Sunday 30 October 2011

The other Allen Seaby

It may seem paradoxical (I might even go say far as to say perverse) to devote a post to monochrome, or more-or-less monochrome, prints by an artist was was one of the most unashamed colourists of them all. Allen Seaby (1867 - 1953) was a great apostle of the colour print. Like both William Giles and St Paul, he was considerably more brazen than the master. He took to colour with conviction. It is rarely subordinate to draughtsmanship as it became in the hands of John Platt. Bright or subtle, it often washes across the paper in large and unrestricted areas, accompanied by his signature brushwork. From the beginning he had given this treatment, by and large, to wild birds but some time around the first war, he turned his attention to a small number of domestic animals that he portrayed with both restraint and sympathy. And, really, this provide the reason behind the post.

Nor are there many of them. He gives us a pair of foxhounds in a yard, two pigs rooting, rabbits in a hutch and ponies with a foal. They are the kind of animals he saw around him while at work in his hut in the New Forest. Three of them are so similar in style, they form a group. He is considering other possibilities. Plainly, this line of work was not something he could continue with but even so they look forward to the many drawings he made as illustrations for his own books for children. (The rabbits, ponies and pigs were all made by 1922). So they do provide a link forward to later work.

Call me a sentimentalist but I like this prints and also find them interesting. They hint at what Seaby may have recognised as the limitations to his work so far, in all its rainbow glory.


The pair of hounds with a bowl stand in fair contrast to the same subject I posted recently by Walther Klemm. (See 'The studio at Liboc' October, 2011). So much so, I can't help but feel Seaby knew Klemm's work. But while Klemm typically goes for psychology, with his dogs half-cowering, half-creeping towards their bowl of food, Seaby places them on the ground, ignoring the contents of the earthernware dish. He also sees them totally from outside; there is no inwardness here. There is breeding, yes, an understated nobility, perhaps, but that is all. It is all as English as the shires.

And this is one point I want to make. Seaby the naturalist offers us habitat. On one occasion there are swans in a classical park but the actual environments he depicts are academic ones: Eton College; Magdalen College, Oxford; St Andrews in Scotland. (All this was important to Seaby who had become Professor of Fine Art at University College, Reading, in 1920 at the age of fifty three). Even Porlock suggests the poet Coleridge. But the contexts he gives us in these prints are decidedly downbeat  - the farmyard, the common. Beyond that, the concern is more subtle. It is England.

It is also the world of confinement. The ring against the wall and the dish on the ground define the space for the pair of hounds. And because of them, we immediately understand the purpose of these dogs. Before dawn the next day, they will be responding to the huntsman's horn, just as much as the pigs will be in the pan, the rabbits in the stew. It is the ordinary human world they inhabit, not the natural one. The ponies are native breeds, their survival threatened by lack of use, and Seaby was to go to plead their cause for many years through his pony stories for children. But it is the native British element that is crucial for him.

In removing colour from the equation, he was able to look harder at the subject. Beyond what I have said so far, is the dappled play of light. He selects his animals with care. The markings of both the rabbits and the pigs allow for a subtle change in reflected light. (The glint in the eye of both rabbits is nicely done). In this way he builds up shape. These animals, especially the rabbits, are palpable; they breathe, they digest. The colourful codes of aestheticism are some way behind him.

It is one of the problems with trying to understand Seaby that he never dated his work. There are various ways his prints can be put into order but I would say he was responding to circumstances in this group of woodcuts. Where he uses colour, with the pair of hounds, the patterning of their markings and the way they link up to each other in the composition, is carefully done. There is none of the striving for effect of a Bresslern Roth when she approached the same subject (by way of Walther Klemm). One thing I will say about Seaby, he is never trite. It is almost as if he had suddenly become ashamed of his peacock ways. He has become literal instead, propagandist even - not rabidly - but even so, the Englishman is there.


Tuesday 25 October 2011

Walther Klemm's book of birds: a prototype, perhaps?

Readers may remember that back in November, 2010, there was a post on Walther Klemm's Vogelbuch, or Book of birds. This was in fact a portfolio of six colour woodcuts in an edition of only forty, published in Germany in 1912. At that point Klemm was still a member, along with his friend Carl Thiemann, of the artists' colony at Dachau near Munich.

The impression I get is that complete sets are rare and predictably some of them do come up as single prints without any reference (so far as I know) to the original project. But now I find that he seems to have begun the project as early as 1909 because I have recently come across two further colour woodcuts in exactly the same format but much closer to the Vienna Secession style he was using during his stay at Liboc near Prague. Ducks diving, above, is very similar to his print of underwater ducks in the Vogelbuch, likewise a study in monochrome but considerably more subdued. Personally I think the 1909 print is alot more attractive. I don't think he was every quite so devil-may-care decorative as this. His ability to flip styles is one of the things I admire most about Klemm even if he was soon to change to styles I find less congenial. The subtle integration of greys and blues is really so masterly, it may as well be an object lesson.


Not surprisingly the swan doesn't have a corollary in the second Vogelbuch. It's considerably less successful. I don't know why the project appears to have been abandonned. I can hardly believe it was because no one liked what he had done. I am very smitten with his virtuoso ducks. It is almost post-modern in its playful awareness of form and pattern and appearances. Here is the artist who not only studied under Kolo Moser but studied history of art as well. And here is the accomplished awareness that led him only four years later (at the age of only thirty) to his professorship at Weimar, the image an apt metaphor for Klemm's own performance: agile, delving, disappearing, deft.

And if you click on to  you will see that, just like Klemm and Thiemman, Gerrie and I are laying in the same barn.

Sunday 23 October 2011

The studio in Liboc: Walther Klemm & Carl Thiemann

Of these two friends, the one to leave their home-town of Karlsbad first was Walther Klemm (1883 - 1957). Somewhere along the way, he met and made friends with the gregarious Prague artist Emil Orlik. One German sources says it was Orlik that encouraged Klemm to enrol at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna; another believes that Klemm studied there between 1901 and 1904. Only one of these statements can be true because Orlik didn't return from Japan untill 1902. Nonetheless, Klemm certainly studied at the school of applied arts and in Kolo Moser he had a teacher who was the quintessential Secessionist designer, well-connected, stylish and urbane. And my hunch is that it was Moser that may have made the fateful introduction to Emil Orlik.


Orlik had barely established himself in Vienna than he had set sail for Japan. He stayed for eighteen months, training in printmakers workshops there. This was something completely new. He was the first European ever to study there and Klemm was fortunate enough to learn the techniques of woodcut making directly from him when he came home. The window of opportunity was relatively small; Orlik was not to keep up his interest in woodcut anymore than Klemm was. Ironically it was Carl Thiemman (1881 - 1966) who was to be the greatest beneficiary. And all this says a good deal about the kind of person Klemm was. Simultaneous with his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule, he had taken classes in art history at the university. As I've said before, Klemm's prints appeal as much to the mind as they do to the eye. This keen interest in both the techniques and ideas that inform art shows what kind of an artist he was. I think he was attracted to ideas; you only need to compare these first two prints (Thiemman at the top, Klemm below) which were made probably less than a year apart, to see that really he was nothing at all like Carl Thiemann. A common birthplace and common interest brought them both together. Klemm made his first woodcuts while still a student in 1903 ie about a year after Orlik's return, and by 1904 was exhibiting with the established artists of the Vienna Secession. This was early success but all the same he left for Prague.

The connection may have been Orlik again. Although based in Vienna, he had kept on a studio in the city and by this point Thiemann was sutdying at the Academy. He had left Karlsbad where he had had to support his widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters while he worked in business, to study painting and etching but all this was rather sidelined by the arrival of Klemm. Some sources have them down as school friends. Klemm was now 23, two years younger than Thiemann himself, but with indirect access via Orlik to the great studios and workshops of Japan. Imagine the excitement of these two young men as they took on their own studio in the village of Liboc just outside Prague. They were to spend only four years there but in that time together they went on to produce some of the most sensitive and articulate prints of the period. The second irony is this: they were both young enough to take the lessons of the Secession to heart; Orlik probably was not. Just take one look at Thiemann's glorious cockeral to see what I mean. Orlik never displayed such bravura.

Nor, for that matter, did the hapless Klemm. By 1906, when he made his woodcut of two turkeys, he had developped his own style, straightforward subjects from the countryside around Liboc that were themselves subject to that analytical eye of his. The square, bold images of the Secession comes out into the fresh air. The canny Thiemann merely lifts the idea from his friend - the pair of birds, the trees connecting the high horizon to the keyblock - and turns it from interesting to irresistible. His woodcut is as opulent as Klimt but wisely dispenses with the self-absorption (and substitutes a sense of humour).

Klemm's Haymaking, also from 1906, finds him in another mood. This interest in people's livelihoods is just as close to Orlik as the more obvious japonisme. It's easy to forget the strong appeal of European naturalism to these artists and the way that the kind of realism they came across in Japanese art only served to bring things one step forward. Here is Klemm almost in popular print mode and he certainly didn't give up these descriptions of country people when he left Liboc; it's just that he has become better known for his clever and appealing animals in much the same way that Thiemann got himself stuck with birch trees.

But then that is in the nature of printmaking where you have multiple images. The two artists co-operated on two joint ventures, at least. I don't know the date of their Old Prague portfolio, or volume. I have only ever been able to track down one image that I can be fairly sure comes from this work. Klemm's rough-and-ready study of light and shadow in Empty Street I think must come from the work. I don't think I can be quite so sure about Thiemann's back street below. At least one rather unreliable source has it down as Lubeck. In a way, it doesn't matter because they certainly stand comparison. Possibly Thiemann never quite got the same cramped sense of narrative again. The washing, the steps, the washing-basket suggests the workaday life he had left behind in Karlsbad. He substitutes Klemm's seller of clothes for the lifeless washing; the open window is also there, but no source of light. The second project was a calendar for the year 1907. They would certainly have known the famous square calendar with contributions from members of the Vienna Secession, including Moser, made for the year 1904. They produced six images each for their own. This was reproduced in facsimile by Thiemann's widow after his death - one to look out for but a quick search turned up nothing so far. [I am am indebted to Klaus (who lives  near to Dachau) for the information about the calendar, which I knew nothing about].

But the play of light is everywhere in Birches (1907(. [I couldn't find the auction-house image so I had to content myself with the Art Value lettering and their impudent copyright]. And with this print we come to the Carl Thiemann that everybody knows: the sense of pattern, the vigour, the stylishness. The play-off of the leaf shapes, the markings of the birch tree and the undisguised cutting to suggest the movement of the grass is already quite masterly. Compare this to the over-excited work of some Grosvenor School artists and you will see how simple-minded they actually were. And I think he also recognised his own success (or someone else saw this for him) because a year later his more famous image Birken im Herbst was being mechanically reproduced in Vienna. (I am also pretty certain that this grouping of trees would be known to Norbertine Bresslern Roth).

Normally, I would have edited the printed letters out but the handwritten display of Original Holzschnitt Handdruck 6/30  with central title and his full name says a great deal about his salesmanship. This was all part of the contemporary trend of distinguishing colour woodcut from the mechanics of C19th lithography and giving their work a personal feel. Although he describes the second print as an original colour woodcut, it is only signed in the block. There was nothing new about offering prints of different qulaity but this move into mechanical reproduction funnily enough precedes their own move to the long-established artists colony at Dachau near Munich. Klemm was to stay for only five years before moving on to the post of professor at Weimar; typically, Thiemann was to make the best of it - build himself and his family a house, and stay forever.

I includes Klemm's print of puppies at a bowl and Thiemann's early version of his swans as a postscript to their time together at Liboc. They may or may not have been produced there in 1908 but in some ways, it doesn't matter too much. Klemm proves himself to be the realist. The composition is almost wilfully inelegant. Ironically, Thiemann plays the Orlik game just as his friend had. In some respects, he is is less good at it than Klemm was. But in failing to connect with Orlik he finds his own voice.

Klemm's exquisite monochrome disquisitions on line and shape - his herons and flamingos that echo Ohara Koson - become a decorative little masterpiece in the hands of Thiemann. The bold arch of the neck and the flare of feathers behind sum up his peculiar intensity. It goes beyond the decorative formalities of the Secession to something delicate, impersonal, grave, unique.

Friday 21 October 2011

A M Shrimpton's 'Almond blossom in Appennines'

As Gerrie Caspers brought up the subject of the techniques that both Ada Shrimpton and William Giles used for their printed work, I thought I ought to say something about the Giles method and what happened to it. Giles made no woodcuts between 1911 and 1926. Instead he used acid to etch zinc plates which were then printed progressively in the same way as a colour woodcut, to build up the final image.

I don't know offhand what medium he used for his own prints but when he came to issue the final edition of his Colour Print Magazine in 1926 (the year after Shrimpton died) he used the original five etched plates with watercolour to produce the image you see above, which is quite different from the effect achieved by his wife (see previous post). This is an original posthumous print, the paper being tipped onto the page of the magazine. [I am grateful to Paul Ritscher  for the image.]

The artists made a significant bequest of prints, plates and notes on the method to the V&A in London, which now has the best collection of their work as a result. But the method effectively died with Ada Shrimpton as did the magazine. She had provided the funds and quite possibly some of the motivation to develop the method. After all, it was well-suited to someone who had come to printmaking as a painter.

I deliberately avoided saying anything about the methods they used in the main post only because I thought it would complicate matters when I wanted to concentrate on a joint achievement. In fact, I was wrong to do so because the methods they both developped were as much a part of their achievement as the prints they made. Giles went on making woodcuts after Ada Shrimpton's death but he eventually left the King's Road in Chelsea to live in Essex. That says it all.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Mr & Mrs: Ada Shrimpton & William Giles

From what I can see this colour woodcut by the British artist Ada Shrimpton (1856 - 1925) suggests a good deal about the nature of her marriage to her artist-husband, William Giles (1872 - 1939). The complex image of the ageing tree overcome with spring blossom that shelters a pair of saints beside an Italian church door is both subtle and affecting. [The image is courtesy of Annex Galleries]. The wedding itself took place at the British Consulate at Venice on 7th September, 1907. The bride was already 51, the groom only 33. So, from the beginning it was hardly a conventional partnership.

It's the tone of their prints that says so much of how closely they affected one another. (You could never have said this about the etchings of Ernest Lumsden and the colour woodcuts of Mabel Royds who had also married beyond their twenties). Shrimpton was also a painter and this comes across strongly in the freedom of handling that she adopts in her prints; despite his often sparing use of the keyblock, he is always more graphic. But the colours they use speak to one another without a doubt. (You can tell the artists from one another by the monogram Giles always uses).

His peahen exists as a singleton in a preliminary study but it becomes far more interesting once shadowed by the exhuberantly coloured peacock. That Shrimpton did adopt something of his colour system and manner for her own prints seems pretty clear to me (though it is hard to find many examples of her earlier paintings). The pairings and intertwinings they both use are a constant source of interest. It's less easy to identify some of the subjects. For instance, I can't say for sure that the seaside couple are Shrimpton and Giles or whether the sea itself is the Adriactic. But Italy meant a good deal to both of them and images from a small area of Umbria are some of their most lyrical and telling.

Here is Shrimpton with her view of Norcia, clean and bright in a very modern way. They had begun to perfect between them the art of the colour print. One after the other, these shimmering landscapes are as much manifestos as anything produced by the avant garde. They were very much of the age they lived in with their agendas and proselytising and with her financial support Giles was able to start publishing his 'Colour Print Magazine'.

I assume that Almond blossom in Appenines is in Umbria, too. (Shrimpton also produced an image of Spoleto in the same area). It's strikingly similar to some of the work of Gustave Baumann but with none of his arch, deco-ish mannerisms. That splattering of blossom across the brilliant Italian sky has more in common with the attitudes of DH Lawrence. (And if you think the grass is too bright a green, then you must compare it with photos of springtime in Umbria).

Still nearby, we have Giles now at The source of the Clitumnus. (The rather young willow trees were only planted in the C19th). And he may have been the younger partner by eighteen years but he nevertheless adopts the classical name of the river Clituno. He is the more pedantic of the pair, she the more carefree one and funnily enough the more modern one as a result. There is something of the teacher in him, something in her of the student who outshone her master.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Tales from ebay: John Hall Thorpe's Dawn

Well, here's a neat coincidence. Readers who recall the recent post 'A day on the Thames' may also recognise the red sails of a Thames sailing barge in this print by the well-known Australian purveyor of colour woodcuts, John Hall Thorpe. This feeble sub-Germanic effort of his comes up soon on British ebay and just goes to show he couldn't draw and couldn't compose a picture. Readers only have to compare Ethel Kirkpatrick's woodcut of the same subject to see what I am talking about. No matter. The seller is quite right to be confident this will go and has started it off at next-to-nothing. It's also a fair and wise approach to something both weak and unusual. I am only disappointed that they don't seem to having been paying attention. No matter. There are three bids in already on what is after all a collector's print. And this is not to decry Hall Thorpe as a decorative printmaker either. I loved having his Marigolds above the fireplace in the 1970s. It suited the times to a T but it disappeared and I have never been able to bring myself to fork out the going rate just to replace it. He is the Clarice Cliff of the colour woodcut and nothing wrong with that, specially if you had picked Marigolds up at Mrs Treasure's (dealers names don't come better than that) for all of £1.25 (just over €1). And it will certainly be interesting to see whether good sense prevails over vanity, cupidity and all the rest. And I very much doubt that it will.


Sunday 9 October 2011

Siegfried Berndt, north & south

Last night a reader in Germany put me onto a number of proofs by Siegfried Berndt in a Berlin auction house catalogue. I need to say first off not all of the prints you see here are for sale at Hauff & Auvermann and also need to thank Klaus for what turned out to be a very good tip.

Because a number of the prints for sale use the expressionst style that Berndt adopted soon after the end of the war - if not before. His earlier Japanese-influenced woodcuts come up on Google but other work stays secluded in catalogues ignored even by universal search engines. Not that Berndt dropped his earlier style altogether because he was still making prints from his Auf de Rehde block in full Hiroshige mode as late as 1925. Like his beloved sailing-boats, I think Berndt tacked with the wind.

The first print is Nordischer Hafen (northern harbour) from 1919. It comes in at least three versions, the red one at the top being the one for sale at Hauff & Auvermann. And before you rush off to put in a bid, the work you see here is properly valued in Berlin and does not come cheap. Mind you, hardcore expressionists will cost alot more.

The monochrome woodcut, above, is Suedlicher Hafen, also from 1919. Which southern harbour it is remains a mystery to me. Eight o' clock in the morning over a mug of tea is not the best time for infallible research but having turned up variants of Nordischer Hafen, I am going to assume that Berndt did much the same thing for its companion print. During his career, Berndt tried his hand at many things, working his way through studios and styles with considerable gusto. It says a great deal that an artist working in Dresden should be so taken with boats and the sea.

It was a long-term interest, as Segelboote (above) from 1909 shows. It's habits like these - using the same types of image and making prints in colour - that set him against the general trend of early modernist prints in Germany. By 1909, this woodcut would have seemed almost conventional when set against Karl Schmidt-Rottluff or Erich Heckel. Schmidt-Rottluff in particular had looked to west African carving as an examplar. Nothing could have been less use to him than the craftsmanship of Hokusai. The catalogues at Hauff & Auvermann suggest that Berndt had just as many problems with printing on japan as Sylvan Boxsius did in Britain. Like Boxsius, the work comes complete with printing creases (Knitterspuren vom Druck). This helps to explain why some prints aren't signed. He tried hard to get it right. You can adopt a new style more easily than a fresh attitude.

But the much bolder cutting and the flattened perspective are lessons he had learned from the younger printmakers. But, to be honest, one of the problems with this work is that it seems weaker than their work does, which is a shame, because he was prolific and  made many good images. Which is another way of saying you haven't seen the last of Siegfried Berndt.

Friday 7 October 2011

Tales from ebay: Siegfried Berndt's 'Auf der Rehde'

It is somehow rewarding to see a print that has been recently featured on the blog come up for sale on ebay. I'm not suggesting there is a connection but from Germany we have Siegfried Berndt's first version of the colour woodcut Auf der Rehde from 1911. This is the ebay print above; I have added, below, the proof that I used on the post, for comparison.

I'm never sure why it is that sellers don't get the image square but it doesn't always fill me with confidence. But one important thing included, all the same, is the full paper size, which shows the deckle edge at the bottom. But the image isn't signed and so far there has only been one bid so that it stands right now at €1 only. Unfortunately, the dealer also adds Blatt im unteren linken Teil etwas knittrig,  as you can see below:

Now, this creasing detracts but I don't want to go on about the disadvantages because, etwas knittrig or not, this is a fine print, romantic and well-expressed, and well worth having depending on how you feel about creases. I've bought unsigned and imperfect images of German work in the past because they are interesting to have and can be expensive otherwise. As for the change in the colours you can see, his version from 1925 (see August post) is radically different. He experiemented, as I said in the post. This is one of the most attractive things about Berndt. He never really stayed the same. And if you already have one version of this print, it may be wise to buy another. I am only waiting now for a deluge of versions. Go!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Tales from ebay: Krebs in close-up plus an Adolf Kunst

As there has been more interest than expected in Otto Krebs, here is an image of the Schneider bookplate with more detail. The work is so well-printed, I begin to wonder all over again whether he had the help of a printer. One thing that makes me think this is an image by the German architect and printmaker, Adolf Kunst,  which shows a man using a printing press. I think I own one of these though I'm not sure. But below, a full size colour woodcut by Kunst. This came up for sale recently on ebay and went for the bargain price of €23. Apparently, it's in alot better condition than one I have. During the 1920s Kunst adopted a fairly raw technique which I sometimes feel uneasy about in his prints but like alot in the bookplates. He made alot of these  and one or two are well worth buying.

During the twenties, Kunst adopted a rather  more raw style of cutting. These images can be a touch crude (his training comes out in his choice of subject) but when his prints are in good condition, the colours jump off the paper as fresh as the day they were printed. And this is something people who are sniffy about ex libris should consider: although bookplate collectors had some nasty habits when it came to mounting their bookplates (dabbing them down with glue, trimming the margins, sticking them onto backing card - all details sellers can somehow omit in their descriptions), the prints themselves are often clean and bright simply because they have been kept away from the light. I'm glad I bought a few when I could.

Monday 3 October 2011

Tales from ebay: Otto Krebs

Out of interest, a couple of small colour woodcuts by the Swiss maker of ex libris, Otto Krebs (1870 - 1955). There were one or two artists making bookplates using colour woodcut in Switzerland early in C20th. All of them were pretty good but I have to admit Krebs work hadn't made much of an impression untill now. The Dutch dealer sur-sum, who has these two prints for sale, nevertheless can come up with some fairly impressive prices - but then these works are for specialist collectors. (That isn't to say that sur-sum isn't affordable and I have had one or two nice things from him). But the Schneider plate has an asking price of about £50 (it's in US dollars). The Goldman is about £28 which is not such a bad price for what is, after all, a subtle piece of work - the varying greens are striking. That said, the Schneider is just as good as some British colour printers (if not better) - Phillip Needell images of Chateau Gaillard and Corfe Castle come to mind and even some of Isabel de B Lockyer's landscapes. The seller has these down as circa 1910 and I know he is knowledgeable about these things. But for most of us these images will actually be just too small for all their skill.

What lets them down are two things: the borders and the lettering. They in no way compare to Alfred Peter's borders which are as good as the images themselves and are always well-integrated. I have one treasured little piece where the image is surrounded by large feathers. With Peter, less is also more. Perhaps Krebs felt the need to set off the complex landscapes with rather severe and uncompromising surrounds. It's when artists make good use of simple devices and three or four colours, as both Peter and Fritz Mock did, that you know just how good they are. But here, for Herr Schneider, it's the detail, of course, that appeals.