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.


  1. These are all very fine prints, some rarely seen. You've given this printer a nice exhibition and the research done a welcoming enlightenment on his times, life and work. Thanks !

  2. My God, you can see where Norbertine von Bresslern-Roth took her influence! It's astonishing and rather wonderful also.

  3. It took me by surprise, too, and I just wanted to try and get the record straight as I saw it. Bresslern Roth was a prolific printmaker and that has helped keep her in the shop window.

  4. There is a well-illustrated book on Jungnickel by Ilse Spielvogel-Bodo, published in Klagenfurt in 2000 by the Johannes Heyn Verlag: "Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel. Wunsiedel 1881-1965 Wien. Ein Leben fur die Kunst."

    Jungnickel's drawings and paintings are very different from these outstanding woodcuts; to me they look like a different artist. Jungnickel also created textile designs, some with animal motifs and some with abstract designs very much like those of Koloman Moser.

  5. Useful information, Andreas. Thank you.

    It's an obvious problem when writing about an artist like Jungnickel. The main sources are usually in German and not widely available.

    I agree about the often striking difference between the paintings and drawings and the woodcuts but the woodcuts themselves are diverse. The style isn't constant even there - a Secessionist approach for the earlier ones and then a mix of art deco and expressionism for some of the later prints. It's also in the nature of printmaking that artists go for dramatic effect. It's their immediacy that makes them so appealing and that may ratchet up the style.

    The stencil sprays have more in common with the drawings, including sometimes a sense of pathos. But that is present in his later woodcut 'Pantherkopf'. His sense of humour also
    comes out in the parrot woodcuts. That leads to the exaggeration of caricature.

    He was very much the working artist who tried out many things during his career.


  6. Jungnickel's success and sad life is a reminder of artistic life under political opression. It is typical for German authorities to forget the Nazi times and NOW promote the
    artist (formerly hunted) as their "own."