Monday, 19 September 2011

Tales from ebay: Dorothy Woollard

Dorothy Woollard (1886 - 1986) is the kind of artist who has a website all to herself and for reasons best known only to the person who set it up. There she is described with wild inaccuracy as 'a forgotten star of the etching revival'. She was never a star and almost everyone from that wonderful period was forgotten for quite a few years as Gerrie, Clive and myself have all but constantly pointed out. But then quite alot about her is improbable - especially her dates.

But today, we have a much less common colour woodcut that I finally could resist no longer. It appears for a second time on British ebay at the very hopeful starting bid of £125. It is easy to mock, of course, but the Woollard website did point out that her colour woodcuts were made in collaboration with an old favourite of ours, Eric Hesketh Hubbard. This polymath, after his move to Ringwold in Hampshire, set up the Forest Press with Frank Whittington. I believe Whittington sometimes did the printing; he certainly sometimes signed the works with Hubbard. Theirs was a collaboration which I admire but which never quite succeeded in going beyond the popular, quirky, rustic and antiquarian.

This woodcut by Woollard is pretty much in line with Hubbard's rather extraordinary set of colour woodcuts showing the gates to Salisbury Cathedral Close in considerable detail. I have one, of course; and I like it. But the woodcut we have here is so much like them - even down to the sudden and inexplicable use of green - I am dubious. Hubbard's woodcuts were all intended to be affordable. The set I am talking about was produced in no less than three qualities. The most flabberghasting thing about these Forest Press prints nowadays is how much people dare ask for them, though. I leave you to decide for yourselves. It would be interesting to have alongside my Hubbard in a portfolio but frankly £125 worth of interest it does not have.


  1. That sounds like an expert analysis as straightforward for the less thoroughly grounded and as awkward for the hopeful seller and website enthousiast. Still: a rather nice composition and print. There's the more explicable lilac in the dress too, and the use of gray. In the one tile and one front in the houses. And I think the roofs have been deeper red once.

  2. What are blogs for? Flattery? No one should spend that kind of money on work on paper. in less than perefect condition

  3. Oh too kind Charles. It is flat and lifeless and the same seller has put on an avalanche of dull, damaged and diminished prints at the same time. The Woollard of course, was stunning because you could swear you have seen it before and before and again and again. It very much like Hesketh Hubbard and a slew of other printmakers of the same time. His prices are more than hopeful, they are clearly delusional, but there is so much delusion on Ebay...where can one start? Well it's traded off by the gems that one can get for a song. Clive

  4. I know. It makes no sense.


  5. Before asserting that Dorothy Woollard was not a star of the etching revival, and slagging off the Dorothy Woollard website, it might have been prudent if you had checked your facts.

    Dorothy Woollard produced 200+ original etched plates over the two decades up to 1930. Her etchings were in demand in the USA as well as the UK, which is why nowadays her prints appear regularly for sale on both sides of the Atlantic. She won a British Institution Scholarship to the RCA in 1912 where she was taught by Frank Short. In October 1913 the art critic of The Times wrote: "[her work] may be compared with that of Mr D Y Cameron...". In March 1914 The Studio magazine published full-page reproductions of her five latest etchings. And all this while she was still a student.

    Dorothy was elected a Fellow of the RE in 1924. Her etchings were on show at the Royal Academy most years between 1913 and 1934, and regularly in the 1920s at the Chicago and California print exhibitions. She was one of the select group of etchers invited to contribute a work to the 1924 British Empire exhibition. And she was one of the artists invited to execute a tiny etching specially for the Queen Mary Dolls House at Windsor Castle. There are too many British and American museums and art galleries with examples and collections of her work to list them.

    I think there’s more than enough evidence to justify describing her as 'a forgotten star of the etching revival'. The fact that you were apparently unaware of her achievements kind of supports my point, doesn't it ?

    When Guichard was compiling his authoritative 1977 book 'British etchers from 1850 to 1940', even he was unaware of the scale of her work. He rightly included Dorothy Woollard, but he was only aware of some 20 of her etchings. That's just 10% of her actual output.

    An early sign that her reputation was being reappraised was in 1990 when she was one of the artists selected by Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang for inclusion in their book 'Etched in memory: the building and survival of artistic reputation', looking at what happened to etchers after the etching revival ended.

    You don't have to take my word for Dorothy Woollard's reputation in the 1920s. The Fine Art Curator of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (which has the biggest collection of Woollard etchings) told me in 2007 "Dorothy Woollard's work is still under-appreciated. I would put her in the top 50 British etchers."

    I guess you are entitled to your own personal view on whether Dorothy Woollard was or was not a star of the etching revival. But I think you owe it to the print collecting community not to let your personal prejudices obscure the facts. Your strange piece about Dorothy Woollard even seemed to challenge her dates (1886-1986). Would you like me to introduce you to someone who attended her 100th birthday party in Cambridge in 1986 ?

    Mock as much as you like. But please don’t deny Dorothy Woollard her rightful place in the story of the etching revival.

    Roger Staton,

  6. So sorry about the delay to publication but your comment was my first piece of spam ever and I didn't notice that my spam box had an item till just now. Not quite sure how your informative comment got there - possibly the bolshie tone. I don't think a generally patronising air would get you classed as a spammer in itself. Far better, you know, to be fairly good-natured online, even in the face of facile provocation.

    This is a blog, not an academic treatise, and talk about owing the print-collecting community is trivial jargonising. What you have written here is quite out of proportion to what was after all only fairly mild and jocular irony. I could spend my life checking - in fact, it seems like I sometimes do.

    Tone it down, Roger, or next time it stays in the spam.

    Charles Clarke

  7. I would like if I may to respond to the comment left by Roger. Firstly, an argument that comes over as swinging between hostile, patronizing and adversarial is automatically lost. You have your opinion which is wonderful, but it doesn't mean your opinion is right. Furthermore my mother was a curator at the Albertina, and she and I have huge differences of opinion because our aesthetics are different. I don't think I am right and nor is she. Just because a curator of a regional art gallery in an area that an artist lived and worked sings praises of an artist doesn't mean that this should be consented to by everyone.

    I also am not particularly enamoured of the etchings of both Short and Cameron. Does this mean I am also wrong?

    Sadly, much of Woollard's work, in my opinion, is quite imitative and the weakness of her work is that there is virtually no energy. Woollard was one of those British artists who needed to fill virtually every space which added another issue because much of the space is feebly related and in some of her works she makes no effort toward even trying to escape her imitations of other British artists. There is a certain quality to her works, and even when the design seems rather imitative, it conveys an impression of sorts, but it's not an impression that I would want on my walls.
    There was no "slagging off" of Woollard, but a fair appraisal by someone who has a firm understanding of British printmaking, and an opinion.

    Your assertions are ultimately trivial, birthdays and party attendees and the recipient of an avalanche of etchings by said artist are irrelevant to a discussion on art and aesthetics. Perhaps if Woollard's works were more vivacious and alive, they would have stood the test of time, and perhaps if they possessed more distinction....or at the very least something that would make them distinct, your aggressive and over the top response would have some basis.
    Perhaps your vitriol and heavy-handed approach to anyone who doesn't agree with your opinion works well at the dinner table, but in the real world people have a right to their opinions, and I for one agree with Charles.
    Clive Christy-Hazell

  8. Well, apologies all round if my posting came across as unduly strong. It wasn't intended to be. But someone has to stand up for Dorothy Woollard's reputation.
    Roger Staton