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.

11 comments:

  1. When Giles does illustrative designs, the result is wonderful, but when he unlocks his British aesthetic side we have a great deal to look at. I think his wife had a more decorative side but of course both owe a great deal to the Japanese printmaker and especially to Urushibara. The peacocks show his strength in line and colour. Other works, with their faintly tinted and delicate visual meanderings are light years away from prints created in the 20's and 30's, but I think you are right about Ada being a bit more of a modernist...Giles was a lot more of the pedant to the technique. However, HIS Edwardian aesthetic works and the results are rarely less than stunning, her works are freer and more expressive and never less than idyllic. As you know I love Giles, and consider him to rightly be one of the true masters of British printmaking.
    Clive

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  2. Giles work is in fact very varied and he was certainly more forward-looking and experimental than credited for. The moons and peacocks and baa-lambs make him look high Edwardian but he is much less studio-based than alot of them were - often as plein air as Kirkpatrick only his light is weirder.

    I particularly like the landscapes (specially the Jura rainbow relief etching) because they rely less on symbolism. Or a print like your 'Source of the Clitumnus' because it combines landscape with understated imagism and is only vaguely cod-classical. He is very successful there. And incidentally, the image you see here is the British Museum's and not your won.

    Charles

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  3. Mine is double signed with an inscription, and the colouring is much more muted, and the back actually has the printing change notes on the back, which I find especially interesting. As I understand it, people were able to order their prints from him and ask for specific colours or colourings/tones etc, and this was quite popular with the Edwardian ladies who purchased his prints. I am also of the understanding that he didn't do all of the printing himself, but was involved day to day with the printing, but in times of specific prints, he did in fact do it. I also prefer his landscapes, I am not big on his peacocks but I understand also, they were HUGELY popular in New York City at the time, and were much sought after by the ladies who lunched. I like his light, I think there is a more fauvist touch to it, almost painterly...no doubt intentional. Kirkpatrick's aesthetic is absolutely 20's and has a completely different attitude to both line and colour. I think Kirkpatrick shares more with Kenneth Broad than she does with William and Ada. Either way, a wonderful posting. Many thanks
    Clive

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  4. Charles I've read that the Almond Blossom print also wasn't a proper woodcut but made with copper plates and (relief)etching technique. Considering Ada Shrimpton's year of bearth she must have been regarded as the Godmother of British maybe European Modern Printmakers. All the great German lady printers were at least 20-25 years (a generation!)younger. And most men too.

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  5. Without checking, I should think that Helene Mass, Ethel Kirkpatrick and even Mabel Royds were making colour prints by the time Shrimpton began. I assume it was some time after her marriage in 1907. But then I've never come across a firm date.

    Thanks for the comment about the method.See new post.

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  6. I earlier have suggested it would be great to have some sort of time scale with all those printmakers names for a better understanding of the chronology. Who taught or influenced who, who knew of who. In pre-internet, TV and other fast global transport times.

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  7. I can only report what Haji baba said: Mm, yes, well.

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  8. I would like to throw my two cents in, regarding the process. His works are often mistaken for woodcuts but more likely much of his work was printed from a metal plate in relief, known as the "Giles Method". In fact to get the colours and the depth he used a number of zinc plates, and I believe he began doing that from the turn of the century, with my research showing that he was indeed experimenting with it as early as 1901. Certainly the New York Times makes mention of it regarding his prinst exhibited there in that year. The result of the zinc plates makes his works seem light and vivid and also they avoid the worst of the overemphasis of many of the Japanese printmakers and their English apostles. If you are not sure which are which Gerrie, look at his prints, and the ones that are almost like watercolours, are the works that were done using zinc plates. The colour is almost translucent...that is the Giles Method, and that was his intention and what he wanted.
    It's also important to say he was a woodblock printer, and an etcher and a publisher and an illustrator. He certainly knew his stuff regarding the Japanese techniques, but Giles often gives the impression of focusing less on the object and more the arrangement of colour. Many of his works have this deft use of clour and yet the skill in the production is clearly based not only on fine traditions, but also on skill and training.
    Regarding the timing of the women printmakers, it is also more complicated than a timeline. Mass would have been operating at around the same time as Shrimpton, but more than likely before...but the German schools were so much ingrained culturally, and they certainly didn't have the same slavish devotion to the Japanese printmaking techniques. This was mostly because Germany had it's own printmaking traditions and culture. Helene Mass was absolutely creating prints around 1900. We know this because her name is listed in secessionist exhibitions as a printmaker around that time. I would say at that time, Royds was a student, but on a timeline Royds would have gone before Kirkpatrick and we know this because of her years of academic teaching. I think it's very risky comparing German and British printmakers simply because there is no other country in Europe that had the same level of knowledge and tradition of the technique as Germany.
    Anyway, just my opinion...for what it's worth.
    Clive

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  9. Just so of the information I have (in haste).

    There are no hard dates for Mass' printmaking. Secession catalogues may well refer to paintings.

    Royds began at Edinburgh in 1911 and she must have ben making woodcuts by then. But Kirkpatrick left St Ives in 1905 and her Cornish woodcut subjects may or may not date to before that. Her first dated print I know of is 1911. She must have been making prints before then because her style is well-formed and there arde more Edwardian-looking works. I think she is the earliest of the lot.

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  10. well what do you know! i had seen (and posted) some very few of shrimpton's pieces, but somehow giles had flown below my radar. coincidentally, though, charles, i've just spent a good deal of time this week at the british museum (with regards to my latest post), and there i noted giles.

    but i think that image of the couple by the sea has to be his best; in fact, not knowing about the couple, and not having seen that one, i had all but written him off -- did not like most of what i saw!

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  11. Lily, Giles is something of an acquired taste and Shrimpton is easier on the modern eye but none of us can afford to ignore Clive's judgement on him.

    Charles

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