Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mid-week on ebay


At last here is exactly the kind of thing that doesn't come up often enough, namely a good colour woodcut that has started off at next-to-nothing on German ebay simply because the seller has no idea who it is by. In some ways you shouldn't need to read the signature. This print is signed Karl Johne all over. Very few central European printmakers were using such bright colours nor doing trees as well as this, albeit in a conventional way. It's worth having at quite alot more than the derisory bids it has received so far, but then I suspect a small tribe will be waiting on the sidelines to place a bid. It is here on the blog simply so that readers can appreciate a print by an artist who isn't well-known enough and that probably hasn't been seen online before. He has done a tremendous job with a limited number of colours; the varied shapes, the reflections and the perspective all give the print interest. I especially like the way the plants right foreground combine with the precision handwriting. Convincing, well-conceived and very likeable, this view of the Isar nevertheless lacks the atmosphere and panache of Hans Frank's more wintry view across a river.


Just as good (if not better) is Leo Frank's City in the desert, an evocation of the citadel at Cairo at evening time, with the Mohammed Ali Mosque pretending it's on the banks on the Golden Horn. Frank finds himself on British ebay, and I would certainly have had a go at this one, partly because I like Cairo so much, and partly because as Leo goes, I like his use of blue here quite alot. But I'm afraid I like the condition of the print much less. Even by Frank brothers standards, the foxing is spectacular. I assume it was the kind of paper they both used. It seems to be almost endemic, though they would probably have had no idea themselves what would happen to their prints. There is another woodcut by him showing the Pyramids, with the statutory camels, not as nice, but just as badly foxed.


I can see no reason why, but people have already bid on this, and it only went up on British ebay today. Just to show how careful Frank was, I've included one of the many good photographs taken of Cairo long before its citizens took over every available space, including the cemeteries. I think the sand Frank shows may well be poetic licence. I'm not sure the desert ever got that close but I could be wrong. It's interesting the photographer has a better view of the mosque. Frank makes it look cramped but he wisely opts for an open view across the sand. Frank's print says more even though it shows less.

And just so as you know that dealers in Germany do not bother to look and see what other colour woodcuts are for sale on ebay, another woodcut, but this time correctly identified as Johne! This one showing a chapel half-hidden by some lime trees is for sale at 85 €. Again, Johne has got the trees right. Even so, the seller still could only make out half the title. Gratifying to know that even Germans can't read their own writing. You will perhaps also have noticed by now how much both printmakers make use of verticals to break up the sky and divide the image. Frank and Johne also both use paths to connect foreground  to background, though Frank is far more subtle about it. (I must bear that in mind).


  1. The Leo Frank is superb!!! If it wasn't for the foxing... but even in this poor state the print is powerful and fascinating.


  2. For years I looked on Leo as an also-ran. Not any more. I just wonder why he didn't come up with more work like this.

  3. Yes, You're right: he also made much weaker prints.