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.'

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