Tuesday 21 December 2010

Ida Kirkpatrick (1867 - 1950)

As a parting shot, a painting by Ida Kirkpatrick alongside one of her younger sister's colour woodcuts. Just to show perhaps the complexity of the relationship between them. Unless disaster intervenes, this really will be the last post untill mid January. Once again, happy hunting and happy Christmas to all readers.

Monday 20 December 2010

The definitive Ethel Kirkpatrick

I need to completely revise the few details I gave about the life of the British artist Ethel Kirkpatrick (1869 - 1966). Needless to say, I haven't changed my view that she fits well within the British topographical tradition, is both a keen and accurate observer, a talented colourist, a skilful woodcutter and, last but not least, has the kind of appeal many modern British printmakers can only dream of.

She was born in Holborn, London, the daughter of Mary and Thomas Sutton Kirkpatrick. Her mother was from Yorkshire, her father a professional soldier from a landed family at Coolmine in Dublin. He had left the army the year she was born and the family eventually moved to Exeter when her father was made governor of the prison and then to Harrow-on-the-Hill near London when he became governor of Newgate. There was an older sister, Ida Kirkpatrick (1866 - 1950) who also became an artist.

Ethel had the broader art education, studying at the RA Schools and the Central School of Arts and Crafts before taking the well-worn path of British artists at the time to the Academie Julien in Paris. Some time after this Ethel moved to St Ives in Cornwall where the artist Lily Kirkpatrick lived and worked and where there was a growing colony of artists. Ethel Kirkpatrick also exhibited in the town.

Ida also moved to St Ives but both sisters moved back to the family home, The Grange at Harrow, in 1906. Ironically, it is still impossible to date much of the work shown here except on the grounds of style and subject. The second image of the woman walking towards the full moon could be a Cornish scene but has a French genre feel to it. Both I would think are early woodcuts. The river scene above, variously described as the Clyde and the Thames, is dated 1911. I think the hills are too close and the river too broad to be the Thames but a work of this skill suggests she had taken up colour woodcut a few years before.

The third image with the windblown hedge may be somewhere like Carbis Bay near St Ives. As she probably used watercolour sketches as a basis for her woodcuts, she could have made them quite a lot later. Even so, she must be one of Morley Fletcher's earlier followers, along with Sidney Lee, and once the two women returned to Harrow they made frequent trips to join the artists at Walberswick in Suffolk. Lee also made a colour print there.

The rocky, hilly coasts I think we can safely say are Cornwall rather than Suffolk and I've included another fine proof of Kirkpatrick's view of Mousehole near Penzance. As a woman of independant means and mind, she travelled elsewhere and I especially like this view below of Venice. It shows just how much she took note of the light in Cornwall. Her Cornish pieces are never as limpid as this.

She could quite obviously ring the changes, both in mood and style as you can see from the second, strikingly expressive view of the city from the lagoon. Even if she did train initially with Frank Morley Fletcher, the way she handles those reflections is closer to Munch. Everything depends on the subtle and brilliant tonality and disparate array of shapes. You can hardly believe it is the same artist whose keen eye apprehended the pilchard boats as they left Mousehole.

Readers will have seen this view of the Thames before as well but this is a better image and will appear in larger format. It is strikingly fresh with all kinds of subtle reflections.

The print below of nesting rooks is still near London. In fact, it's at Harrow-on-the Hill, with what looks like a subtle smoggy dawn. Her mauves are as improbable as they are irresistable. The rooks are also a bit flat and unconvincing but she has top marks for the original bird's eye view. One wonders how she got so close. It shows by just how much her work depends on empathy and imagination.

I think the last two images are later work. The first is a Swiss view, the second is called 'Communication, past and present'. The line is sharper and more modern but the tone alot less sympathetic but we have to acknowledge that she always varied her approach. Boats and colour woodcut may have been great loves, but her style changes.

It's fascinating to see her take on the world of the inter-war years even if the print itself is less appealing - at least for me. And I need to add that I was totally dependant on the London dealers Abbott and Holder for these images. They all come from their Christmas exhibition and some are still for sale: abbottandholder.co.uk/ . If you go onto the site, just scroll down to the prints section.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Frederick Carter: portraits & writers

Just before he gave up etching altogether, the British artist Frederick Carter (1883 - 1967) made a small number of portraits that I think are some of the best things he did. He had begun to write himself in the mid 1920s and so far as I know all his etched portraits were of writers who in some way shared his own interests: the novelist TF Powys (above, 1875 - 1953), Arthur Machen and DH Lawrence. The fine if imperfect portrait of Powys dates from 1934. The left eye and cheekbone definitely don't work but I have always been fascinated by the texture he achieves in the hair and the rather deco-ish feel to it all. Not quite what you would expect from someone who went in for symbolist theatricals before the war. I had to include Howard Coster's tremendous portrait of Powys if only for the remarkable tie-and-collar similarities and the way the photographer captures the full-frontal Welshness while the artist produces a sensitive if detached image of an ageing man. (You can see a hammier photo by Coster in the very first post on Mary Fairclough). Born in Bradford in Yorkshire, Carter had trained in both London and Paris, developed an interest in the occult and mysticism and was a habitue of the London bohemian districts of Fitzrovia and Soho. He had certainly made portraits before these. 'Night' above while not strictly a portrait, does tend that way. More conventional is the drawing made in 1912 of his first wife Efga Myers.
'Arthur Machen Esq' below gives the occult writer an even more modernist slant than TF Powys. He makes no concessions to their own writing. Here we have a quite a trenchant if odd portrait of an old friend. It looks rather like something you might see on a Poole vase by Truda Carter. I think they are great examples of work created by an artist out of real interest in what his subjects do. It has always intrigued me that he continued to paint but did no more portrait etchings after these. I think they are rather wonderful, preoccupied works.
The photo of Machen (1863 - 1947) below is amusing for the way Carter picks up on the hat and exaggerates its size in the next etching. I don't really think this was something you would sell except perhaps to people in your own circle. Likewise, Carter never really seemed to register with people who collected prints.
The third portrait of DH Lawrence (1885 - 1930) frustratingly is marooned on my old pc. (The etching has been tried on ebay a couple of times to no effect). Carter and Lawrence began corresponding in the twenties and finally met on the Welsh borders in 1925 which Lawrence eventually used for his novella 'St Mawr'. Carter didn't get to portray Lawrence untill about 1930 when he went to visit him in Vence. (It shows Lawrence with his beard sinking into his chest, which was infected with tuberculosis).
Out of interest I include an earlier and very good photograph of Machen. The styles and the eras are so different. Interesting, too, to see the way Carter's own handwriting below the etching is archaic yet the print isn't.
I also include the small portrait of TE Lawrence in uniform and apparently in Cecil Court in London where books are still sold. A pity really he didn't do his friend WB Yeats browsing in Watkins. But as Yeats wrote, 'We Irish... climb to our proper dark that we may trace the lineaments of a plummet-measured face.'

John Nash & lithography

I hadn't intended to post anymore this year but as my flight was cancelled yesterday, here I am back to British, and this time the painter and printmaker, John Nash (1893 - 1977). Many years before he came to lithography - or rather before lithography came to him - he was advised by his elder brother Paul not to bother with art school and perhaps his lack of formal training shows. He wasn't high-minded and tried all kinds of things - painting, illustration, wood-engraving - but there is something just a touch amateurish about his whimsicality. What I like about some of his botanical illustrations is this: he was both botanist and gardener and he takes it seriously.
The travel poster lithographs of the 1920's were followed by the illustrations of the 1930s (although people like MacKnight Kauffer also used lithography for book illustration earlier on). At the top is one of four lithographs from Batsford's Wild Flowers in Britain, 1938. As it went into at least three editions, it is still inexpensive and widely available in the UK. The image above is from another book in the series, Wild Animals in Britain. This is the evocative back cover - only the dust sheets are lithographs. Not quite so easy to come across.
Alot harder to find (but very rewarding if you do) is this Country Life calendar. Of all his printed work, I think this comes closest to the style of his paintings and makes it particularly attractive to own. I also think the card cover suits lithography more than the paper of the later School Print series. The colours are stronger than in my photo. (This was one of my very best finds!) As you can see, it has ring binding; less obvious is the astonishing fact that Nash received no credit. I wonder if Eric Ravilious got a mention for his work the previous year.
The two School Prints he made for the Baynard Press in the early 1940s are still both available but no longer cheap. Some are also signed. The one above is 'Window Plants'. Despite the rather cosy atmosphere it does remain a very true image of British life. You can still walk down suburban roads and see elderly women sitting beyond rows of the very same potted plants.
What is common to all these images that could be inexpensively produced and made available was a sense of common recording - of both the natural world and different ways of life. Nash's great strength was that he approached the national recording project with knowledge and affection for the subjects. His spurge laurel (daphne laureola) is succinct if not quite in time with his lily of the valley and his real liking for the plant is proven by this being only one attempt he made. (The photo doesn't really get across the sense of scale and pattern across the page and the texture of the print.)
'Harvesting' is the other poster for the Baynard Press. The human and animal interest is provided for school children and their teachers. 'Alot going off' as they say, which was not always true of other prints in the series. For my money, his were some of the most memorable.
The image below is the back cover for 'Wild Flowers', just as beautifully organised as the poster and eqaually executed with the real concern of the adoptive countryman (The family decamped to Buckinghamshire from a west London mansion block and Nash himself went to live in Suffolk in 1945).
Much less well known than the other posters is the one he made for the Lyons tea rooms series. They were intended to brighten up the places left undecorated during war time. In an image like this intended to provide immediate interest, you see what he had in common with his contemporaries Stanley Spencer and Claughton Pellew.
Also with a stronger range of colour, this illustration for Julian Bell's 'Men and the fields'. Well known but sadly not on my bookshelves. The little landscapes and rural episodes provided too much of an opportunity for picture framing, I fear. Also published by Batsford and lithographed by the famous Curwen Press. I don't know whether or not Curwen produced the other illustations for Batsford but all these things are well-worth the search.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

LH Jungnickel: the colour woodcuts

For me the big question about Jungnickel is this: how did he come to make a colour woodcut as original as his Tigerkopf by 1909? Untill then he had earned his living as a graphic artist (see Yours truly, LH Jungnickel) and then as a designer for the Wiener Werkstaette from 1903. Then in 1908 the Workshops and artsist who had ledft the Secession decided to hold their own show as part of their unofficial contribution to the celebrations for the anniversary of Franz Josef. I assume Jungnickel saw an opportunity to exhibit new work and made his first woodcuts specially for the Kunstschau. The tiger's head came the following year. (I don't know the dates for all of the prints here but I've assumed that the paler ones are earlier and the more expressionist ones are later). One thing that is pretty certain, though, is Jungnickel's commercial instinct. After all, this is the man who drew portraits for tourists in Italy and he can play to the crowd just as much as his parrots and monkeys. Nor did he go off to Africa to study his animals but went no farther than the Vienna zoo. He wasn't interested in their habitat and yet he was very interested in their psychology. So, where did his own interest in printmaking come from?
In 1902 he left the Stollwerck factory in Cologne and returned to Vienna where he enrolled at the Imperial Museum for Art and Industry. His teacher there was the designer Alfred Roller who himself contributed a woodcut to the famous square calendar produced by the magazine Ver Sacrum the year after. The modern colour woodcut by then was only five years old and it's interesting that he then took two more fine art courses - at the Munich Academy in 1905 and then at the Vienna Academy in 1906. Presuamably, he wanted to learn new skills and what makes me think it was Roller who interested him in woodcut rather than Emil Orlik is the lack of Japanese influence in his work. He was also less daring than some of his contemporaries but he made prints with impact and appeal - and they won him prize after prize (Rome, Amsterdam, Leipzig and San Francisco between 1911 and 1915). Even so these prints would have been strikingly original and modern at the time even though many artists were now using the square format.
The prints gained him another kind of success. 1911 found him as visiting professor in Frankfurt where he made two architectual woodcuts of the city. The same year saw him make his woodcut of the Schoenbrunner Park in Vienna. The first image you see below is in fact his design for the print and I think the existence on its own of this very accomplished work says a great deal about him and the milieu he was working in. Above all, what was of value was skill. The artists of Die Brucke might have had great talent, vigour and radicalism but Jungnickel was the Viennese craftsman-designer to a T.
It is knowing and urbane. (Remember what he did with hats like those on his postcards). These are exactly the people who would have come to the opening of the Kunstschau in 1908. It's interesting to see how Jungnickel improved on his design - he does away with the rather fussy 'reflection' of the cloud pattern on the gravel path and adds white areas of clothing instead to liven up the foreground. He has learned something from Orlik too (see 'O was for Orlik' in October) while making a more conventional image than Orlik would have done.
But it's the animals prints he does best and another artist recognised this. Norbertine von Bresslern Roth was ten years younger and didn't make her linocuts untill the 1920s and I am pretty certain about two things: firstly that she adopted the square format, the grouping of single species and muted colours from Jungnickel and, secondly, that he is the better artist. It was his innovation that she recognised - and she went on to make some very good, very stylish prints. The real difference, though, is this: her animals never look at you; his animals often do. In their own way, his animal prints are very original portraits. He had tested his skills on the tourists in Italy but had more interesting subjects at the zoo. It isn't just their behaviour that appeaks to him, it's their psychology, and I think this is why he chose obvious characters like monkeys and parrots. They have appeal but they don't have the easy appeal of a Seaby fox or rabbit.
We recognise the hilarious agility and inquisitiveness of the parrot almost straightaway. The violet maccaws of 1914 I'd have thought were later. Leaves and backgound are sketched in in a very non-Secessionist fashion and he beats the Grosvenor School to it by ten years at least with an incredibly lively and original surface. Bresslern Roth certainly didn't follow him into this particular part of the jungle. They look a bit too avant-garde for Graz.
But what really strikes me about these later woodcuts is how much he draws on painting for effect. He describes the paws and spots of his leopard with such care - no offhand attempt at pattern-making. What concerns him is the animal - its body, its emotion.
Which brings us to what I think is his masterpiece, the Pantherkopf of 1916. There are two versions. Both are well-known. I assume the simpler one below is the earlier image. He certainly saw this as a finished work because it's signed. What we are very lucky to have is a second version that takes the leopard into an area Jungnickel had never really been.
A shift of tone, the addition of the orange background and the touches of green, pink and very odd white make this a very compelling image indeed. The whole expression is thrown into relief. Again he saw the possibilities - or someone pointed them out to him. Whatever happened, he came up with one of the great images of modern printmaking. Neither Orlik nor Klemm nor Thiemann got anywhere near this for sheer power of draughtsmanship and directness.
The following year he published his portfolio Tiere der Fabel. The conception is different and they have something in common with Klemm's Vogelbuch. Inventive and humourous, they may well be the last colour woodcuts he made. I've only included one because I didn't want to weaken the effect of the other stand-alone prints.
He certainly continued as a successful artist. The photo of him below was taken at a major award ceremony in Vienna in 1937. He was a boyish fifty-six and only about three years away from disaster. Early in the war, the director of the Vienna Kunstlerhaus failed to send in his Aryan certification. Following this he was denounced for his closeness to Jewish colleagues and he took the same road that Josephine Siccard Redl had taken before him - the one to Istria. Failing to convince the authorities from Abbazia ( Opatije in modern-day Croatia) he spent the war years there. Back in Vienna, the Gestapo emptied his flat, which was finally damaged by Allied bombing in 1945, and he was convicted in absentia of 'subversive activity'. He wasn't able to return to Austria untill 1952n - he had been a citizen of the country since 1918. He only moved back to his adoptive home of Vienna in the sixties.
The poster below is for a 1966 exhibition organised by the municipality of Wunsiedel in southern Germany where he had been born. There is both pathos and poignancy in its provincial attempt to change him back into 'an animal artist of European importance'. I just hope someone warned them about the parrots.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Tranquillo Marangoni (1912 - 1992): the school of subversion

The Italian artist Tranquillo Marangoni received the kind of training that artists rarely do. Born in the north-eastern town of Pozzuolo del Friuli he became acquainted with woodworking tools through his father and first went on to make furniture then skis. Although he had always drawn, his only formal art education was as a topographer in the Italian army during his national service in 1933 - 1934. He was eventually encouraged to take up wood-engraving by friends during the war and he made his own tools and set up a studio in 1942. How much this was a front I don't know but he certainly then went on to test his skills in a very crucial way. He first made stamps to be used on the kind of false identity card you can see below (the partisan in the photograph had the Jewish name Finzi).

This certainly puts a different slant on ex libris which he also began to make. In addition to stamps he also forged German orders and passes for the use of both partisans and Italian soldiers on the Eastern Front. His 'Piccolo egoista' of 1948, at the head of the post, is only four years after the forged document (I'm not suggesting Marangoni made that particular stamp) and is a classic example of what has been called neo-realism. Yet like almost everyone on the post-war scene in Italy, Marangoni's inventiveness was not to be circumscribed by the political conditions of the 1940s or early 1950s.
Gianni Mantero commissioned this ex libris in the same year and it displays that welter of imagery the Italians have at their disposal: classicism, Catholicism and cubism, amongst them. They are all there in unholy and vigourous alliance. In fact, he had tried this image out once before and this is by far the more successful. The firm depiction of the face and beard are particularly good. (Yes, it's one of mine!)

Outside of Italy he is probably best known for these ex libris now. He produced alot. The architect Mantero commissioned hundreds of them from various artists. But Marangoni also made prints like this one of a press (below). And for all the variety of his work, everything is touched with this same intense physicality and complexity. Everything, with him, interlocks and everything sits firmly in the world we live in.

Even so it is an uncanny piece of equipment. He manages to depict what he sees and also suggest something else - a world of real involvement and inquisition. Although his never makes crude statements the man naked on the theatre table has been diagnosed with something possibly the doctors easing on their gloves cannot cure. His drama, first and foremost, is the drama of the human body and all that it contains.

His art is both diagnostic and confessional - get the curtain. So, it all the more suprising to see him creating panels for a liner. We are reminded that Italy has always been a land of both seafarers and frescoes.

He made these designs for the ships interiors in 1958, the same year that he produced this commemorative stamp. It introduces yet another crucial image in Marangoni: the tree.

They are very reminiscent here of the British post-war Romantics. But the stylisation is of a different order: he is analysing the way the world works not regurgitating Samuel Palmer.This is an urban space of interaction even though all of the figures are made of stone. All the other dimensions are here: time, light, public heroism. I think only someone born near the Mediterranean could have produced an art like this.

The sixties see him becoming more refined and perhaps taking a more historical view. In 1967 he became principal of the Liceo Artistico in Genoa, keeping the post untill he was 69 in 1982.

These later images are easier on the eye; they don't make the same demands on our attention. And there are plenty more where these came from. If people want to see more of Tranquillo Marangoni, an essential stop-off is this site marangoni.altervista.org/ which is stuffed with images, interesting photos and other details about him. I think it's run by his son and is in Italian only. For those who don't read Italian, click on Opere (Works) on the left and a list will come up on the right, including stampe (prints), francobolli (stamps), disegni (drawings) etc. Most of these images come from there, so I must credit Aldo Marangoni.
Nota bene: unsigned ex libris like this one come up on both Italian and Austrian ebay. Others are initialled or signed like the one for G Mantero (and may go for around 10€ - sometimes more, sometimes less). The unsigned ones may be re-strikes ie not printed by the artist himself but nevertheless from his blocks. I'm not sure. But they can be very inexpensive and are also very nice to own.