Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Maud Sherwood: Mediterranean life

Here is a photograph of Maud Sherwood (1880 - 1956) taken in January, 1912, soon after her arrival in London.  Behind her was a teaching post at Wellington Technical College and a career as an artist in far-off New Zealand; in front of her, the studios of Paris, a painting trip in southern England, including a stay in St Ives. (Like Ethel Kirkpatrick, she was a watercolourist, though Kirkpatrick had almost certainly left St Ives before she arrived). Eventually she made her way to the real plein air McCoy, Concarneau in Brittainy. She was not to stay.

In 1913, she took the boat for Sydney, got married, her marriage lasted three years, and with a divorce settlement agreed, in 1926 she once again left for Europe. But this time things were very different. She was no longer the colonial with her certificate and prizes from the South Kensington School. She ignored England and disembarked at Naples, making straight for a villa on Capri owned by American friends. This time, Maud Sherwood was cosmopolitan.

Just how sophisticated she had become, you can judge by this watercolour drawing of Bagno Vicenzo on Capri. If there are elements of the British humourist W Heath Robinson, it is confident, witty and chic. This is what makes that first colour print of hers, the Venetian fishing boats, of so much value. Some time soon after her arrival, someone had showed her how to make woodcuts. I don't know who but her boats are very much like the work of Ada Collier.  It's been described as both linocut and woodcut and dated to both 1926 and 1927. It may be a first print but it is one that I would buy without hesitation. She uses her new technique with the spontaneity and vigour that is typical of all of her best work.

Look at the ragged cutting of the shutters and masonry in Cafe du Pont. It is fully 3-dimensional in conception, with a blatant sense of light and shadow. It might at first glance look quite conventional but she has gone about it in a way that disregards both teaching and convention. She takes her subject by storm. I think it's 5 from an edition of 75.

I wonder how many she finally sold. Because by 1927, her ex-husband was already writing from Sydney to say his health was poor and business wasn't good ie she was a long way away and he wasn't paying her allowance. So far as I know, she had made no prints before she left Australia (and she made very few when she eventually returned) and I have to conclude they were an economic fact. She had to diversify and make some money. Her subjects, if they aren't saleable vases of flowers, are local colour and differ from the landscapes and beach picnics that make up ther main body of her work in watercolour.

The potentially Fauve direction she could have taken after Venetian fishing boats, she doesn't exactly follow through. Two flowers in a vase makes me think of William Nicholson if he had only gone art deco. And I like it very much. Beautifully realised, even the subtle mauve-grey of the keyblock works with the dominant greens and pinks. She may have been new to it all but she knew she didn't have to be satisfied with black.

She was quite prepared to try other techniques. Spanish buildings, the dynamic and dramatic work above is a monotype. Not my favourite technique I have to say (so much so I am even dubious about the description) but this is a terrific work, with the same ragged effects of light and shade we saw in Cafe du Pont. Less stylised than Brangwen and not as languid as Sergeant, I find it quite incredible that she could make a montype look like an etching. Which brings me to this ambiguous print called The dancer.

Now, I didn't take to this at first but I think it is a subtle variation on what is the primary subject of her prints (and quite often her other work). I mean women, of course. There certainly are elements here of Toulouse Lautrec that makes it look like a 1960s work and you may draw your own conclusions. The ambiguities don't rest there because the work has been described as an aquatint. It has the tone and texture of one but I haven't come across her using the etching proces anywhere else, the signature is too close to the image to allow for a platemark and you can see overprinting at the top left. So, I think it must be a relief print, which makes it all the more original.

Both of these prints Spanish market woman and Seated peasant (I do begin to wonder about these titles) have both been described as linocuts. The top one is certainly hand-coloured and I assume the same is true of the one below. Sometimes the same image occurs both in monochrome and with colouring. Presumably, one cost more than the other. Either way, the cutting isn't so very far away from Raoul Dufy, especially the flowers and also the baskets. Again, it may strike you as fairly conventional but the method is dynamic, so it's frustrating that I have only been able to come up with three fully conceived colour prints as opposed to this type that depend heavily on the keyblock, which she could hand colour. There are other subjects, dated untill 1930 (she finally left Europe for good in 1933) but I have to asume they are basically monochrome from the titles (Three men watching bowls, Seller of fried chillies etc). It all depends how many made their way back to Australia where her mother and sister had moved to. And how many she left behind her here.


  1. You are on an antipodean jag Charles, and the most recent was a revelation as is this. I have never heard of Maud Sherwood, but her works have echos of a very sophisticated aesthetic. The watercolour is stunning in both simplicity and precision. The boats, quite rightly as you suggest, are very Ada Collier, but also seem to owe much more to the German/Austrian women printmakers of the time. I am reminded of Tupke-Grand, Bormann and even Mass.
    A fascinating insight into a forgotten artist, and an eloquent appraisal Charles.

  2. Again a chapter written in the "History of British Modern Printmakers. The market scene my favorit, such brilliant use of empty space and white paper. So many details. I have hopes it is from a serie. The little flowers could easily be from Manets famous Last Flowers serie. Hélène Grande Tüpke (1871-1946) also did these Venetian ship. By the way: she was a very handsome woman too

  3. Well, that really is antipodean serendipity: look at the time !

  4. Clive, I'm pleased you like this, too. I felt that I had been neglecting Australian readers.

    I wonder about the fishing boats. They intrigue me. Josephine Siccard Redl was also working in Italy in the twenties though I don't know when she left for Argentina. The boats are painterly like her work. It would be interesting to know who taught her - certainly another artist.


  5. Yes, Gerrie, the photgraph was irresistable.

    I like the market scene, too. As you say, a complex image very well-organised.

    Of course, you are right about Manet. The vase of flowers, of course, were included for you. There is another flower image, which I shall post in the usual place, for your records. It was just too small to blow up, unfortunately.