Once Emil Orlik came home again from Japan, even though he had gone there to learn how to make woodcuts in the workshops, the woodcuts he made were few n number. Instead he embarked on a long series of portrait etchings. One of the first is one of the most famous, his portrait of Gustav Mahler, a typically articulate image that is probably no better than many of the others. When he first met Orlik in a cafe, Mahler thought him too talkative, amonst other things. Perhaps he was unaware that the man with the sketchbook had mastered one of the visual idioms of Japan.
The first image here, though, shows someone who was a part of the same circle of Secession designers and artists. If Orlik knew Kolo Moser well, it is still less portrait than design. For all the sophistiocated work he had produced while in Japan, back home he reverted to cutting and printing that lets the medium speak for itself. He takes such a different approach with etching, it is hard to credit that he made his portrait of Moser only about a year after the one of Mahler, although again I wonder whether portrait is quite the right word.
Orlik knew Bernard Pankok (above) before he went off to Japan. In fact, it was with Pankok that Orlik began to make his first woodcuts once he had pulled out of the Munich Academy of Fine Art. The image certainly suggests the artistic milieu of the man but the usual analysis of character we might expect from an etching is missing. Instead Pankok hunches over the image that he is creating. It is an image of the artist, cramped and concerned only with his work. It is some long way from the dramatic refinement of Mahler.
With Pankok and Moser, the image is deliberate and bold; it takes up the whole space. For Mahler, there is no such intimacy but the differentiation is intense. Where the pressure gives out at the bottom left hand corner in the Pankok, the sepia tone is graduated with care for Mahler. It isn't the colour of the paper you can see, it is the colour of the image. The strict represenatation of Mahler's face stands out agains the smudge of his bow-tie and the scrawl of his waistcoat and jacket. It is an image of intelligence and refinement rather than artistic passion. It was also also someone he barely knew.
It strikes me that, by and large, he opted for woodcut when it came to someone that he knew and knew well. It doesn't matter how sophisticated their way of life might have been, his colleagues and friends from the Secession were rendered raw and square. There weren't many of them, more's the pity. There were far more of the portrait etchings. I must admit, I don't know who the one above shows but coming from 1901, it is one of the earliest. Even so he has the elegant spatial arrangement off pat. With the woodcuts we look everywhere, with the etchins, it is the eyes the nose, the ears we look at. The blank jacket, the dark cravat, the beautiful planes of the forehead and the beard, all lead us one way. It has tremendous finished concentration, there is nothing provisional, raw or creative about it.
Reluctantly, I have to admit his woodcut of the great designer Josef Hoffmann isn't one of his strongest, but there are so few of them around, it has to go in. The one of the Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler is more powerful and affecting. Perhaps it was the peasant build and personal tragedy that makes it that way, but I have already given Hodler alot of space and now it's more interesting to look at two more works that in some ways use a dual appraoch.