Saturday, 17 September 2011

The boats of Venice

So many printmakers working in Venice or on the Adriatic coast in the 1920s have been recently mentioned, I thought it was time to offer a general survey, so far as I could. Even more interestingly, I notice that since the posts about Josephine Siccard Redl went up, at least one print new to me has come up for sale - wrongly described, but more of that later. So, if those posts have caused confusion, here and now, a short course on the old boats of Venice - and the artists who went there and fell for them.

I begin with Siccard Redl's superb image Harbour of Lauranna, Italy. She went to live in the town some time after the Istrian peninsula became a part of Italy in 1919. The boat is a trabaccolo, a small coastal vessel, which was also capable of crossing the Adriatic. (I am sticking with the spelling on an Italian site rather than the one Siccard Redl used.) The image above by the British artist, Ada Collier, is also a trabaccolo. I don't know exactly when she visited Venice but it was most likely also in the twenties.

This wonderful photograph of a largish trabaccolo wasn't taken anywhere near Venice but at Manfredonia in Puglia. All the same, it gives a good idea of just how accurate both Siccard Redl and Collier were in their very different representations of that type of vessel. It's this accuracy that fascinates me. If you look at artists as diverse as Frank Brangwyn and Carl Thiemann, you find they are not really interested in the boats themselves so much as the atmosphere they help to create.

And here we find Maud Sherwood making a strict distinction as well. Because this boat is a bragozzo, a smaller, single-masted fishing boat that was only used in the lagoon. Because of the shallows, they necessarily rode higher in the water. The trabaccoli also needed careful positioning of the masts (and sails) to deal with the sudden squalls that arise in the Mediterranean.

The bragozzi were, of course, well known for their brightly-coloured sails and Helen Tupke Grande made the best of them in what is probably her most well-known colour woodcut. The markings on the sails varied but the triangular areas at the top of the sail and large spots were common.

None of the markings are obvious in this photograph of a bragozzo taken, I think, at Venice. It's interesting to see how closely the mooring posts resemble the ones shown by Collier. I think you can see that it is basically a smaller version of a trabaccolo.

 I think it is also pretty clear that there is more than one sail. And although the image by Siccard Redl, above, has been described as being two boats, I suspect it is only one. I make no claim to expertise but Siccard Redl knew what she was doing. The only artist to differentiate as much as she did between different types of boat was Ethel Kirkpatrick herself.

Which brings us to this classic image of a trabaccolo with its sails lowered by Sicard Redl. For comparison, I include this tremendous photograph of a trabaccolo at sea. It looks as if the man in front of the mast is lowering the sail.

And even if Kirkpatrick doesn't quite fit in with these women artists of the 1920s, it was necessary all the same to include this small woodcut by her to show the way she also knew and loved her boats. For this is a topo, a small fishing boat with a shallow draught, ideal for the waters of the lagoon. (There are also prints by Siccard Redl of this type of boat). I very much like the way she is quite clear about the water the boat is navigating, with its sandbanks and bouys. This is the work of a marine artist as much as that of an imagist.

And last, but not least, the two main types of boats docked side by side, with the broad bottom and deeper draught of the trabaccolo an obvious contrast to the lighter fishing boats. And, just in case you were wondering, Siccard Redl's image of the bragozzo is for sale at even though they describe it as a trabaccolo. My fault, to some extent, for not doing my own research alot sooner. Even so, when I come to cross the Adriatic in January, from Vlore in Albania to Brindisi, I sincerely hope it will be in neither of them.


  1. I've been in Rimini near Venice on vacation this year in April and I wanted to go to Venice but I didn't manage it... I'll do next time...

  2. Besides the knowledge about these prints and their makers I very much enjoyed and appreciate all the time and effort put into the historical and photographical context of this posting.

  3. It needed doing, Gerrie. Researching the artist's subject can be just as important as researching the artist's life. Otherwise people would go on thinking they just made nice, colourful pictures. You do the same.