Sunday 31 July 2011

Ethel Kirkpatrick Society: Colour woodcut tour of Cornwall

Here's a nice irony. Even the colour woodcutters went down to the west of Cornwall and made prints even though the idea behind the colonies of artists at Newlyn and St Ives was to work outdoors in front of the subject. What had attracted artists was the opportunity to paint marine landscape, not something taught in the academic schools. Unfortunately, the artists didn't prove as tough as the  fisherman they liked to paint and it wasn't untill the completion of the railway line between London Paddington and Penzance in 1859 that they were able to undertake the remarkable journey between Exeter and Cornwall. In the 1880s that they began to up easels in Pont Aven and Concarneau in Brittainy and move to West Penwith where they found wonderful light, cheap lodgings and incomprehensible subjects.

Above HM Brock's woodcut-looking poster for 'The Pirates of Penzance'  (first performed in New York in 1879), there is a real woodcut by the British artist Sidney Lee (1866 - 1949). I will say now that I have bought prints by Lee in the past and the only work by him that I would now buy are his few-and-far-between colour woodcuts. This one must be earlyish so far as printmakers go in Cornwall and, even better, is one I'd never come across before. It may not be the first wave; it's nice but is it plein air? I don't believe Lee was a painter ( I don't think he could draw very well) and I have no idea how he went about making The bay, St Ives. It may have been something he worked up in the studio some time after a trip to Cornwall. But he was there and obviously made visual notes in front of the subject.

Much the same could be said for Cornwall coast by Elizabeth Colwell (1881 - 1954). The main thing here is that Colwell was from the US so this isn't just some parochial British thing we're dealing with. Although British artists had drifted from Brittainy to Cornwall, they had continued to exhibit in the Paris salons, gaining an international reputation for a remote Cornish port. There is also more of an attempt in Colwell to capture some effect of the light though frankly not that much. It's also more Japanese and nuanced than anything the hapless Lee could manage. It took an artist who we know had worked in France to actually put together the idiom of colour woodcut and the ethos of plein air and make a success of it. This artist was the redoubtable Ethel Kirkpatrick (1870 - 1941).

Now, readers will know that I have banged on about Kirkpatrick more than once before and I will tell them frankly that I have by no means finished with her. But with Summer we have a new and scintillating woodcut. And one that shows exactly what kind of artist I think she was. I cannot say hand on heart that this is a Cornish view but I believe these are Cornish luggers. This isn't a mere decorative work. Just like her view of Mousehole (see The definitive Ethel Kirkpatrick, December 2010) this is a descriptive work capturing the intense and shadowless light of summer as if she were actually there making the woodcut in front of the subject. This would depend on two things: good sketches and a good memory.

Less of a success but no less interesting is this woodcut of the jetty at Lamorna Cove. Lamorna is some miles west of Mousehole (and was a well-known hang-out of the painter Samuel Lamorna Birch). Now this we can date to 1916 because it was the print Frank Morley Fletcher (1866 - 1950) used as an exemplar in the first edition of Woodblock Printing. A contemporary of Lee and Kirkpatrick, we know Fletcher took the lead in his interpretation of Japanese woodblock and that both the other two artists must have followed his example - Lee, as I've said, occasionally, Kirkpatrick with a passion. But it's the Cornish connection that is so striking and unexpected. I don't think he ever did any other work down there and so far as I know there is no documentation of an FMF trip to Cornwall. By 1916 he was working in Edinburgh, a very long was from Lamorna in those days. But I assume this small print does reflect his own brush with plein air.

We are always on firmer ground with the artists of the 1920s and John Platt is no exception. By 1921, when he made The jetty, Sennen Cove, he was head of applied art at Edinburgh College of Art while Morley Fletcher was principal. I think this firms up the Cornish connection and, as it happens, Sennen is another few miles along the coast from Lamorna. He also produced 'The Irish Lady', Land's End (below) in 1922 and Mullion Cove on the Lizard peninsula. He also made a print Brixham Town, in Devon as it happens but it looks more like St Tropez, and was still painting in Cornwall during the second war though plein air was definitely out the window by then. Platt moved from job to job as principal of colleges of art, often part time so he could print and paint. Meticulous and with great craftsmanship, I think I'd still rather have something a bit smudged.


With this 1927 linocut Mousehole in Cornwall by Ernest Watson (1889 - 1964) we are quite some way from the Colwell approach and utterly remote from Kirkpatrick. Like Colwell, he was an American but came to Cornwall in the 1920s when the impetus had gone out landscape painting. Lee and Kirkpatrick had also moved on from Cornwall and began to make visits to the artists colony at Walberswick in Suffolk (alot handier for London) and where Lee also made one of his rare colour woodcuts. The dullness of Watson's surface only goes to show how the earliest printmakers working in Cornwall really were using their imaginations and expressing something of what they saw. (And if anyone is at all skeptical about the Kirkpatrick/Cornwall connection, please compare the luggers in Ronald Lampitt's 1936 poster for the Great Western and in Platt's view of Sennen Cove with the fishing boats in Summer!)

Thursday 28 July 2011

Winifred McKenzie


The facts are many, the print works available are few is how I'd describe the present situation for the Scots artist and teacher Winifred McKenzie (1905 - 2001). She spent her early childhood in Bombay where her father was in business. George McKenzie had once trained with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, no less, and in 1913 returned his family home to Scotland where his two daughters attended Prior's Field School. In 1923 McKenzie moved on to the Glasgow School of Art to study painting and drawing. And it was here that she first came across the printmaking MacNabs.

Like McKenzie, Chica MacNab's family had spent time in the far east and she now set about introducing her to the woodcut. The extent of her success can be judged by the colour prints here, more modern in feel than the work of Ian Cheyne who had also studied at Glasgow and was over ten years her senior. She applies an easy faux-cubism (at least to our eyes) and certainly has a more abstract feel than Cheyne but comparisons are unavoidable partly because the standard he set for younger Scottish printmakers were high ones. As you also can tell from the two Scottish subjects The old bridge, Dalmally and Haslithal, McKenzie rose to the challenge. She was awarded her diploma and teacher's cetificate in 1927. The challenges were then compounded by Chica's brother, Iain.

A former student at Glasgow himself, Iain MacNab (1890 - 1967) had opened the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in Pimlico, London, in 1925. The teachers included the linocut luminaries Sybil Andrews, Claude Flight (who left in 1930) and Cyril Power but McKenzie, I think fatefully, turned to Macnab and his class in wood-engraving. That was 1932. And while The law mill, St Andrews is fine work, frankly, it could be almost anyone. Well, perhaps, not anyone, but someone good from the 1920s. But she made this print in 1949. The family, certainly including her mother and younger sister, Alison, had decamped to London in 1930. It may have been the difficulties of war or the London blitz or the availability of work that drove them back to Scotland. Both sisters had exhibited in London but between 1940 and 1945 Winifred taught wood engraving to allied servicemen at St Andrew's, University (the course was especially popular with the Polish students) and then in 1944 set up the wood-engraving class at Dundee College of Art. She retired from there in 1958 but was still painting (as she had said she always would) untill she died.  Incredibly, that was only ten years ago. How long it will take for her stylish, sumptuous colour prints to get the recognition they deserve is anyone's guess. Paintings by her there are many, colour woodcuts there are few.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Phillip Needell: northern patrol, Japanese manner

Phillip Needell (1886 - 1974) has the distinction of being a Londoner who avoided the subject of London. (I've only seen one painting of some barges on the Thames). His great love was rural France and the small, old towns he found there. They wouldn't have had much in common with the mixed neighbourhoods of Islington in north London where he grew up. An interest in art was already there but his father found him work in a bank. Undeterred, Needell attended classes at the Polytechnic School of Art in Regent St. This was probably the only formal training he had. Nor was it a school of fine art. The main course was vocational and students received bursaries to attend.

Even so, he was accomplished enough by the time he joined the Royal Navy Reserve in 1916 to have produced a poster for a fund-raising concert organised by the London, Country & Westminster Bank. It's a bold-looking affair in gouache, similar to the early work for the Underground by F Gregory Brown. Here was a young man who was aware of contemporary styles. He may not have been very interested in London as a subject but he clearly gained from growing up there. The two years he then spent at sea with the Northern Patrol on the Atlantic approaches to the North Sea were also to have their effect. The sea is important in a number of his colour woodcuts (though not on an Ethel Kirkpatrick scale) and his letters home to his wife Anne show him sensitive to light and atmosphere.

If that isn't Anne Needell at work on her embroidery, the woman in this small illustration (it's the best I could manage) is certainly her; if the woman embroidering is Mrs Needell, then it adds irony to the subject because the needle and thread poised above the artist's signature involve a pun on her married name. My first reactions to Needell's work are sometimes adverse. I find them a bit outlandish and Embroidering from 1923 was no exception. But it has grown on me, as they say, and I like both the personal touch of the needle and the bird that appears to come to life. And again, here is an artist aware of the fashions of the time. The vogue for chintzy C17th style fabrics had its roots in the manor house revival of pre-war days and was the house-style of the Collard pottery in Devon during the twenties. I think it also incorporates a subtle compliment to his wife.

How he came to start making colour woodcuts isn't known yet but he was clearly aware of printmakers like Hiroshige and Hokusai when he began because he used the same pinkish-brown that is almost commonplace in their work. He doesn't use it in a non-realistic fashion as Hokusai would in his pink Mt Fuji, for example (we have to wait for his first attempt at Corfe Castle to get ink-blue woodland) but his manner is as Japanese as any other artist making colour woodcuts in the twenties and I have him down as a follower of Frank Morley Fletcher. But I would say his other great love was the work of the French printmaker Henri Riviere (1864 - 1951). The first print I know of with a French subject is Le pont d'Avignon from 1925.

This print is from the same year as Corfe (as far as I can make out) but there is already a change in his approach. Gone are the fussy textile patternings of the English 1920s and in comes a new sense of structure, perspective and detailing, which is so much a part of Riviere's charm. He isn't as good or as chic as the Frenchman but then he isn't too much like him either. Nor would he have been the first Londoner to have gone over to France for inspiration but from the mid-twenties onwards he kept on going back. Untill 1964, in fact.

The following year he came up with his most well-known print, Northern Patrol. It is based, almost word for word, on one of his paintings and although the painting gives a greater idea of the sea's loneliness and power, the print on this occasion is the better work, I think. I like the reflections on the deck but when I first saw this woodcut many years ago, I was taken aback - firstly by the image itself and secondly by the price. (I was in the Japanese gallery on Kensington Church St, having spent a fruitless morning at the Portobello Road). I do think it is overworked and that it comes across less well when you see it. But this is equally true of Le pont d'Avignon, which I also failed to buy at some point. But then my life is littered with regrets.

There are more paintings and drawings of France (watercolour, oil, gouache - he tried them all) than anything else. I've included his lovely Vue du chateau, which finds him in full Riviere mode. So much so it reads like a woodcut and it strikes me that the madder pink and blue-green trees might date the picture to the mid 1920s. One very striking fact is that he went on making colour woodcuts untill the late 1940s, after even Ian Cheyne and John Platt had given up. So you have to assume that he did enjoy making them. Nor did his style remain constant. There are further changes and it's these shifts that make him less of an amateur than people sometimes think he is. There is a consistent tone throughout all his work but he learned to limit his palette to achieve the subtle and delicate effects that are so often remarked upon.

But this represents his mature style. In the doldrums (of the becalmed sailing ship) dates from 1928 and all the rest of his woodcuts from then on are more subdued and subtle. In the doldrums is the most impressionist print of his I've come across but View of Kynance Cove looks straight out from the beach at the breaking surf. The incoming waves are the subject and, basically, I think he's a painter first and his prints are often the tonal works of a painter, not always 100% successful but always of interest. In fact, his best paintings are surprisingly good without ever quite being modern.

Vue du chateau isn't typical but it is nice meeting of Japanese patterning with French delicacy of manner. There's an odd occurence in the left foreground again and I'm not exactly sure what's going off but I suspect you will all be used to this by now. (I need to credit Bellagraphica in Cornwall for Corfe and William P Carl Fine Prints for In the doldrums and Le pont d'Avignon. So far as I know, all the prints are still for sale).

Thursday 21 July 2011

The summer outing to Sussex

Even though Arthur Rigden Read had a house in Winchelsea for many years, he never made a woodcut showing the county that became his home. But plenty of other printmakers couldn't resist the glories of Sussex, amongst them Diana Gardner, Sue Scullard, Sylvan Boxsius, Phillip Needell, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Helen Lock, Kenneth Broad, Michael Renton. From mysterious dewponds to dubious Brighton, Sussex has it all. But I have to begin with a surprising colour woodcut I've unearthed by Eric Slater (1896 - ?). I say surprising because he comes across to me like a hack watercolourist alot of the time but the one above looks pretty good. If you know the Seaford and Cuckmere Haven area where he lived and worked, his prints do have an undeniable charm though why he fetches the prices he seems to, is beyond me. This one has no title that I can read but I assume it's our county because Sussex is his subject.

It was the unlikely object of German bombers as shown in this stylish wood engraving of 1940 by Diana Gardner (1913 - 1997). It shows the village of Rodmell where she lived with her father. (It was also the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf). The stark lighting, the dramatic pose of the figure, the overscale planes all recall the work of Eric Ravilious, himself Sussex bred if not born.

This early morning view of Rye by Phillip Needell (1886 - 1974) is altogether a much more delicate affair. Probably on a visit because he recorded places as far apart as the northern Atlantic and the bridge at Avignon. Not always to my taste, I still regret not buying Needell when I could (and must also acknowledge Clive at Art and the Aesthete where I pinched this from). I get the feeling that small towns like Rye and Winchelsea, Lewis and Arundel, were full of people who read books and bought pictures and this may help explain why so many artists moved that way.

Michael Renton (1934 - 2001) made more than one letter-heading for a bookshop at Rye. He is more modern than the printmakers seen so far but illustrates the way that printmaking and literacy still go hand in hand in Sussex.

Like Michael Renton, Sylvan Boxsius (1878 - 1941) was a Londoner. Unlike Renton, he spent most of his working life in London but must have visited Sussex more than once to compose his two small colour woodcuts of Winchelsea and his lovely woodcut Houghton Bridge, Sussex. Readers may remember this print from my Boxsius post and I will not have to explain that I include it here out of sheer love of his work. He had such a good sense of scale and form, he could leave alot out and achieve a childlike simplicity without ever becoming self-conscious.

With Hastings by Sue Scullard (b 1958) we move into the uneasy territory of the professional printmaker. She has done everything from editions lsuch as this to cookery book illustrations and I suspect you would search Scullard's prints in vain for a defect like Hall Thorpe's misregistered ladybird or Sylvan Boxsius' printing crease. Work like hers depends upon a perfect surface and she achieves a delicate tone and nice range of greys. But for all the clever shifts in perspective on the boat and huts, with the gulls a touch overscale, I miss the unselfconscious quirkiness of the pre-war artists. But then Scullard was trained by Yvonne Skargon (b 1931) who is no slouch herself and who in turn was trained by Blair Hughes Stanton and John O'Connor. Long gone are the days when you learned from Frank Morley Fletcher who had taught himself.

 Eric Ravilious (1903 - 1942) is too well- known to need any commentary from me. His chic lithograph Newhaven Harbour of 1937 belongs to the lithographs for schools series. (I remember this coming up at auction in the early 1980s and it not even selling the first time. I think we were too intent on colour woodcuts even then!) The wood-engraving below has the rigmarole of imagery that people of his generation became fluent with. It includes the chalk figure known as the Long Man of Wilmington and one of those dew ponds. I'm not sure what the flying bull is doing there and hardly feel it matters. But Ravilious was a native and not only knew Sussex but loved it, too, as anyone can tell from his exceptional paintings.

Kenneth Broad (1889 - 1959) was another Londoner who lived in both Surrey and, I think, Sussex for a while. This is a new photograph of A Sussex Farm and does the print far more justice than the one I included on my Broad post some while back. Not much of a draughtsman or watercolour painter, he used the Japanese manner to achieve a fine luminosity in his colour woodcuts. Normally producing rather heavily constructed prints, here he abandons that approach for expressive brushwork. He offers all we need to know with the long morning shadows, the dark leaves of midsummer and the washing that tells which was the breeze blows. For all his apparent concentration on the farm buildings, this is his least architectural and most emotive woodcut.

Nor could I resist re-posting Helen Lock's masterly image of a Keeshond. She made quite a few of these and was a friend and archivist to a lady breeder in Sussex and conclude that she has put the dog firmly onto downland turf with the Sussex countryside well behind.

And last but far from least, a panoramic capriccio called Brighton Pier by Edward Bawden (1903 - 1989). A contemporary of Eric Ravilious and fellow student studying under Paul Nash at the RCA, his work looks forward to the range of professional printmaking that did become the norm in Britain after the war. He manages here to balance his affections for the landscape and its oddities with a strong sense of design (and wonderful use of black and white). It has become so commonplace a style, we forget that someone had to invent it. Others that followed never seemed to quite get it right.

And, of course, it was necessary to include a railway poster - this time by Alan Durman (1905 - 1963). I don't have a date for this but it must have been designed after nationalisation in 1947. (It's for British Railways). Durman has it all, folksy in the foreground, south coast elegance beyond, an appeal to children, the peach and lemon of Italy - just in case we were thinking about abroad - and could that be the deco version of the modern world? Fine all the year round.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Adrian Feint: ten guineas worth of style

In the 1930s the Australian artist Adrian Feint (1894 - 1971) would have made you a bookplate as witty and stylish as the ones you see here for ten guineas. For that he would have produced a design for your approval, a woodblock and thirty signed images (more if you wanted). Then you would have been in the swim. No need to be a bibliophile. No matter if the Library of Congress in Washington, DC had held an exhibition of his work in 1930 or the first book of the Australian Ex Libris Society was devoted to his work in 1934, you would be chic.

And I think this was the real source of his success. All the bookplates here use standard popular images of the 1920s and 1930s. The ship in full sail, the ploughman, the elegant classical bust in the manner of Laboureur, the busy bunch of flowers, nymphs and satyrs, even the Scottish terrier - all come from the pool of inter-war hackneyed ideas. It took an artist with Feint's panache and skill to make them live again. He knows they are all faintly absurd in the way of all good archetypes but they work well. Even so, his real ambitions lay elsewhere.

He was born in New South Wales, initially trained in Sydney, did a stint of study leave at the Academie Julien in Paris in 1919 then returned to Sydney to work as a graphic artist, both in advertising and producing cover designs for magazines like Home and Art in Australia. He began working with etched plates but as a result of studying design with Thea Proctor in 1927, he turned to wood-engraving as a method and had made 221 bookplates by 1945. Yet as the thirties progressed, he turned more and more to oil painting untill he found a patron and was able to put graphic design behind him.

The irony is that it is these humble works of fashion that he still remains best known for. There was the necessity of coming up with bold, effective designs and he did this very well. If you compare his bookplates to work by the younger European artists I've covered here on Modern Printmakers, Feint lacks the seriousness of Tranquillo Marangoni and the sheer bravura skill of Wim Zwiers but he has other hallmarks of the thirties, especially the theatricality - and the fun. Look at the way his Scottie sits in a spotlight, or the ship appears through curtains of rain. His nymph and satyr are no more than play-acting; the temple belongs in Chiswick and not Arcadia. I particularly like his frivolous shrubbery. It's deco, even modernist, without being overworked.

It could all have turned out trite but instead his work stands out from the crowd. To be honest, I'd not come across Feint untill the other day but these little bookplates stood their ground amongst dozens and dozens of others that were fiddly and forgettable. I am sure that it was this originality that took him as far as the hallowed premises of the Library of Congress. It would only be fitting if the archivists wore ivy in their curls and the boilerman ran naked across the lawn.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Martha Hofrichter (1872 - 1960)

Here is yet another woman printmaker whose name really should be better known than it is. Martha Hofrichter was a German-speaker from Brno in what is now the Czech Republic. She certainly had work published in Vienna, also worked in Munich, and one view is that she also trained in Paris. This first woodcut, called 'Notre Dame' would seem to back that view up. It also has the sense of exactness I associate with French printmaking, along with the strong colour contrasts. I think the unrealistic use of mauve is particularly telling. She falls back on the old stand-by of a snow scene but doesn't then make it easy on herself by actually describing the snow falling. (The only colour woodcutter who I could think of who tried the same trick was Carl Thiemann but Gerrie Caspers has pointed out that Henri Riviere showed snow falling at least twice - another French connection, by way of Japan, of course).

Next comes 'Ravens in the snow', a more obvious essay using a Japanese prototype. The style and arrangement of the houses gives this a much more central European feel but it's worth saying both prints adopt the square format so beloved of the Secessionists after the square calendar of 1903. Interesting that she used a similar drab pale green as a background for both the prints, again an unrealistic use of colour that we tend to accept today without thinking about it. It would have seemed more modern at the time. Finally, this ex libris for Anna Boeck finds her in full Secessionist mode.

She was a contemporary of her fellow Czech, Emil Orlik (b 1870) and also of Helene Mass (b 1871). She is clearly closer to Orlik than to Mass both all three (given the very few examples of Hofrichter's work I can judge her by) failed to become quite as modern as their British cotemporary Ada Collier ( b1870). But I suspect she had a relatively short printmaking career because there doesn't seem to much of her work about. Neverthless I had to show you an example of her illustration work for children, partly to amuse and partly to underline that she did have a career as a professional artist. (You will find other examples for sale online).


Monday 11 July 2011

Siccard Redl visits 'Haji Baba'

Just across from the sweet bazaar in Diyarbakir in SE Turkey there's a little place that sells good things to eat, including honey and clotted cream for breakfast. It was my friend Selam the masseur who works around the corner that sent me there and I could tell by the mischievous look on his face that he wanted to call me by the same name as the shop. It was 'Haji Baba'. So, now you know. And I thought these flowery pieces by Josephine Siccard Redl were exactly right for the shop, too. Not that I think there's anything at all wrong with them. Their floweriness might not accord with contemporary taste but that's for you to judge. I know that at least one reader will be enthusiastic. And I certainly didn't think it was right to hold them back as she was quite happy to publish them herself.

They remind me of the work that Helene Mass did around the same time of old house covered with flowers or creepers. As the first one is alled 'Aus Tirol' I assume they all show buildings there and date from the period in her career before she left for Istria on the Adriatic. (New readers need to track back and take a look at the three other posts about this artist). Here she displays an interest in construction that she went on to develop in her woodcuts of Venetian luggers. In what I believe are those slightly later works, she achieves a fuller sense of both the construction of the boats, sails and rigging and a tremendous sense of pictorial construction. For all the apparent delicacy of the last two prints of houses, there is an a tough sense of form in all three images. The dramatic angles and subtle use of light and shade in the firstwonerful  image particularly look forward to her very best work in Istria.

I need to add that these are virtually the very last of the stash of about 30 images and that, unless I am very fortunate in my searches, I think these will be the final ones. Because of the nature of the source, I believe all these woodcuts formed part of the artist's estate after her death in Argentina. Look on her works ye mighty, and despair.