Monday, 28 February 2011

Mabel Royd's 'Globe artichoke ' and 'Waterfall'

One or two woodcuts here by Mabel Royds that readers may not know. I posted the version of 'Waterfall' in 'Mabel Royds at her best' but now have this stunning image for comparison. I particularly like the greens and blues and glassiness of the water. This looks like Scotland without actually saying so. It dates from 1938.

Also from the late thirties, this unusual globe artichoke. It's not often she goes for such tactile subjects as she does here with the water and the flower head. These are very much late works and seem to concentrate very much on the subject.
I include a version of her magnolias which is from the mid-thirties and finds her in oriental mode, beautifully inked and subtle in its symbolism.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

'Mowers' & other stencils by LH Jungnickel

It's in the nature of things on a blog that once a topic takes people's interest, new images and information begin to turn up. Here are the three stencil sprays or Schablonnenspritztechnik by LH Jungnickel that I have images of, plus a digest of comments made by both Neil and Clive. 'Mowers' above is especially interesting because Jungnickel produced few landscape prints and this is the only rural subject by him I have ever seen. The only comparable print on the blog is his woodcut of the Schoenbrunn. Anyway, it's a fine piece of work, probably the most complex of the three, and I begin to see the way these new techniques provided the challenge for him to make his first impressive prints.

I have found a reference to at least one other stencil spray, called 'Tennis players', and I am sure there must be others. Both Neil and Clive drew a paralell between this technique and screenprint where ink is applied through a silk screen with stencils being used to provide the image. Clive also drew a very interesting comparison with spritzdekor, which was commonly used for ceramic decoration in Germany and other central European countries between the wars. Woodcut, linocut, screenprint and pochoir were all popular or industrial techniques that were adapted for use by artists in their own work, starting with the revival of woodcut, and I don't think it's a coincidence that both Jungnickel and Andy Warhol first worked as graphic artists in industry.

I did suggest in the last post on this subject that Jungnickel must have drawn inspiration from Japanese dyer's stencils but in fact I have no exact idea about the nature of his sources. These are techniques that are little known in the UK and trying to find hard facts about the way Jungnickel (or any of them apart from Emil Orlik and Walther Klemm) began to make prints between 1898 and 1905 is difficult, to say the very least. Having gained these skills, Jungnickel made stencils from 1903 possibly untill he abandonned the secessionist manner, and also produced woodcuts between about 1908 and 1917. He was a graphic artist, first and foremost, who produced many drawings and watercolours that drew on both European and oriental styles. His work as printmaker and otherwise is important, innovative, even experimental, as we see here, but in the end it was secondary.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

LH Jungnickel's parrots & the origin of the species

It was hard to resist posting two more of Jungnickel's humourous takes on hyperactivity amongst parrots. This first woodcut is wonderfully manic with very little bearing on natural history at all but does employ his later style of sub-expressionism which in fact has more in common with textiles than Schmidt-Rottluff. The second colour woodcut shows a hyacinth maccaw, a rare parrot from Brazil. In his earlier, more strictly secessionist woodcuts, he provided no habitat at all for the animals. In this one we do at least have leaves and what I take to be jazz-age tree-tops. Rather like his parrots, Jungnickel tended to be a law unto himself.

It was his usual method to stalk his subjects in the confines of the Vienna Zoo but he has made a valiant effort to describe the peculiar colour of the bird and the shading of its plumage. The beak is in fact dark grey and he may have emphasised the size of its his head for comic effect. But the humped wings and alarming beak are true to type.

All the more curious, then, for him to come up with this jeu d'esprit of violet maccaws. It's true that violet parrots do exist but the Violet Maccaw is a species that only inhabits LH Jungnickel's drole imagination. Whether the woodcut improves on nature is open to question but the printing is sharper, notably along the bird's neck and on its wing, giving the parrot a much livelier profile. The blacks and greys also stand in greater contrast to the violet than they do to the blue so there was a genuine desire on Jungnickel's part to make a better print. (I'm assuming the blue one is the earlier version, of course). No doubt assiduous readers will soon be finding other maccaws unknown outside the hothouse of Austria-Hungary. And I will have no other option but to post.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

LH Jungnickel & stencil or schablonenspritztechnik

I know I am giving alot of space to those Vienna secessionist dilettantes but I have found something today it was just impossible for me to ignore, a work that may be LH Jungnickel's earliest signed graphic production. It uses the technique discussed in 'LH Jungnickel: two new animal prints'. One of them is not a print at all but a stencil. In German it is Schablonenspritztechnik, the English equivilant being stencil spray. The work itself is called 'Sonnenstrahlen im Tannenwald', quite a mouthful, that translates as 'Sunrays in the pinewood'.

This stencil is coming up for auction on 3rd March at Palais Dorotheum in Vienna and they give the date as 1903. The previous year Jungnickel had left his job as graphics designer at the Stollwerck chocolate factory to enroll at the Kunstgewerbeschule under the seminal designer Alfred Roller (1864 - 1935). I include the poster Roller produced for the 1902 Secession exhibition (that centred round Max Klinger's sculpture of Beethoven) because it gives an idea what students gained from his work. (Emma Schlangenhausen was also to benefit from Roller's example soon afterwards). Jungnickel hasn't only borrowed the dimensions, he came up with a subtle variation on Roller's overall patterning. (He must also have seen Klimt's landscapes.) Without doubt his basic inspiration was Japanese katagami - bamboo dyer's stencils - but according to the British magazine The Studio Jungnickel invented this particular technique of (I think) applying ink through a gauze plate laid over a stencil. Modern German children use a toothbrush but of course Banksy uses an aerosol. What LHJ used, I don't know, but I offer a close up of his woodland along with the Macaque monkeys form the previous post.

You can see the combination of stencil and spraying in both works. I assume the monkeys are later where he appears to have sprayed the whole coloured area. It is specially interesting to see an artist responding to a course of study and in fact publishing these works (at a time when novelty was at a premium) apparently represented his breakthrough. As work, they are probably more interesting than they are rewarding and I can see why he went on to develop his colour woodcuts. As a technique it has obvious restrictions. And I think this is how the stencils need to be seen - in the context of the rest of his graphic work: the posters, the postcards for the Wiener Werkstaette (see 'Yours truly, LH Jungnickel') and his designs for Josef Hoffmann.

As a postscript I should add that I think I used to own something using a technique like this. I sincerely hope it wasn't by Jungnickel because I gave it to a friend! As a PPS, Dorotheum are expecting something in the region of 2,000 € for the stencil even though it is damaged. Just so that you know. As modern graphics go, this makes it pretty interesting.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Paul Leschhorn, the collector: a rose in a jar

One of the good things about being proved wrong is the unexpected pleasure it can involve. Although I knew that the German artist Paul Leschhorn was a collector of oriental works of art, I still presented him in my revised post purely as a landscape artist. But here is 'Yellow rose', a flower piece by him that I know will please (and surprise) my friend Gerrie Caspers at The Linosaurus in particular. I include a photograph of Leschhorn with part of his collection, including a Chinese ginger jar. I had wondered why he hadn't used these objects in his work; now we know that he did. First Siccard Redl, now this. What next?

Monday, 21 February 2011

Josephine Siccard Redl: lost images of a lost province

Ever since I discovered a cache of images by the Austrian artist Josephine Siccard Redl (1878 - 1938), my admiration for her work has been growing. The purpose of this second post (see JSR: Istria, November 2010) is to share new discoveries and to try and clarify matters, as best I can, to do with her rich and unusual colour woodcuts. Not everyone of the images here were lost. 'Peppers', of the two Istrian country women, is a much better photograph than the one that has been currently available. And I have to say here that I have never seen an actual print by Siccard Redl in front of me and many of the photos that have been available are poor and do not do her work justice. I also made the mistake of judging some of her earlier work, presumably produced in Austria, as rather ordinary. Better images show that they are as good as her Adriatic work but more conventional in their subject matter - old Vienna, or the Tirol. Mea culpa seems an appropriate response.

I know of at least 38 colour woodcuts by her, excluding versions. The night scene of the farmhouse on this post also has a daytime version; 'Bernabitengasse' has variations with figures and different colourways etc. The range of subjects is wide: landscape, Vienna, maritime, flower studies, even a portrait, which you can see above. To go over the basic facts about her: she left Prague with her family to live in Vienna, she worked and presumably lived in the old province of Istria then left for Argentina, where she died at Rosario north of Buenos Aires. I don't know whether she lived permanently on the Adriatic, whether she visited before the first war, and if she continued to make prints of Austria in mid-career. (The interior of Istria had long been part of the Holy Roman Empire, the coastal area controlled by the republic of Venice. Austria took control of the whole area in C18th, with Italy taking over in 1919). Many of her Austrian images are inscribed in German but we have 'Vieja Viena' in Spanish so she must have been producing proofs in Argentina. The fact that many of these images do come from her estate obviously confirm this. Some of the Istrian images are in Italian, others in English. Make of that what you will. Not only did she use four languages, her handwriting changes to some extent. I say all this only because I want to be fair to this - yes, under-rated printmaker. At her best, her colour woodcuts are painterly and rich in a way that very few are.

The cutting is expressive, the printing unfussy, warm tones of golden yellow and brown occur frequently. Her subjects, like these two women, often stand against an unobtrusive linear background that pulls the image together and I think in this she is a student and follower of the Vienna Secession. There is also a considerable imaginative response to her subjects. Take, for example, her portrait 'Giuliano de' Medici'. He was a man; she has portrayed him as a woman. She appears to have based the portrait on the bust attributed to Verocchio but for all the curls, that was obviously of a chap. Is this a self-portrait? I think this is what we would like to know. Or is it a portrait of someone she knows? The donkey-cart, with the load of baskets under a cloth, leaves as many questions unanswered as the facts she offers. Where is the owner and what is the donkey waiting for? Are they a fisherman's creels? I particularly like the three bands of colour and pattern that cart stands against. The ordinary has become mysterious.

'The arbour' at the head of the post gives us the archetypal view of Italy: a pergola with vines, twining roses, the rustic column and intense light. It evokes an idle midday but there is nothing lazy about the bravura represenation of shadow and reflection - the flecks of light on the column are intensely telling. She does everything she can here to evoke a response in the viewer. You sense there is an underlying narrative to much of her work.

Which leads me to the series of reconstructions she made of the three ships used by Columbus. There is something rather fantastic about the boat shown here. The interesting thing is that the more details and colours she gives, the more curious it becomes. The fisherman below on the lagoon is more straightfoward. I think we can assume that Venice appears on the skyline (she did make a woodcut of Venice which I have been unable to track down). Of course, both Ethel Kirkpatrick and Carl Thiemann used exactly the same subject but neither of them made the work of a fisherman central to the picture. Siccard takes an invidual line with an invidual place.

Finally, we come to what I assume are Austrian subjects. The sketchy figures and trees remind me of Oskar Laske and suggest that she knew his work. Equally, the quite unrealistic use of an overall subtle green to suggest dusk is admirable. I have to say I'm not quite sure what she has done here. She has signed the image itself, which is more common on linocuts, so they image may have been trimmed for practical reasons. Both prints are intimate but there is a conventional detachment about both of them, I think. I hesitate to say that the Italian work shows someone working from an immediate, passionate response but that is how I see them. Even so, I like this small church scene very much.

Finally, I should say that, so far as I know, I have not so far come across any print with an Argentinian subject. This is curious in itself because it looks as if she continued to print from her blocks once she arrived. Her imaginative involvement in the whole project is beautifully expressed in her woodcuts of Columbus' little fleet. Her obvious love of boats, and everything to do with them, found strong expression in her marriage of historical discovery with the direction of her own life. As the print below suggests, the world is part hidden, part blank, part waiting to be found.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Bresslern Roth & Jungnickel

I have to say Bresslern Roth's tigers are very fierce and frightening but her parrot is feeble compared to LHJ. Jungnickel's Tigerkopf dates from 1909. (NBR was 18 at the time).

Mikhail Matorin: wood-engravings & linocuts

I have only been able to track down these five images by the Russian printmaker and painter Mikhail Vladimirovich Matorin (1901 - 1976). Fortunately, they are all fine prints and come from different periods of his career. (The biographical dates I gave here are conservative and I am not going to use all the written material available online). He trained in Moscow - it appears to have been a very long training by west European standards - but had already produced this rather brilliant colour wood-engraving by the age of twenty. It comes from his portfolio 'Six still-lifes' a set of linocuts and wood-engravings printed by the artist and published in Moscow in 1921 and has nothing in common with the work we associate with the revolutionary avant-garde. Instead Matorin has looked steadily westward, at the work of Cezanne and Matisse, and printed this black-and-orange translation. It is certainly fascinating to see a Soviet artist using the same kind of colour combinations as Arthur Rigden Read in Britain. I think it's a wonderfully original take on the conventional table-top still-life and would hold its own against Laboureur. I would also very much like to see what the other five prints look like. I find very few colour wood-engravings entirely convincing. This one is.

The idealised and sculptural wood-engraving of Lenin dates from 1935. I assume that is is based on the notorious photograph of Lenin addressing soldiers in Red Square in 1920 - the one from which Trotsky was removed. It loses for being less than realistic but you cannot fault his subtle constructivist framing device. Nor is it consistent with the earlier print but would not be out of place amongst north American left-wing prints of the 1930s and 1940s. It is also weakened by the fact that we are so familiar with heroic images of Lenin. But the modelling and cutting have great appeal.

This next work was sold as a colour woodcut so we can now begin to see what kind of a range he had as a printmaker. For whatever reason, he has moved on from his early modernist and propaganda stances to something more conventional but no less interesting for all that. This is a subtle complex work where he was just as interested in structure and perspective as in his earlier work. (I am assuming he cannot have made this before he was twenty although it would fit in with the architectural fantasies of artists like Ivan Bilibin).

'New Moscow' is a linocut from 1938. Again the dramatic use of perspective wouldn't be out of place amongst contemporary American or British artists. The warm peach, rose and apricot are both lyrical and beautifully handled; the diffused light of a socialist dawn is academic - but not too much so. He had scruples. The light also contrats oddly with the rigour and massiveness of the buildings. There is a thirty year gap between this linocut and the one below, 'View of Red Square' (1967). I like this one least - mainly because of the semi-abstract cars and people. But then I'd be equally irritated by this in French art of the fifties. But the same interests are there - structure and colour. Despite going on to teach at the Moscow Academy, he doesn't display the dead hand of the academic. His contemporaries in western Europe would have maintained a more obviously consistent style throuhgout their careers and clearly Matorin had to shift with the requirements facing both an artist and a teacher during the Soviet era. But then very few British artists who were making prints as early as 1921 were still doing so as late as 1967. Not only did he maintain his interest in printmaking, he went on doing it well.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

F Gregory Brown: from craftsman to designer

Very little seems to be known about the British designer and graphic artist F Gregory Brown (1887 - 1941). I've even been unable to find out what his Christian name was and as you can see in his poster design for 'Leatherhead' above, he commonly and confusingly signed himself Gregory Brown. Yet his work must have been almost commonplace and he remains well-known and well-liked to this day.

He started out as an apprentice art metal worker but dropped this some time in the early C20th to become a book illustrator. My guess is that he might have attended classes at a London art school like Camberwell or Bolt Court that specialised in graphics and training for the print trade. The subtle and perceptive way he often drew on Hiroshige's 1857 colour woodcut 'The plum garden at Kameida' during his career, shows someone acquainted with the ways of aestheticism. Look how marvellously he transforms the large and small tree shapes to make the 1931 design for his furnishing fabric below. What looks like typically subdued and sophisticated 1930's tones are shown to be inspired almost exactly by Hiroshige. I think this shows a perceptive designer-artist who had understood that arts and crafts had had its day and was keen to modernise.

In 1914 he made his first graphic designs for London Transport. Betwen then and 1940, he produced 61 poster designs for LT and the Underground, almost all intended to be highly visible and to attract passengers at off-peak times and weekends in order to maximise revenue. The following year he was a founder member of the Design and Industries Association. He was obviously someone who knew what he was about.

I think you can see more than a trace of metalwork enamalling in the design below, combined of course witha Hiroshige tree as framing device. Also note how cheaply the poster has been produced. The colours only approximate to Brown's design and I assume this is an earlier production. The later designs are reproduced with greater care.

I would think that one of the highlights of his career was winning a gold medal for fabrics design at the 1925 Exposition des arts decoratifs in Paris (I've shortened the very unmodern title). The gaudy and hackneyed design for Bobbys Ltd contrast nicely with the 1922 design for linen. The folds are voluptuously twenties but the geometry and starkness look forwards with considerable confidence.

The other great source for his work were the British painters who were working after the London Post-Impressionism exhibition of 1910. The Camden Town Group, and particularly Spencer Gore, provided the necessary modern feel and use of purer colours that could be ratcheted up to produce this Southern Railway poster. What really strikes me is the way he does seem to reproduce Gore's view in 'The cinder path'. He turns something typically downbeat and Camden Town (named after the north London suburb) and turns it into a bright version of Henri Riviere. (I should also mention similarities with the more pastel efforts of the colour woodcutter Phillip Needell).

This was a man who was aware of trends and was able to manipulate imagery with the expertise required by modern commerce. These later images are far more thirties in their spareness of design and muted colours. His uncompromising lettering for 'ZOO' neatly co-opts the Underground logo and the font designed by Edward Johnston (1872 - 1944) in 1916.

Unfortunately, I failed to upload one of his most striking poster designs here but you will have seen it at the very top - a brazen and yet articulate meeting of Hiroshige and post-Impressionism. The point I wanted to make earlier was that he didn't just look at van Gogh; he knew what van Gogh had been looking at. Completely in contrast, the plainness and clarity of the poster below for a recognisably modern cause. Here he achieves something both unnerving and unsentimental. Nowadays we are used to shocking imagery in graphics. If I gave the impression Gregory Brown knew how to manipulate the work of other artists, this poster, along with his fabric designs, show up the default Brown - both stylist and innovator.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A mystery print from Germany

Klaus Voigt has sent me a colour woodcut by an artist he has been unable to identify and he is hopeful that readers may be able to help. The image is of a blackbird (we think) feeding on the berries of a mountain ash or rowan tree (sorbus decora). There are no identification marks at all. He has assumed that it is by an Austrian - Klaus lives in southern Germany - but I was put in mind of William Morris' famous textile design of 1883 called 'Strawberry Thief'. I've included a close-up of the bird and a section of Morris' textile design, which is also a blackbird although you would be forgiven for thinking it was a bit of a parrot. What I am saying is the artist's sense of accuracy strikes me as telling. But I am not going to prejudice the case and shall hand over to avid readers to say what they think. And for Klaus himself to reply.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sybil Andrews: the rural year

Sybil Andrews (1898 - 1992) was a prolific printmaker. She made 76 colour linocuts in all, more than half of them between 1929 and 1939. Almost all are exemplary. Many of them are of rural subjects but she was brought up in the town of Bury St Edmunds in the east of England. It has been said that alot of her work drew on her memories of the Suffolk countryside nevertheless (and she may well have said this herself) and what I decided to do was try and put some of the prints of the countryside into a sequence, with each activity following on from the other. Of course, one or two are landscapes. Nor was the choice I had to make always an obvious one. But then I think that in itself says something of the kind of woman Andrews was and suggests what she was trying to do.

So, for instance, the print above is called 'Michaelmas' which is straightforward because it falls on 29th September. What people are doing is sometimes less easy to follow. These men appear to be forking manure onto a cart, something clearly Andrews associated with that time of year. The haycut ('Mowers') was also easy. That was June. But there are two images of ploughing - one on arable, the other on grass. The second one presumably describes the ploughing of pasture in the spring in readiness for re-sowing. Below all the patterning, she was interested in particular things - and a way of life that many of us will barely recognise. This may help to explain why it is that dealers and collectors have placed so much emphasis on her style to the detriment of her subject.

'Storm' here is obviously autumn because the tree is still green. 'Otter hunt' was less easy to pin down but I placed it in the summer because one of the Lakeland hunts took their hounds out in May (once the martens and polecats had been dealt with). What the gipsies are doing in their print (the final one) may not be perfectly clear but two of them are wearing rubber boots because they've been collecting reeds and, of all the prints, that one is the most pertinent in a way because, instead of showing the Romanies as caricatures, round their campfire, for instance, or going down the lane in a horse-drawn van, as both John Hall Thorpe and Hesketh Hubbard did, she shows them at work, playing their useful role as seasonal labourers.

Colour, of course, plays a crucial role in suggesting the time of year - and occasioanlly time of day. Most of the autumn and winter prints are dominated by reddish brown; the spring and early summer prints rely on green while high summer is blue or bluish-green. I put 'Trackway' here because I assume we are looking down through bare trees. The trees in 'Tumulus' below are pines on a burial mound, a fairly common feature of the English countryside. (These two prints in themsleves tie her very much into the recording of everyday life and the cultural aspects of town and countryside that was such a key feature of the 1930s.)

She once said of her upbringing that she had 'a paintbox from the cradle' not so much to encourage her as to keep her occupied. This is very telling. She must have been an active child and this shows in both her way of life and the subjects she chose. The term 'Futurism' and 'Vorticism' are sometimes used in connection with her prints but I am skeptical about their relevance. By the time she was making these linocuts those first exhibitions by the futurists were long gone and British Vorticism barely survied the first war. But it was only Claude Flight example as a modernist and teacher that gave her what she needed: a dynamic style that drew of early modernism and was in keeping with what she most wanted to do.

She first studied at art school locally then moved on to Chelsea in London, where she attended Heatherley's art school herself. The end of the first war saw her working as a welder in a Bristol factory, a strong indication of her practicality and unwillingness to conform to the accepted women's role. (During the second war she worked as a boatbuilder at Southampton). She also strikes me as someone who took the opportunities life offered her and when she met Cyril Power after the war they formed a working partnership that was to last for 20 years. Power went on to found the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in Pimlico with Claude Flight and IainMacNab. MacNab, who was a wood-engraver, acted as principal; Flight lectured on linocut - lectures that Andrews attended when she wasn't occupied with her job of school secretary.

I think it was that kind of interaction that stimulated her and this is also why I cast doubt on the associations that are made with modernist movements like cubism and futurism. It was a style she was able to adopt to suit her own need - even if at first glance many of the artists associated with the Grosvenor School seem quite similar. Bold lines and dynamic patterns are what we look for in linocuts but if we compare her with her contemporary Norbertine Bresslern Roth, the rhythmic grouping of animals and people is about all they have in common. And although both artists have significant limitations in that all their works tend to appear similar, I think Andrews is the more vital and a far more dynamic colourist.

She also used considerable licence. I can't imagine that haymakers got together in a huddle with their whetstones unless, of course, that was how they began their working day. But it wasn't so much the hay, or the weather, or even the human figure that interested her so much as what they were doing. And this brings me to the curious thing about her. She does associate these activities with men. She is quite different from other women printmakers I've looked at. Emma Schlangenhausen had her female haymakers in the foreground; Mary Fairclough also gave women key roles in her work - her gipsy is a woman smoking a pipe. Women don't feature in her work much at all.

Not all her prints are concerned with light as this one of mowers is - and it isn't always something we look for in linocuts. But it is interesting that when she moves into the field of more conventional landscape, there is a noticeable shift. In some of these prints, especially in the one after the windmill, of a man collecting mangolds and the first print of ploughing, we can see what she has in common with the colour printers that come after her - Edward Bawden (1903 - 1983), for instance, and some of his (and her) contemporary followers like Mark Hearld (British, b 1974). The particularity becomes too intense, the simplification too childlike. It's only a slant in her but an irritation in them. (I like Hearld, Bawden less so). I think we need to be grateful that the Grosvenor School must have discouraged their students from taking the academic/medieval path as Eric Gill did before them and Bawden adopted afterwards.

This series, if that is what it is, effectively came to an end in 1939 with the outbreak of war. She had had a good run as a printmaker. Most of her British contemporaries had given up colour prints before 1930. She then turned boatbuilder and met Walter Morgan in the shipyard. They were married in 1947 and soon after that the couple emigrated to the backwoods of Canada. She was almost fifty. A second life had begun.