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.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Elizabeth York Brunton

There must be a process whereby an artist becomes an enigma. How it came about for the Scottish printmaker, Elizabeth York Brunton, I do not know, but certainly an enigma is exactly what she has become. For someone with such an individual gift, we should have more on her, but in three years or so, I have turned up only two images. Belatedly, here is a first post on her.

I deduce that she came to colour woodcut late. This was by no means unusual. In fact, her close contemporary, Marion Gill, began to exhibit her first woodcuts the same year as York Brunton, having also studied at Edinburgh College of Art. Unlike Helen Stevenson, who graduated and began to exhibit the previous year, both Gill and York Brunton were in their early forties. But while Gill went on to become a superlative maker of prints in as far as her technique was just wonderful, York Brunton I suspect stayed closer to her teacher's own approach. The expressive cutting and printing you see here can only really follow the example of one person. Unfortunately, I have no proof that it was Mabel Royds. But you decide.

Like Stevenson, she had made a surprising number of woodcuts by early on in her printmaking career and I have to assume that some of them were student pieces. Certainly by 1926 there were at least eleven, all of them in the Japanese manner, and not bad going for someone whose first exhibition date (so far as we know) was 1924. Owls, with its twiggy blue keyblock, may well be one of them. Fairly simple in its structure, there is nevertheless depth of experience in the way she makes us look up and down the picture and note the alertness of the bird and its intensity of vision. (Like so many good works of art, it describes itself).


This follows straight through into two more of her subjects that sit and wait. Again, I am going to make an assumption that this so far unidentified print, is Summer. It is altogether more sophisticated and it has already been pointed how much it has in common with Frank Morley Fletcher's image of a farm at Trepied near Etaples. This one also looks like France to me and presumably describes a scene in a tourist town where people ride carriages for pleasure. If the way the keyblock is used to catch the shadow in the trees and bark is Fletcher, the array of colours, especially the soft peach and turquoise, is Royds. But Royds never has that sense of heat and indolence, even in her Indian prints. York Brunton's work is much closer to the painter who paints out of doors and catches the moment of time in her claws. Royds is just that touch academic by this point. The patterns that the print sets up - the tree trunks, the wheels, the doors, are more subtly French than either of her teacher's work, even though all three of them studied in Paris at one time or another.

Probably kindred spirits gravitate towards one another.  But I think I have made enough suggestions for one short post. Over the next month or two I shall be looking at more woodcuts by York Brunton and reporting back. The subjects sound similar: birds or landscape and sometimes both. Enigmatic, yes, and also intriguing.