE did you find those images?') I don't think some of the later prints have had any real exposure untill now. I was very pleased to find them and I do hope I have done Siccard Redl a small amount of good.