Saturday 18 February 2012

Bernard Rice: works on fabric

Another object for Yasser Mongy and one of my luckiest buys ever. I found this tablecloth designed by Bernard Rice just searching on ebay in an idle moment. It's on linen but I have no idea how it was printed but I assume it dates from the post-war period. You can see the influence of Chinese art, which Rice was very attracted to. And of course the Altamira and Lascaux-effect is there as well. It was the kind of thing they sold at Heal's in London. Perhaps not a great design but interesting all the same. And it is typical of Rice in its quirky sense of adventure.


Rice also made a large linocut called Rammuda in black and crimson on fine cotton. The British Museum acquired their proof (using the Shrimpton and Giles Bequest, which is a nice touch) in 1952 so he probably made it not long before that.


A reader remembers seeing this print, along with Bernard Rice, as a boy. He said it was on silk. But if he has a copy, I would be very interested to see an image! Neither the British Museum nor the V&A have images online but it is illustrated at the back of one of John Buckland Wright's books, which I no longer own.

Friday 17 February 2012

Bernard Rice: rare images

A few rare images by the British artist Bernard Rice for a reader in Cairo who is preparing a book on him. Rice moved to Cairo in 1929 where he worked at the School of Fine Art and helped to set up the Graphics Department where my reader now works himself.

All of these images come from this 1996 exhibition catalogue. The main aim of the exhibition was to raise money for Rice's care.

The last image I  think is my favourite woodcut by the artist. He made seperate prints using at least two sections of the larger woodcut - you can see one of them here (the image for some reason is reversed). I own another, which you can see on my post 'The Bosnian woodcuts'. I shall be posting more as I sort them out.


Thursday 16 February 2012

William Giles' 'September Moon'


Up for sale on British ebay this week is William Giles' print September Moon at the astonishing starting bid of £500 (that's US$790). [NB Gerrie Caspers is quite sure this is a reproduction from Malcolm Salaman's Masters of the Colour Print series. This is why the label is attached as a title. The one you see here is not the one that is for sale].

This was his very first colour woodcut, published in 1901. This was soon after Giles had gained his art master's certificate at University College, Reading, where he had also learned the colour woodcut technique from Frank Morley Fletcher, who was head of the Department of Art.

It is also one of the very first of the colour woodcuts produced by a member of the British school. I have already posted some of the very early Cornish prints by Sydney Lee and also Ethel Kirkpatrick and I include Kirkpatrick's The full moon for comparison.

I think we can safely assume that the artists knew one another. Kirkaptrick studied enamel work at the Central when Fletcher was teaching the colour woodcut class there and she must also haven been one of his students - stay posted. But Giles owes something in this first print of his to his teacher. The delicacy of colour and line are to be found in Fletcher's own early prints Meadowsweet and The flood gates. But Giles was almost thirty when the print came out and it is fascinating to see that he was already his own man and that many of his real interests are already there, namely his interest in the effects of light and the making of an impression (without being Impressionist).

You can see, I think, that Kirkpatrick was always more Japanese than Giles and what is of course important about this work as a first print is that he dispensed with the keyblock. It was experimenting by then and went on to abandon colour woodcut altogether for a while and use zinc plates instead. But at this point, Kirkpatrick and Giles had quite alot in common, including a striking similarity in colour scheme. Both tend use a more a restricted palette than Fletcher and in some ways they were both more strict in their approach to print-making than their teacher was.


I suppose I have to include Fletcher's well-known first print Meadowsweet of 1897. This was the first fully independent British colour woodcut and the effectiveness of Fletcher's teaching and personal example are proven in the considerable quality achieved early on by both of his students.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Katharine Jowett: forbidden city

Your visual education has to start somewhere but with the British printmaker Katharine Jowett (1890 - 1965)  we do not know where that was. Most readers are probably not familar with the west front of Exeter Cathedral but looking at her prints, they make me think its great carved screen and ornate towers. But then I know that her father was a minister in the town. Even so, almost all her prints are architectural and they have a similar articulate flamboyance.

I can't offhand think of any British artist who achieved such depth of colour in their linocuts. By comparision, some Grosvenor artists look almost insipid. And, of course, this is exactly what she is noted for. How she achieved this is another matter. Because she appears to have left Exeter or Devon in the 1920s when British linocut was was only getting started and went to China where she stayed untill the end of the second war. In that time she made a minimum of about twenty five prints,with variations, and as she was interned by the Japanese during the war, she probably worked for no more than about fifteen years. And for those fifteen years she had one subject only and that was old Pekin.

It was a ready-made subject because she lived there. But it obviously interested her a great deal. She moves from one view to another, almost to the point of monotony. Many of the subjects are similar but some prints are more expressive than others, the viewpoints less conventional, the vigourous use of colour as fauve as any English artist. But she isn't Bloomsbury; she is remarkably free of affectation for a thirties printmaker.


Ironically, this is what I like about her. She apprehends the physical world and renders it with tremendous purity. I have to assume this came about becase she had talent but wasn't trained and stood outside the trends at home. Somewhere she learned to make linocut - quite possibly from one of Claude Flight's books and through another printmaker. (The person she has most in common with is Isabel de B Lockyer who also had Devon connections as it happens and occasionally their architectural views are similar). I am not trying to present her as a naive artist in some way; I just think she was independant. In this she is clearly different from travellers like Elizabeth Keith and Charles Bartlett who both turned their watercolours into prints. Funnily enough, the work you see here by Jowett is more intense and painterly than theirs but basically is conceived in terms of linocut and nothing else. For this, if nothing else, she deserves credit.

One facet of her work that I don't think has been commented on are her cloudscapes. They hark back to the British watercolour tradition but have an emphasis that lets you know she was well-aware of what was happening in the visual arts in 1920s Britain. Equally, the bold shapes, merging colours and pattern-making are just as typical of the period but they never intrude too much on her subject. She isn't a show-off; she loves what she sees and this makes her detachment and control all the more impressive.


Thursday 9 February 2012

Charles W Bartlett: catch a wave

From Mabels Royds to Emil Orlik, art and travel have been woven together in their lives of many of the artists I have posted on here. And this was never more true than for the British artist Charles Bartlett (1860 - 1940). He undertook his first long journey after the death of his first wife during childbirth. He and his friend Frank Brangwen found their way across Brittainy and Picardy, the Lowlands and Italy, often on foot. Bartlett had already spent three years at the Academie Julien (1886 - 1889) in Paris after an equally long stint at the Royal Academy in London and he now settled in Holland for a while, making genre portraits that sometimes looked like tempera and sometimes like enamel but always had the ghosts of the old masters and the academy to haunt them. Then he returned home and in 1898 married Catherine Main, the daughter of a Scots shipbuilder.


This was not the impecunious young artist. By the time he had married Kate, he was close to forty and already successful as a watercolourist but in 1913, with financial support from her father, the couple undertook a momentous trip planned to take five years to the East. Travelling across much of British India and then China, they eventually arrived in Japan in 1915. The timing could not have been better for him. He could not have known before he arrived that the canny Tokyo publisher, Shozaburo Wantanabe, had just decided to package his latest commercial enterprise as shin hanga, or new prints. First working with the contemporary Japanese artist Goyo Hashiguchi and then the Austrian watercolourist Fritz Capelari, he had begun to combine good old-fashioned ukiyo-e workshop practice with enough elements of Western art to make them palatable to the US and European markets. It is pretty certain that Bartlett had heard about his work with Capelari because one fine day, portfolio of watercolours in hand, he walked into the print shop in Kyobashi and showed them to Wantanabe.


The publiser's first move was to to give Bartlett a set of Japanese brushes and urge him to practice underpainting. The blocks would be cut and printed by specialist craftsman; it would be Bartlett's job to produce designs showing aspects of his travels in both India and Japan. He had certainly travelled quite some distance from contemporary developments in colour woodcut back home in London where the idea of original colour woodcuts was taking hold in much the same way as it was amongst Japanese artists. But the attractions of ukiyo-e were obvious: he would not have to learn the craft and he could get on with his career. Just like the surfers in Surf riders, Honolulu, he had learned to take opportunities as they came along. This wave was probably one of the biggest of his life. By the following year a set of no less than 22 prints had been published. The first India series of six were almost immediately exhibited in New York.


Khyber Pass belongs to this first set but I think he went on to do more accomplished work and other Indian subjects were published about 1919 and the two great shaded panoramas Silk merchants, India and Peshawar that you see here combine magic and indolence, turbans and camels, in a way that is as unreal as it is irresistable. He combines cliches with sensitivity in a quite breath-taking manner and manages to avoid both the topographical niceties and occasional awkwaradness of the earlier India prints. To my mind the Japanese set are of less interest. Having a Japanese print manner ready to hand, he made use of it. This may well have been Wantanabe's idea but at first glance they could be anyone.


They left Japan in 1917, heading for Honolulu, to open a one-man show of his work. My reading of the situation is that their host proved very persuasive and the Bartlett's put off their departure for the US and eventually England, more than once. They never left. In all a total of 39 woodblocks were produced by Wantanabe from Bartlett's designs up untill 1926. I'm not exactly sure about any later printed works but in 1933, he helped set up Honolulu Printmakers. If some of his watercolour portraits are anything to go by, he became a fairly conventional artist in Hawaii and ended up becoming a hermit even by his own account.


It's a story that isn't unique in British printmaking but it is as striking and original as the prints that were produced. Another, perhaps more forceful British artist was to come along soon and give the wily Wantanabe a better run for his money and also prove to be one of his most loyal artists, particularly after the disastrous earthquake of 1923 when all his blocks were destroyed. I am of course talking about the inimitable Elizabeth Keith.


Tuesday 7 February 2012

Return of the native: EA Verpilleux

Much as I love the Via Maqueda in Palermo, a seedy internet joint at the end towards the station wasn't the best place for me to do justice to Gerrie Casper's series of posts about Emile Antoine Verpilleux and related topics on The Linosaurus recently So now, I try to make amends.

Not very suprisingly, Gerrie promoted Verpilleux as Belgian, backing this up with his views on the Antwerp school of printmaking that centred around the two wood-engravers Edward Vermorcken and Edward Pellens. Verpilleux was of course born in London (as many Belgians are) and from there he was sent for part of his education to France and eventually to the Flemish city of Antwerp to study at the School of Fine Art there. (We have no dates but I think it's likely Vermorcken was in charge at the time.) And to underline his cosmopolitan background, he then married Caroline Putnam, an artist from Haden, Connecticut. I say all this to assert my own view, namely, that like Palermo, Verpilleux was a hybrid and like Palermo that is exactly what makes him interesting. He may not have been great but he was different.

Basically, Vermorcken and Pellens belonged to a school of monochrome wood-engraving whereas Verpilleux was essentially a painter who used both engraving and woodcut techniques on large blocks to gain his well-known atmospheric effects. So far as I know there are no monchrome prints by Verpilleux extant and this probably means he never made any. He wasn't the small-scale kind of artist. Some of his blocks were engraved, others were cut. The tonal effect for his skies were achieved by using both. Unlike almost all his British contemporaries, he uses a heavy paper and printing ink that he must have learned to use in Antwerp and he could not afford to be purist. In fact, he needed all the flexibility he could muster and his wide variety of cuts, soaring perspectivist buildings and raw black crowds all helped make his prints distinctive. They had none of the deliciousness of Allen Seaby's surfaces, they were not intended to be pored over by connoiosseurs, they are not the kinds of print you want to look at very closely The very subjects remain the favourites of tourists to this day: St Paul's Cathedral (top) Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum. We can now add the long forgotten St Pancras Station to the list (above).


But look at his crowds, with their furs and large hats and shopping. They are much the same as the people LH Jungnickel showed in the Schonbrunner Park in Vienna at the same time. And this is what is most remarkable about Verpilleux: he had cast his net quite widely and around 1912 seemed to spring fully formed on the London art world. There is nothing hesitant or experimental about these early prints. They change; they become less painterly, but they are already well-judged composites. It even makes you wonder whether he met Jungnickel while he was at work in Brussels on the murals for the palais Stoclet (1905 - 1911), and whether they learned one from the other. But his crowds are gentrified Londoners, busy and blase, paying no attention to their aloof surrounding monuments, preoccupied with culture, travel, getting home, the shops. Occasionally, an umbrella is used to indicate some point of interest but the people rarely engage with their surroundings but in general they are too insouciant and elegant to bother.

This may be partly because Verpilleux was in the habit of superimposing a heavy keyblock, with its contingent crowds, vans, brollies and parcels, directly on top of the main subject, and unlike Jungnickel in his Schonbrunner print (if you image search LH Jungnickel on Google, you will find his design for the print, from this blog) avoiding any depth and development of space. Paradoxically, this makes him look more modern. It's only after you take a closer look that you pick out the Edwardian details. Which is a shame. He is too well-known for his effects and not well-known enough for his observation. And observant he was. For these are real Londoners, as chic as anyone in Laboureur. And it's easy to deride this use of the keyblock as hammy and habitual but he does vary things as you can see in the British Museum print and he is less prone to dependency on the busy keyblock later on. But then in his 1920s prints like Winter Evening (below) he adopts another mannerism. And this time it is light and colour, and light and colour often of the most sensational kind.




Friday 3 February 2012

Gertrude Brodie & the lamps of Settle


I have always been intrigued by Gertrude Brodie's use of the small lamp symbol beside her signature because it suggests a conscious artistic identity for someone who is now very obscure indeed. Although there seems to be one book that she illustrated, she made her living as an art teacher, first at Settle Girls High School and then Giggleswick School, also in the town. (For people outside the UK, Settle is a market town in the North Craven district of Yorkshire in the north of England.)

I've owned this conte crayon and gouache drawing by her for many years but it's only recently come back into my possession and set me off thinking about her again. Part of the original appeal was that her work had a good graphic quality and I would be surprised to learn that she didn't know the colour woodcuts made by Jack B Yeats for the Cuala Press in Ireland. Her work has a similar reliance on dark outlines and a similar vigour and fluidity - the figures are very Yeats - and I place Brodie in the company of colour woodcut artists for this reason.

The building you can see on the right is The Folly, a large C17th century house that now houses a museum. I now learn from their website that Brodie produced a series of drawings of the town which confirms my earlier suspicions that here was an artist with a tendency. Two are called 'The lamps of Settle and I think we can assume her lamp symbol sits alongside that arts and crafts signature of hers. I think we can also take it as read that the pictures included one of the street lamps that you see to the left.

What I like about the picture is its tone and the subtlety of the colours.The narrow street running up into the centre is rather awkard in the way it disappears and the truncated building is odd but she obviously wanted to concentrate our attention on the two-way traffic of rural and urban in a town like Settle. Having just returned from the old town of Girokastra in Albania I know exactly what she means. She isn't only subtle in her colours, she is perceptive about place. The lamps would have had such a modernising effect in a town like Settle. I think she was conscious of the disparity between the wooded hill and the lamps; there is a sense of small-town drama here.