Wednesday, 31 October 2012

This week on ebay

I remember going through a pile of things that had belonged to an friend who had died and his executor (who was standing over me) saying, 'There's nothing much in there.' Nothing much turned out to be a woodcut by Ohara Koson and ... well, I took it away with me. And that probably sums up my attitude towards acquiring prints by Koson. Paying a round ten quid at an antiques centre seems about right.

I know very little about Japanese workshop practice but the image you see here lies on the paper in almost the same way as the one for sale on British ebay, so I assume they were printed at the corner of the sheet. The one coming up also has a brown mark which the seller tells me is from old mounting.

That said, I did ponder whether to post this image or not, but good sense tells me that even if the seller hasn't identified the artist as Koson, potential buyers will. I shall stick to beach-combing.
But ebay does have bargains and as it stands this wood-engraving by the British artist Leslie Benenson could well be one. By and large great enthusiasm for wood-engraving is some way behind me. Nor am I a great enthusiast for Benenson's work but that didn't stop me buying her fine Leaping stag from the same seller last week even if there is light damage round the edges of the mount. (You can see the same effect here). Her skill is beyond doubt and at £14.99 you would have a craftsmanlike and satisfying print. I think as much as anything, I just liked the woodland image. But I also noticed all the last four prints I've bought feature animals. So much for judgement. I have a zoo.

There's nothing of the sauve professional about the colour woodcuts by the Scots artist, Margaret Romanes, nor do they come up the way work by Benenson does. Now this is odd, because she is reckoned to have made about 500 of them. The story goes she first saw 'Japanese prints' (as she called them) in the window of a gallery in her home-town of Edinburgh after the first war, and her own prints generally have bird or flower subjects. How satisfying these are, I wouldn't like to say. As one of my readers says, if he paid £125 (and that's the asking price for the Romanes) he wouldn't enjoy it. In this instance, I don't think I would either.

Moving on from the mundane, we come to the iconic - an over-used term but here I think it is apt. Max Kurzweil made this image of his wife in 1903, which makes it one of the earliest of accomplished European colour woodcuts in the modern decorative manner. The snag of course is the sad condition. The seller on German ebay has been wise enough to start off bidding at one humble euro. All the same, someone has sensibly put in a bid. Whoever it is, they will enjoy it more than they would the Romanes, I will tell you that for free.


Last, but far from least, a John Dory by Meryl Watts. In the early 1930s, Watts made some super prints. She also made some peculiar ones. I think I would place this one in the second category. It's an unhappy amalgam of terracotta and turquoise (never my personal favourite) and the cutting on the seabed is banal. I often think once she left the fatherly influence of John Platt behind her, she went astray. All the same, she has acquired something like the mystique that artists associated with the Grosvenor School now have. The style is instantly recognisable. Is that the reason why?


  1. Charles,

    "Paying round ten quid at an antiques centre seems about right"!? Are you serious? What a harsh misjudgement of the greatest master of kacho-e whose influence on Western printmakers can hardly be overestimated!


  2. Klaus, we missed you! And I like Koson! I just can't spend money on everything, that's all.

  3. Ok Charles: under these circumstances I apologize for my spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings :-)

  4. I love the John Dory: my choice of your pick. And I love Meryl Watts. Tiny print, just priced somewhat over "reasonable", "affordable" and "buy on impulse". Tempted but not yet hooked.

  5. Watts' work was uneven so I am dubious about her. Asking £99 implies she is better than she is. She goes in for the kind of doodling mindlessness that gives me the willies.