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.