Up untill about two years ago or so, an Amsterdam auction house had an online catalogue for the sale of a very comprehensive collection of colour woodcuts by German, Austrian and British artists. It was a tremendous resource and is much missed and what struck me particularly is that someone had had the presence of mind to build up such a fascinating collection.
My own half dozen central European prints looked rather puny by comparison. Not only that, the signatures were so difficult to make out, three had been unidentified for years. But once I decided to make an inventory, I made an all-out effort to pin them down. Believe me, it is an utter waste of time trying to read the signatures. I remember a friend saying to me, 'My mother would have been able to read it,' but even though she came from Gelsenkirchen, I was dubious. Not even Germans can make them out.
But that catalogue offered a solution. There were enough prints by individual artists to be able to work your way through and identify the artist by their style. Most artists, once they get into a groove, stick with it, and there was something oddly satisfying about catching them out in this way. Englebert Lap proved easy, as did Paul Leschhorn. Matching the name in the catalogue with the signature, it all became suddenly obvious. The print that turned out trickiest was the second one you see here, and that says quite alot, I suppose, about the way Mass worked. Her career was suprisingly long and her output was diverse and basically she was transitional. I don't want to start bandying about terms like Secession or German impressionist, but I am sure you will see that the naturalness of the first print is markedly different from the formality of the second.
That said, the motifs are the same and more to the point the same sensibility can been seen at work. Each time that was the thing that gave them all away. But it was least obvious and more searching in Mass. Unfortunately, she had another fussier approach, in common with Josephine Siccard Redl, which I'm afraid I have to call chocolate-box mode. Not easy to identify at all, because it could as easily be Redl or Rotky (see below). Crude and early works never fit anywhere. You will say, he has chosen a bunch of prints with trees so of course they look similar. But they all did trees - Lap, Leschhorn, Frank, Thiemann, Johne, Rotky. Thiemann you think birch, with Leschhorn it's a conifer, Johne lime, und so weiter.
Mention of Carl Thiemann brings me to another, more practical point. The art reference section in Nottingham public library has always had an invaluable German publication, a dictionary of signatures and mongrams, where the compiler has approached the idiosyncrasies of artists with unimpeachable thoroughness. In the end, it is far, far more impressive than the collection that was sold in Amsterdam. It was that book that helped me to identify a Thiemann I found in a junk shop. Why I didn't go back to it for the rest of them, I really just don't know. But it will almost certainly be found in any large library in Austria and Germany. I can see it now, with the illegible signatures crawling across the pages like something out of Kafka.
Of course, one of the great things about a blog is the opportunity it gives to scroll down the page and compare images as they come up. One aspect of Mass' work I had not noticed untill just now was what all these prints here have in common - similar proportions. It is the square image made famous by the Vienna square calendar for 1904, was it? The date, like almost everything else, escapes me.
I should add my gratitude to Paramour Fine Art for the top image. Mass is reckoned to be very hard to come by, but Paramour have three for sale, and at a reasonable price.