Friday, 11 March 2011

Full many a glorious morning : CW Taylor

I wouldn't normally associate the British artists Willam Blake (1757 - 1827) and CW Taylor (1878 - 1960) but both men began their working life as commerical line engravers but went on to make poetic relief prints, Blake's original and important, Taylor's assured and distinctive. This places them in a small but distinguished group of artists, along with the likes of Wim Zwiers and Emil Orlik, who mastered both intalgio and relief methods.

Looking at the first two prints, a wood engraving, probably of Kent, and a line engraving, certainly of Essex, there is little to choose between them in style and nothing really to say why he has chosen one technique rather than the other. So, he is not so much the self-conscious artist as the accomplished practitioner. But engraving produces a cooler, sharper image, perhaps suited to the marshland near the sunniest coast in Britain.

Taylor came from neither of the counties that he went on to describe in his prints. He was brought up in Wolverhampton and proved himself during an apprenticeship with a commercial firm of line engravers because he went on to train at the Royal College of Art in London. Far better known for its etching class at the time, Taylor first found a job as an art teacher in Southend and from 1926 onwards produced a body of prints which are some of the most instantly recognisable in British art.

Despite almost all his prints depicting landscape during the early morning in either July or August, it is still hard to say exactly why they have such a peculiar intensity. It isn't merely that he presents the countryside at its most lush and fruitful. The fact is he employs a complex range of tone, light and shadow, perspective and detail. He also uses more than one method in some prints and it is this attention to both method and detail that somehow lifts him out of the ordinary. The effect of rediscovering lyrical and unprententious work like this after the worst of the brutalism of the avant garde in the sixties and seventies, is hard to exaggerate. It represented both a lost England and a lost clarity.

Many of the images have the immediacy of advertising and they now seem to typify one of our views of the interwar years. But he subtley disorientates us, in some ways just as much as the modernists do, tipping trees and lanes, oast-houses and fields, one way and another. This manipulation of planes and surfaces and his sharp sense of the tactile express as much the sensibility of the poet as the craftsman. Hence the opening phrase from a Shakespeare sonnet. Rosetti described the sonnet as a 'monument to a moment'. It describes the small prints of CW Taylor to a T.


  1. These pictures are almost photographic. What an incredible craftmanship and patience carving them. I wonder how long it took him. But then time was measured differently in those days.

  2. They are precise and factual up to a point (rather like this blog) but the camera can't record things in this way. He doesn't appear to select at all but the use of tone is subtle and understated.

    Nor is he unusual among British artists of the time. Have another look at the 'Class of 21' post last September to see how Goldsmith's students approached the countryside. The common denominator is the etcher Griggs.