Saturday 29 December 2012

Claude Flight: the low-down


In spite of all the hooey about the Grosvenor School of Modern Art and the five-figure prices artists associated with the school are fetching (and, let's be honest, folks, they're never worth it), Claude Flight has not been that well-looked after. The reason is quite simple. There has been no biography, not even a monograph that summarises his life and career. Stephen Coppel, the leading British authority, certainly knows his stuff, but even so, bald facts of themselves, are unenlightening. So, I thought I might combine some images of less common prints by Flight with one or two ideas, for what they're worth.

Until Julian Francis wrote 'Tom Chadwick and the Grosvenor School of Modern Art' (just published by the Fleece Press), no-one had written anything, so far as I know, about the actual way the school worked, so Julian's book is a welcome and sane addition to what we know. It resists hype - and we have had hype almost beyond endurance - and talks calm sense instead. Me, I sit down and write these posts, then re-read them some months later and am aghast at my own chutzpah.


That aside, Flight deserves some calm appraisal. His life was just as underprinted as the prints he went on to make. It builds unwittingly from early failure to get into the Navy to receiving the Credit Agricole from the French government for his service during the first war. He was no more an ordinary soldier than he was an ordinary printmaker. He may well be irritating and posturing at times, but he is rarely dull. That he moved through the various fads and fashions of the twenties and thirties, is obvious; that contemporary writers still go on about the Vorticists and the thrill of modern life, is less so - by far. It was Flight himself who disagreed with them when he said, 'I am of no school'. I can understand that a newspaper journalist at the time needed a phrase like 'The Trogolodyte Artist' to get the attention of readers, but all the talk of Vorticism is not much better.

Flight picked up things as he went along, there's no doubt of that but his work to unfold the underlying structures has something in common with his father's work on meteorites. The role that Edith Lawrence played when he eventually met her in 1922, doesn't seem to have been worked out in any detail, though. There is alot less known about her, and what she was doing at the time, but of all the partnerships that existed then, theirs may well prove to be one of the most compelling.

It was certainly enduring. Fatefully, they left London during the Blitz for Wiltshire. Their studio off Marylebone Road was then bombed in 1941, and all Flight's lino-blocks were destroyed. They stayed on at Donhead St Andrews where Flight survived a devastating stroke in 1947. Lawrence, who was nine years his junior, looked after him for another eight years, untill he died forgotten in 1955. Not so very vorticist after all.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Leonard Beaumont: road to the glacier

I know it's not as easy for most readers to get up to Sheffield as it is for me, but I wanted to remind anyone who can get there, that the Beaumont exhibition that opened at the Graves Gallery yesterday is worth the trip if it isn't too far. And if that sounds like a qualified judgement, it is. It runs untill next September, so you have plenty of time. Independant they are in Sheffield, but also mean. There is no catalogue and not even a list of prints. (I had to make my own). But back to my doubts.

 There is something unconvincing about his work. At the same time he was making etched capriccios of Alpine subjects like Road to the glacier here, he was also starting out on a quite different road to a modernist Shangri La with linocuts like Mountain Stream. I like them both but I particularly liked the etchings of Switzerland. He denied any attempt to be factual ('I worked mostly from the imagination. I never took photographs or made rough sketches') and this tends to give that side of his work a painstaking, naive quality. It's a kind of higher form of doodle. I don't want to sound snooty when I talk about his lack of training, but I think it shows. Frank Brangwyn, who had even less of an art education than Beaumont, who attended eveniong classes at the School of Art, said that all art schools produced were 'clever imitators'. Ironically, imitation was the name of the game with Beaumont, to some extent. Even so, he was an eloquent and meticulous printmaker and the etchings are so fine, I am far from convinced they are not in fact engravings.

Perhaps he merely mimicked the style. Mimickry was certainly a theme for me in both rooms. In his final linocut, the cheeky Nymphs, errant from 1934, he even mimics the stipple effect of lithography and I went round playing the double game of spot the catalogue mistake and spot the influence. From Stanley Anderson to Claude Flight, they are all there. In itself, that is quite some range, and I do think this is where Beaumont falls down. He was never a professional artist so much as a professional designer, and I wonder to what extent he approached his printed work in the way a designer approaches his work, not so much with a consistent style as with a need to communicate. This he certainly did do, albeit in his dry and exact way (see above).


I thought giving one room over to colour and the other to black-and-white was a mistake. A chronological approach would have provided visitors with the striking differences between his etching and linocuts between about 1929 and 1932. The change-over was pretty remarkable, but because some of the dates given at Sheffield are wrong, the view of his progression is muzzy, anyway.  But, as I said, he didn't let the factual get in the way too much. Like John Hall Thorpe before him, he was trained essentially to meet a deadline. This probably made him a very reliable freelance in the end. No doubt, when he went on his trips to Switzerland and Madeira, he just wanted to let his imagination go its course for a change and if he appears to be as errant as his nymphs, it perhaps also shows a diverse and fertile Yorkshire mind at work. That it is different in Yorkshire, there is no doubt.
And when he said later in life that no one made any money out of etchings and linocuts in the twenties and thirties, he was strangely at variance with the facts. Untill the Depression set in, some etchers made a good deal, and at two or three guineas linocuts were by no means cheap. It strikes me as unusal that he had a father in a managerial position but went straight to work for the Sheffield Morning Telegraph at sixteen as 'general factotum' before progressing to the art department. He made imagination sound like something you did on holiday.


Wednesday 5 December 2012

A picnic with Ian Cheyne

One of these days somebody will tell the story of Ian Cheyne and his marvellous colour woodcuts. Untill then, I shall be tramping that lonely Highland road in search of Ian Cheyne myself. Hopefully, I won't be on my own. The last post about the SGPC exhibition in 1929 has started off a valuable discussion about the way Cheyne went about making his prints. Now these are readers with great expertise in printing, but even for them the real problem is not having a Cheyne print to look at. This post, using rather poor images of Summer Picnic, which I am fortunate enough to own, will hopefully give people something more to go on.

But first the story. Ian Cheyne didn't begin to exhibit colour woodcuts untill he joined the Society of Artist Printers in Glasgow in 1926. Both he and Jessie Garrow, the woman he eventually married, had been students at Glasgow School of Art in the early twenties, but it was Garrow who seems to have made the colour woodcuts first. The Studio Magazine had already published her striking and frankly unusual print The Wave in 1924. Just as their contemporaries in England had done with the Society of Wood Engravers and the Colour Woodcut Society in the early twenties, young Glasgow printmakers had founded the SAP as an exhibiting society in 1921. By 1926, their first six exhibits were by artists working in England: Ethel Kirkpatrick, Kenneth Broad, Yoshijiro Urushibara, Miriam Deane, ECA Brown and Mary Batten, so everyone was well aware of a wide range of work from England, even if some of the big names were absent. What the recent discussion has highlighted yet again is that Ian Cheyne was more aware than most.

The picture I get of Jessie Garrow and Ian Cheyne is of two fashionable young people. Garrow's main work had been as an illustrator and writer on fashion and interior decoration for the Glasgow Evening News and The Lady magazine and The Wave shows three young women alarmed that the sea might splash their elegant clothes as they walk along a quayside. One of the most interesting points made recently was that Cheyne possibly used pochoir, as stencilling used for French fashion plates and book illustration in the twenties was known. But stencilling was also much in use by dyers in Japan and looking at the leaves of the trees above, it certainly strikes me that Cheyne had applied pochoir methods in imitation of Japanese practice on his prints. The application of pigment is even, while brush strokes are visible on the paler greens to the right.

He may also have used pochoir for the mountain. The other interesting effect is bokashi, or the graduation of colour, used by both Hiroshige and Hokusai, especially with the European pigment, Prussian blue. This graduation was achieved by either lowering the block or a straightforward application by hand. That Cheyne made use of various ways of applying his pigments you can make out, I'm sure, from the images here. The date I have for Summer Picnic is 1928, when he was already an experienced artist in his early thirties. The two earliest prints he exhibited in 1926, Kirkfieldbank and A Highland Loch, have not turned up online, at least, so it's impossible to get a real idea of what all his early work was like.

And so it goes on. Alot of the images from old catalogues are in black and white. All the prints I have the details of, including Summer Picnic, were issued in editions of only twenty, a low figure for work showing such talent, but one that helps explain exactly why it is that his prints are now so hard to come by. That habit goes right through to the last prints he made after the second war. Normandy Beach and Primulas from 1946, and Springtime in Kintail from 1947, were all issued in editions of twenty. It is an extraordinary state of affairs. The irony is that Colnaghi wrote in 1945 asking whether he could supply proofs for sale. Perhaps this was why he set to and made those new ones. John Platt was the only other colour woodcutter staying the course after the war, but the fact is Mrs Cheyne, who died in 1993, still had unsold prints by her husband, some signed, some not, as late as 1984 or 1985. That no one had taken any interest untill then more or less says it all. That we are still no better today when it comes to knowing more about this first-rate printmaker says just that bit more, if you get my drift.


Sunday 2 December 2012

Society of Graver Printers in Colour, Fourteenth Annual Exhibition, 1929

In the twenty years since the Society of Graver Printers in Colour had been founded in Raphael Roussel's studio, it had  undergone a change that no-one could have forseen. By 1929, none of the founding members were exhibiting any longer and once the war was over, anyway, there was something a putsch by the colour woodcut artists. The good thing about the society had been this: it had been formed to promote the artist's colour print, and not any one way of making prints. The net result was that once lino became more popular in the 1920s, linocuts were accepted by the society, even though some of the old guard had been dubious about its merits.

The show opened with Mabel Royd's rather scrappy-looking Snake Charmer and closed with Urushibara's Menton, in all its bizarre perfection, so in between there was plenty to go on. At least one reader owns an evocative view of St Botolph's and the river Witham at Boston, first exhibited at this show, and you have already seen my own print of Helen Stevenson's The Coal Boat. Ten exhibits in, though, was this more desirable image by Stevenson, Autumn by the River. It just goes to show how far an artist like Stevenson would vary their approach, from a delicate impression of colour and light like this, to the brown and blokish details of a coal boat on Brodick Bay. What she never loses sight is Scotland itself. Just as it happens, this print not only came up for auction at Edinburgh only yesterday, it is the one I left behind at Ayre's old bookshop on Museum Street all those years ago.

A nice contrast to the British concern with landscape was Carl Thiemann's subtle Primulas. If it comes over as a mite old-fashioned, it also shows the lesson he had learned from the Japanese about the use of empty space, something so many of the British printmakers avoided like the plague. I wonder what this veteran of the Secession made of all the rivers and fields around his own two colour woodcuts. (The other one, Silver Pheasants, eluded me). It was noticeable the way societies began to include their Austrian and German colleagues in exhibtions after the war, (and were still exhibiting the Frank brothers in 1940). I specially like the way he handled the green on this. In its quiet way, it is marvellous.

Some way down the scale is Eric Slater's Cuckmere Haven, but then he could never have held his own against either Thiemann himself, or his reputation. That said, there is another reader who owns work by both artists. Slater had his limits, but there is no reason why a collection should show the similar limitations. And, to be honst. I'm not convinced the one you see here isn't Seaford Head, but it does show Cuckmere Haven nevertheless.

I couldn't lay my hands on a useable image of Edward Loxton Knight's The Primrose Seller, so you will have to make do with another landscape, this time Bredon Hill, with its well-known church on top. The Primrose Seller makes a change from Loxton Knight's rather schematic views of things, urban and rural. He was one of the few not to use the Japanese method and instead opted for decorative prints that now sell surprisingly well. Even in the thirties, though, he had a regular gallery in London that showed his work, but he eventually fell out with them, and went back home to Long Eaton in Derbyshire and became an art master. His greater sophistication, especially the way he restricts his palette, becomes obvious if you take a second look at Slater. Knight's energetic overlapping of planes of colour shows by how much Slater often lacks focus, both in style and subject. (And if you are wondering, the pale mauve area behind the black elm trees, is a quarry. I think the upright must be a chimney.)

With Ian Cheyne's wonderful Glen Cluanie, we see what British colour woodcut really could achieve. To my way of thinking, none of them got anywhere near Cheyne for sheer originality and panache. By comparison, Knight's real attractiveness becomes partly a matter of period feel. Nothing at all wrong with that, but Cheyne brings in all kinds of elements - art deco, Hokusai - to make images that are purely his own. Like Stevenson, his subject was Scotland, and I think this is one of the reasons his work rings as true as it does. The 1929 exhibition also goes to show that time is not a great leveller. All the work seen so far was up for sale at the same price of two guineas. If you could get hold of an Ian Cheyne today (and I doubt that many people can) it would be in the Bresslern Roth range of prices, I would say.

Even so, take heart, because work like Alison Bliss Smith's The Saxon Mill, Guy's Cliff is still around and quite affordable. She was a prolific woodcut artist, worked in Cornwall and exhibited throughout the twenties and thirties but nothing much ever seems to turn up except this print. A touch naive it may be, but not to be sniffed at, and at one guinea, it was fifth of the price of William Giles' peculiar but masterly Scarlet Runners that ends my own version of nineteen twenty-nine. When it came to viewpoints, Giles rang the changes more than most, but this is one of his most telling and tender. The range of observation, handling of colour, superlative printing, just takes your breath away. That work from the Grosvenor School artists, exciting as they are, could gain credence over work like this with meaning, just leave me incredulous. And I think this is the one I might choose.


Friday 23 November 2012

Lamorna & Sennen


If Laura Knight thought Staithes in Yorkshire was 'life in the raw', when she moved to Lamorna, she must have thought that was la dolce vita. She would not have been the first, nor would she be the last. Not that life was so cushy for Stanley Gardiner when he first went to live in the lush Cornish valley. He had to live in an old Army hut beside the Wink public house, making frames for other artists.

He had started out a house-decorator in Reading, but had first taken evening classes then won a scholarship to study fine art at the university with our own Allen Seaby. But by the time this portrait by WC Weatherby was painted in 1945, he and his makeshift easel were both firmly planted by the sea.


Nearer to Land's End, there is another cove at Sennen, but less the sub-tropical feel that has captivated so many at Lamorna. I don't know exactly when John Platt found himself there, but I've always found this bird's-eye view one of his most appealing landscapes. The details of the fisherman preparing to take their boats and out and raising the sails as they leave the small harbour are unobtrusively fitted into the complex rhythms set up by all those large shapes along the beach. The would-be engineer and architect are all there is this print to bring the whole thing together. It's the subtle dynamics of a work like this that makes Claude Flight look like he's trying too hard.


More occasional, I suppose, is Frank Morley Fletcher's similar view of the old derrick at Lamorna. Again, I have no idea when FMF was there, but this print wasn't published untill 1916. He was a habitue of art colonies - Etaples, Walberswick - and this view from the garden of Flagstaff Cottage shows him firmly in Lamorna Birch country because it became his house. He had taken it over from The Times art crtic, Charles Marriott, and I wonder whether it ws Marriot rather than Birch that Morley Fletcher had gone to visit.


Even more tantalising (and for more than one reason) is this view of Sennen by Daisy Boxsius that appears to show the viewpoint that John Platt made use of. Tantalising also because, by the look of this watercolour, she was a better painter than her husband, Sylvan. It's the only work by her I have ever been able to find and it's hard to judge from a reproduction, anyway. She had a better approach to the haphazardness of the boats than John Platt. In his hands, they become technical drawing; what Daisy Boxsius gives us are the rhythms of reality. Her husband was in the photo-lithography business at Bolt Court and presumably arranged to have her work reproduced in this way. She outlived him, and carried on exhibiting after the second war. The only record we have of their trips to the West Country in the 1930s are their pictures: Corfe, Shaldon in Devon, Looe, Marazion, Sennen, but not Lamorna so far.


Neither Lamorna nor Sennen, John Platt's Pilchard Boats must show Newlyn harbour, with the deep anchorage beyond the wall. (You can see a view from the other direction in Ethel Kirkpatrick's Boats at rest on the post about her watercolours). All of Platt's Cornwall prints date from 1921 and 1922 so he was presumably down there painting some time before then. (He was in Edinburgh by autumn, 1920).

Not obviously a Newlyn woodcut but probably one of the few we know that were actually made in Cornwall, this witty image by Cicely Jesse, showing that young artists studying down in Newlyn with Stanhope Forbes were nevertheless hip to the Vienna Secession. She made this while living at Myrtle Cottage above the harbour. It makes a change from the sea.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Portrait of the artist

I had to give this post a general theme, I suppose, but really it isn't much more than excuse to string together some favourite photographs of artists at work. They are all connected with the early radical days at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. I know I keep going on about that place, but there it is.

The first registration for the school took place on 30th October, 1897. No one knew how many students would turn up, let alone that it would become the most influential art school in Europe. The calligrapher with his quill in the compelling and unworldly image, top, is Edward Johnston, one of the first teachers there. His talent was identified with uncanny precision by the principal, WR Lethaby, when Johnston went to enrol as a student but went away with a commission, which was followed by the offer of a job. The photo was taken in 1902, possibly at his rooms at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Note the plain oak Arts and Crafts writing-table.


William Lethaby was one of a group of architects who had played a key role in the Arts and Crafts movement and the societies it gave rise to. This striking portrait of him, above, is by the wood-emgraver, Noel Rooke, who had played a canny role in the revival of British wood-engraving at the school. It had fallen to Sidney Lee to take over Frank Morley Fletcher's class in colour woodcut when he himself had already stopped making them and was moving forward as one of he early exponents of the new wood-engraving. Rooke eventually took over the class from Lee after pushing a Trojan horse into the bookbinding department. That's my reading anyway. I'm not a great fan of Rooke's work but I think this is pretty good, mainly because you can see all the stylised tics of the wood-engravers but with Rooke remaining focussed on the subject.


Morley Fletcher left the class in 1906 and twenty years afterwards made a disastrous move to a private college of arts and crafts at Santa Barbara. I have always assumed this photo was taken in California, partly because of his age, but more because of the ample cut of his short-sleeved shirt. It looks like he has the block for the tree-trunks and their reflections for Waterway from 1904 in front of him. (It's a surprisingly large print). The woodcut to his right is certainly his own California 3, Ojai Valley from 1935. He and his wife, Dolly, moved to Ojai after some time spent living in LA. The portrait makes a great deal out of him as a maker of colour woodcut when he had made only three new prints in all the time they lived in California, California 3 being his last.


May Morris would have been one of his first colleagues at the Central. I'm never quite sure whether she did any actual teaching. She had taken over the embroidery department of Morris & Co at the age of twenty-three after studying at South Kensington (eventually the Royal College) and directed the embroidery class with one of her own students in charge. The photograph was taken about 1890, presumably either at Hammersmith, the family's London base, or at the Morris country house at Kelmscott. Either way, the incidentals are as interesting as the face (and that is very interesting indeed, like her mother's). The exquisite dress, the frolicking wallpaper, the chased picture frame show Morris counselling the very best to us all.

The very idea of Eric Gill (above) working at the same school as May Morris is almost beyond comprehension. He was an early student of Johnston's who was then laying the way for much of modern lettering. While Gill was still in his class, Johnston, who was a Scot, drily described Gill as 'the monumental mason who is making a tombstone for Mr Batten'. (John Dickson Batten had walked into his class with the commission). Gill's workman's tunic and rope belt seem a world away from Morris' beautiful garb and yet he was just as arts and crafts as she was. Perhaps more so.

The Corkman, Robert Gibbings, was a student of Rooke's before the first war and later on a friend of Gill's. Wayward from the start, he had been in danger of frittering away his energies untill Rooke had suggested wood-engraving to him and he took to that with gusto, eventually buying the Golden Cockerel Press at Waltham St Lawrence in 1923. This photograph was taken ten years down the line, in the year Gibbings was to sell up. (He ended up in the late thirties flat-broke and living in the garden shed with his son). But this photo sums up all his virile charm. The ordinariness of his dress again stands in contrast to May Morris' 1890s refinement. He had asked Gill to work on illustration at the press but Gill, as unworldly as the rest of them, had fussily refused on the grounds that Gibbings wasn't a Catholic. Undeterred, Gibbings decided to publish a book of Gill's sister's poetry as bait. Brighton was no match for County Cork.

Friday 16 November 2012

More from Mary Wrinch

I posted on the Canadian artist Mary Wrinch two years ago, and and although I have nothing much to add, I did come across Green and gold (above) some while back on Bill Carl's site and think it's about time I put this irresistible little linocut up on the blog. If in common with so much Canadian printmaking of the period, style wins out over subject, I can still forgive her. The blues and golds would be enough to win me over, but really the surface textures convince me that she really could come up with the goods. I don't know how much it is, but I think it's still for sale.


Also from Bill Carl, this other one, in similar vein, but a more conventional landscape, just about. For blue trees were a convention by the thirties though I'm not so sure about pink ones. This one may also be from Bill Carl. The final print isn't but is still up for sale on ebay in Canada. Not in a style I admire nearly half as much, for US$650, it might be yours. My thanks as ever to William P Carl Fine Prints.



Tuesday 13 November 2012

Janet Fisher

For an artist of such sweet simplicity, Janet Fisher (1862 - 1926) uses a helluva lot of black. But then she was in good company. Both Mabel Royds and her woodcut model, William Nicholson, also used black to create graphic images that may have looked almost childlike but were, in fact, throughly sophisticated. Unlike either of them, Fisher stayed the course. Her work is almost impossible to date. She was still exhibiting in the 1920s even though she was studying as early as the 1880s. What marks her out is her sensibility.She has abiding interests that show up throughout her career - whatever that period may have been (and I don't exactly know).


And beneath the sweetness, there is an abiding rigour. Images of donkeys and goats, old men and old women, may be appealing, but she approaches almost everything she does with a wonderful sense of colour and form. She was a classicist, pure and simple. Hers are prints that, for all their attractiveness, appeal to the mind, as much as to the eye. The great stone arches of Italy are inherently interesting to her as much as the surviving Greek temples. She is more a contemporary of Roy Lichtenstein than JM Whistler.


I have started off with prints whose subjects are less genre than some of them are, I suppose, just to make this point. But even when her subjects are purely genre, there is no escaping the fundamental discipline behind her work. Those saturated Prussian blues she uses in the print above may well suggest someone who has looked at Hokusai but it was someone who could resist the japonesque. At her best, she is almost above style. Unlike her paintings, her prints make wider claims. In going to Italy, she became a European. She is also a colourist in the way her printmaking European contemporaries were.

To this end, almost no one else requires excellent reproduction to get a proper sense of what she could do. I was very grateful recently to see the photos posted by peninky aka Bellagraphica on ebay. These did her work justice and if you care to compare the old woman bent forward over the fire and Fisher's drawing of the scientist, Sir Francis Gaulton, you may also come to the conclusion that what illuminates them both is the light of the mind. You only need look at the way she takes a difficult viewpoint so that she can study Gaulton's skull.


I suppose what gives me sufficient confidence to say all this is the little I know about her own background and training. Her father had been educated at Oxford before he went into the Church and eventually was made rector at Walton-on-Trent in Derbyshire. In itself, that isn't very mnuch to go on, but it indicates the climate that she grew up in. She was still studying art in her late twenties and didn't attend Hubert von Herkomer's school at Bushey in Hertfordshire untill she was about thirty.


This was a private school run by a famous artist, not along academic lines, but where study was centred on the student as opposed to technique. Von Herkomer, who came from southern Germany,  also made etchings and mezzotints, and there was a print workshop at the school. Nicholson's future wife, Mabel Pryde, was a student there in 1891, along with her brother, James, who was soon working with Nicholson as one of the Beggarstaff Brothers. I don't know whether or not she came to know Nicholson, but her prints have more in common with his than with the Anglo-Japanese, as Claude Flight liked to call them. You can see on my Nicholson post that both he and Royds made use of a girl with black and white goats. Ever alert to formal structure, Fisher introduced a row of verticals into her own goat-girl woodcut. She must have known his books. Even so, Fisher was more interested in printmaking than he was and was making them long after he had stopped. She constantly uses black, blue and green because she understands the requirements of graphic art. No one could ever say of her, as they did of the artists who made woodcuts in the Japanese manner, that they may as well have painted in watercolour. She may have been sweet-natured, but she was serious. If some of her subjects  are pre-occupied, she looks directly at us.

Thanks are due to Keith aka grumpyangler for additional information about students at Bushey.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Ethel Kirkpatrick: an outgoing fleet

Thomas Kirkpatrick died only a very few years after he had had a house called The Grange built at Harrow-on-the-Hill in Essex. I did wonder whether it had been named after Edward Burne Jones' house at Fulham and considering Kirkpatrick had two daughters who were making their way as young artists, there was one important thing missing. It was a studio. The year after their father's death, Ethel and Ida (see her post) put this right.

Although Ethel Kirkpatrick's take on home-life in On top of Harrow Hill (see above) is witty and convivial, just as one would expect from someone whose father had been born at Coolmine in County Dublin, the domestic gets short shrift in her work. The nearest that we ever get is a simple bowl of marigolds. If it was wings that interested her near-contemporary, Allen Seaby, with Kirkpatrick it was sails. She did sails like no one else.


It took a few years before she found what she wanted. Moving from Brittany to Chambery in Switzerland and then on to St Ives in Cornwall, she finally began to work around Newlyn in about 1893 or 1894. I've already talked about her watercolour Boats at rest painted that year, but when she learned how to make colour woodcuts, probably only a few years after that, she found a metier that helped make her sails something not just special, but unique. It doesn't come across on a pc monitor, but occasionally her printed boats move across the picture like ghosts being blown along to a seance. She achieves a sense of something unearthly in those prints that no one else quite gets near. Not to my mind, anyway. Of all the artists I have written about here, you need to have one of those Kirkpatricks in front of you to fully understand what her achievement was.


As I've just suggested, she was in the first wave of British artists to learn to make colour woodcuts in the Japanese manner. She was certainly one of the earliest students at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and must have studied the craft there with Frank Morley Fletcher. For a craft that required such discipline, there was still an emphasis on experiment at the time and Kirkpatrick was one of a few artists who tested the range of the medium in a way that was similar to the approach taken by the Japanse themselves. Alongside Sidney Lee and Elizabeth Christie Austen Brown, she worked on colour variations of her prints. With Lee, if he changes from night to day, nothing much is gained. Brown, as I've said recently, is more subtle. She builds up the image from pure monochrome to strong colour. It wasn't just a change of the time of day with her. Oddly enough, though, there is an early print by Kirkpatrick called The full moon (bottom) where the time of day is so ambiguous, I have still not convinced myself it isn't sunset. I think she was obviously experimenting, even if we only have one version that has come down to us. But for her print An outgoing fleet, we have three. This second, silvery variation is so close in feel to Brown's colourless version of Largs harbour it is hard to believe they didn't know each others work well.


We have to remember that colour printmaking of this kind was something new to Europe in the late 1890s and for me it has become clear that Brown and Kirkpatrick both became interested in the effect of colour, but of all three artists, Kirkpatrick was the most evocative. She doesn't make herself unnecessary work. The images are kept to the centre of the picture and the cutting is often kept to a minimum. What she does excell in is tone. She achieves this not just by her jaunty use of colour, but by the way she applies the medium to the block, and the way she underprints.


She knew what she was doing. The complete set of build-ups she gave to the V&A in London makes that clear. More's the pity the set was for Brixham Trawlers rather than for An outgoing fleet. All the same, it just goes to show the striking lengths she went to to gain an effect that is far from obvious in the final proof. The underprinting, above, is for two trees, believe it or not, in The canal. There is a kind of planning and calculation in her work that is all the more surprising when you consider the effects she wished to achieve. If Allen Seaby once described colour printing as 'a sort of magic', the magic in Kirkpatrick's prints isn't only one of colour, or tone. It is more contrived than that. It is hard to conceive the way she managed to plot colours and shapes in the way that she did and come up with something, as I said earlier on, that is just so purely strange. It's an over-used phrase, I know, but what we sometimes get in Kirkpatrick is a dream-world. Of all the colour woodcut artists, she grasped what she might be done with the medium, in a way perhaps no one else did. She was not just vigilant, she was uncanny.