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.
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.