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.


  1. Charles,

    I haven' forgotten about the other three Berndts, but somehow I can't manage to send you the images. Sorry about that, maybe I'll ask a colleague for help.

    I like your analisis of the Berndt prints in this post. Some of them really bring Schmidt-Rottluff to mind.

    Have you seen Berndt's print with the horses? I found that one quite remarkable.


  2. If the truth be told, I actually prefer Berndt's pre-war work which came just before the great German expressionist pictures. They have a similar intensity.

    He's an odd amalgam. Sometimes the prints are crude without gaining in power. Which Schmidt Rottluff had in spades.