Monday, 21 February 2011

Josephine Siccard Redl: lost images of a lost province

Ever since I discovered a cache of images by the Austrian artist Josephine Siccard Redl (1878 - 1938), my admiration for her work has been growing. The purpose of this second post (see JSR: Istria, November 2010) is to share new discoveries and to try and clarify matters, as best I can, to do with her rich and unusual colour woodcuts. Not everyone of the images here were lost. 'Peppers', of the two Istrian country women, is a much better photograph than the one that has been currently available. And I have to say here that I have never seen an actual print by Siccard Redl in front of me and many of the photos that have been available are poor and do not do her work justice. I also made the mistake of judging some of her earlier work, presumably produced in Austria, as rather ordinary. Better images show that they are as good as her Adriatic work but more conventional in their subject matter - old Vienna, or the Tirol. Mea culpa seems an appropriate response.

I know of at least 38 colour woodcuts by her, excluding versions. The night scene of the farmhouse on this post also has a daytime version; 'Bernabitengasse' has variations with figures and different colourways etc. The range of subjects is wide: landscape, Vienna, maritime, flower studies, even a portrait, which you can see above. To go over the basic facts about her: she left Prague with her family to live in Vienna, she worked and presumably lived in the old province of Istria then left for Argentina, where she died at Rosario north of Buenos Aires. I don't know whether she lived permanently on the Adriatic, whether she visited before the first war, and if she continued to make prints of Austria in mid-career. (The interior of Istria had long been part of the Holy Roman Empire, the coastal area controlled by the republic of Venice. Austria took control of the whole area in C18th, with Italy taking over in 1919). Many of her Austrian images are inscribed in German but we have 'Vieja Viena' in Spanish so she must have been producing proofs in Argentina. The fact that many of these images do come from her estate obviously confirm this. Some of the Istrian images are in Italian, others in English. Make of that what you will. Not only did she use four languages, her handwriting changes to some extent. I say all this only because I want to be fair to this - yes, under-rated printmaker. At her best, her colour woodcuts are painterly and rich in a way that very few are.

The cutting is expressive, the printing unfussy, warm tones of golden yellow and brown occur frequently. Her subjects, like these two women, often stand against an unobtrusive linear background that pulls the image together and I think in this she is a student and follower of the Vienna Secession. There is also a considerable imaginative response to her subjects. Take, for example, her portrait 'Giuliano de' Medici'. He was a man; she has portrayed him as a woman. She appears to have based the portrait on the bust attributed to Verocchio but for all the curls, that was obviously of a chap. Is this a self-portrait? I think this is what we would like to know. Or is it a portrait of someone she knows? The donkey-cart, with the load of baskets under a cloth, leaves as many questions unanswered as the facts she offers. Where is the owner and what is the donkey waiting for? Are they a fisherman's creels? I particularly like the three bands of colour and pattern that cart stands against. The ordinary has become mysterious.

'The arbour' at the head of the post gives us the archetypal view of Italy: a pergola with vines, twining roses, the rustic column and intense light. It evokes an idle midday but there is nothing lazy about the bravura represenation of shadow and reflection - the flecks of light on the column are intensely telling. She does everything she can here to evoke a response in the viewer. You sense there is an underlying narrative to much of her work.

Which leads me to the series of reconstructions she made of the three ships used by Columbus. There is something rather fantastic about the boat shown here. The interesting thing is that the more details and colours she gives, the more curious it becomes. The fisherman below on the lagoon is more straightfoward. I think we can assume that Venice appears on the skyline (she did make a woodcut of Venice which I have been unable to track down). Of course, both Ethel Kirkpatrick and Carl Thiemann used exactly the same subject but neither of them made the work of a fisherman central to the picture. Siccard takes an invidual line with an invidual place.

Finally, we come to what I assume are Austrian subjects. The sketchy figures and trees remind me of Oskar Laske and suggest that she knew his work. Equally, the quite unrealistic use of an overall subtle green to suggest dusk is admirable. I have to say I'm not quite sure what she has done here. She has signed the image itself, which is more common on linocuts, so they image may have been trimmed for practical reasons. Both prints are intimate but there is a conventional detachment about both of them, I think. I hesitate to say that the Italian work shows someone working from an immediate, passionate response but that is how I see them. Even so, I like this small church scene very much.

Finally, I should say that, so far as I know, I have not so far come across any print with an Argentinian subject. This is curious in itself because it looks as if she continued to print from her blocks once she arrived. Her imaginative involvement in the whole project is beautifully expressed in her woodcuts of Columbus' little fleet. Her obvious love of boats, and everything to do with them, found strong expression in her marriage of historical discovery with the direction of her own life. As the print below suggests, the world is part hidden, part blank, part waiting to be found.


  1. Again you've created a Special and First with both postings on the life and art of Josephine S-R. I totally agree: she deserved it. Did you know she was thought to have perished in the Holocaust before discovering she died in Argentina even before the war. The use of the nice warm yellow (against the brown not black!)is striking in her Italian and Sailingboat prints. The donkey and two market woman prints far more complicated than at first sight. Should there be more of these or a series in existence? One would hope so.
    Again you did the Austrian printers great honour Charles.

  2. There are more to come but I think all the Italian prints have been posted now.

  3. she's wonderul. i love the vespers church. i had only seen her floral bouquets (which i've run) and her boats (which i've not), but just recently i came across one of an evening church in the snow which these remind me of.

    i think i now want to do a post of as many artists as i can of thave done something very similar to that single boat. may i use yours?

  4. Of course, Lily. The idea is to let people see her work. I am very curious about your church image.

  5. We actually have a copy of the ship (Columbus) shown above, except our boat looks charcoal gray with bright turquoise/red trim. The sails are orange & yellow as shown here. We have a second print of a gondola in a Venetian canal with a background of beige buildings and green trees. The corner on this picture has a crease. Does anyone know who we'd talk to or what we would do to diminish the crease without causing damage to the print?