Friday, 4 February 2011

Mabel Royds: at her best


A reader kindly sent me some prints by Mabel Royds (1874- 1941) not long ago and as I knew that readers would enjoy them, here they are. Some are rarely seen and others I have never seen myself. I like them all so it's a personal choice but once I had the images you see here all together, I noticed for the first time how well she uses both black and white. Looking at them, you would scarcely believe I didn't intend to make a point. The use of white as a form of negative space where she has chosen white subjects like goats, cyclamens or lilies shows by just how much she considered what she was doing in her prints. There is none of the usual recourse to snow - even at its most subtle as we've seen with Paul Leschhorn. What, of course, she does do is take a close look and crop the image quite severely, giving all of them - even the French genre scene of the girl leaning over the fence - a quite abstract feel. It shows by just how much abstraction was an underlying theme even with representational artists.



Another notable feature is her sense of rhythm and pattern. There is nothing showy about these images. They are as well-thought-out as they are understated and I think you can see exactly why she became a teacher. Here is someone who is as much in control as the girl is with the goat. So far as that image goes, I particularly like the way the girl and the animal face different ways but that she connects them with the pattern made by the fence. She relates them with considerable care, one as tied as the other. One daydreams while the other eats. This is quite some way from the standard farmyard scene.




Her admiration for the workmanship and activity of the people of India is translated here into great craftsmanship of her own. She presented the Indians in her prints as busy people, absorbed in what they are doing. The sense of slowly opening flowers - specially these lilies - may put us in mind of the underlying symbolism of oriental life. But she never tries too hard and perhaps she is barely conscious of it herself. Although I prefer the later prints, I still now think the flower woodcuts of the 1930s very much follow on from the Indian work of the 1920s.







One reader had already made a request for the waterlilies and hopefully this image is satisfactory! I found myself almost taking the texture of the print for granted but it is quite unusual - it looks like a linocut the way she has printed it. Her brushwork doesn't really show up on any photo but thank you once again to John Shillito who provided all of these.









11 comments:

  1. you and john are my heros-- THANK YOU!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's an absolute pleasure, Lily. You deserve it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Charles,

    these are wonderful, a feast for the eyes! Her prints of flowers / plants (I like her grapes, too!) are definitely her best works, much more sophisticated than her prints from India, if you ask me.

    I think you are right when you say they have an "abstract" feel. They seem so much more modern than Noske's flowers, for example (I don't want to mention my grandma again.) The softness of line and colour in the lilies (that apricot background)is magnificent!

    Most of these images I had never seen before, so thanks for posting them!

    Klaus

    ReplyDelete
  4. The girl and the goat is fantastic - what a brilliant combination of the dreamy and the grittily factual. And I suppose that is what you are essentially saying by pointing out the combination of the figurative and the abstract even in such an apparently conventional composition. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. John Shillito told me earlier how much it means to him that readers appreciate Royds' work.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pleased you like these, Klaus. As you know she made the Indian prints some while after she returned to Edinburgh and they lack spontaneity. The experience obviously meant alot to her. Formally the flowers have alot in common with her previous work. As I do with your grandma.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Neil, I never thought I would find an image like 'Girl & goat' quite so rewarding. I agree with you it's a very good print - less sentimental than similar work by Janet Fisher, Ethel Kirkpatrick and Louise Glazier. Whilst I admire all of them, Royds is more of a modern imagist than they are and she puts more into her work. I wonder if we can see the effect of her stay in Canada.

    I hesitate to draw a parallel beween Walter Sickert and the goat.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I wonder, and look forward to the explanation, why these examples of Royds work were hidden for so long. I thought I'd excavated most examples of her prints available on the Internet by now but these were all new to me. And yes the goat print makes you smile and wonder. Even when the goat would have been facing the other way. I wonder what Mabel's (Mrs Royds')message in the print to us is.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Gerrie, the whole purpose of my blog is to keep you guessing.

    These examples weren't hidden anywhere. So far as I know this is the first time they hve appeared online.

    ReplyDelete
  10. And you succeed very well Charles. There is some contradiction in your second statement however. I.m.h.o "not online" meaning hidden these modern times. Thanks for unhiding them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Modern times? Give it a rest! No one is hiding anything but there are genuine restrictions. Apart from that, there are still far more images out there than exist online. It doesn't mean they are hidden, it just means that for one reason or another, they haven't been seen on this marvellous internet.

    Patience, Gerrie, is a virtue.

    ReplyDelete