Sunday 24 February 2013

Swans... William Giles, Hans Neumann, Carl Thiemann


There was a comment from a reader in Colorado today with one of those wonderful good-luck stories about a picture he inherited from his great aunt. She was born in Hungary and when she died about twenty years ago, they had the picture and took it to the framer's who rang back to say he had found another image hidden underneath: Carl Thiemann's Schwane, (below) from about 1916. Why you would want to hide something like that, I don't know, but my reader now has the Thiemann on the wall.

I'd not really thought too much about the preponderance of swans amongst some colour woodcuts artists at the time and I will leave it you to decide what loans were being made, but William Giles and his wife Ada Shrimpton spent weeks in a punt on the river Thames sketching for his glorious woodcut Swans and cygnets (top) which dates from 1911.

I assume from the description he gives, my reader owns the print you see below the Giles. True to form, Thiemann, when he had made a successful print, went in for other versions, like this one, above. I am taking my German dates from Per Amann's 'Woodcuts', 1989, and according to him, Hans Neumann made the next woodcutn you see, Swans on a lake, at evening (below) in 1914, roughly two years before Thiemann.

To add a further twist to what is already a complicated little story, Neumann approached the subject once more with what looks to me like a post-war print (below), the overhanging branches being suspiciously like the ones in, yes, Giles' celebrated Haunt of the jay, the moral being, you have to know a good thing when you see one. I suspect Neumann intended to make another image quite different to Thiemann's. I think it's preferable to his first.                                                                 

 And if you must know which one I prefer, I think my reader owns something good. I think the tones of the second Neumann are great, especially the white of the swans, despite the drawing being more conventional. The Giles is marvellous and his observation is acute, but Thiemann had that knack of concentrating his efforts into a memorable image. But I think  you would need to see them before deciding, and my hunch is the Giles would win out with his quite superb printing technique, a story, believe me, in itself.  Some of these prints are for sale at Paramour Fine Arts and at William P Carl Fine Art, and my thanks to them. The Giles is by far the most costly.

And there I was, thinking to myself, I should think someone will now send in yet another version of Thiemann's Schwane  only to find that my reader's version is different from the first two I have posted. So, here it is, and thanks to Mike for starting off one more Thiemann post. Where will it end?


Saturday 23 February 2013

Tea with Mr Nash: the Cornerhouse lithographs

I have advance notice of a cache of lithographs first published by Lyons & Co in the forties and fifties and which is soon to come up for sale. I don't  know which prints they will be, or how much they will cost, but I thought it was about time I began to tackle the whole great subject of the lithographs made for companies like Shell, Lyons and Guinness from the late 1930's onwards.

Not that these were the first companies to try their hand at publishing original prints. Other, less well-known companies, made a start some years before. But this will be nothing more than an introduction. And for the benefit of most readers to whom the name will mean nothing at all, Lyons began to open tea-rooms in Britain in the 1890s and eventually tried to improve the look of things in their cafes, when means were restricted after the second war, by putting up large lithographs by young, or youngish, British artists. (The photograph below was taken by Wolfgang Suschitzsky in 1934 soon after he first came to Britain from Vienna).

Some of the artists, like Edward Bawden, had already made a name as graphic artists; others, like David Gentleman, would go on to become well-known in much the same field. Interestingly enough, Charles Mozley (the first two images) had already worked on the Shell project in the late thirties before his print showing the social life surrounding Henley Regatta was published as part of the second Lyons series in 1951. The success of the Shell series provided a model for Lyons themselves.

Lyons own series had no point to make about style - the styles were varied - and unfortunately only half of them were drawn on the stone by the artists. The print union had been unhappy about the use of non-union labour, but a deal was struck whereby the other half were made by workers at Chromolithograph (I think it was). Mozley used the painterly freedom of the stone to his advantage, and reminds us by how much the work of French artists like Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard could still turn chic in early fifties Britain. (Henley Regatta remains fashionable to this day - I think.)

Staying beside the river Thames, we next have Edwin LaDell's beautifully-judged evocation of another aspect of British social life in Fishing at Marlow. Better by far than his other view of the Thames, by the Tower of London, I think many of these images work better with figures plus landscape than as landscape alone. There was certainly variety, as you see from Fred Uhlman's Lighthouse at St Agnes (above). It was a small tour round Britain, a re-statement in modern-ish terms of what we knew and what we liked. Finally, I cannot resist adding William Roberts' tricksy but masterly drawing, even though he never worked for the project (by that time he was hard-up but far too down on commercialism). I believe this shows the famous waitresses called nippies and must recall the everyday atmposphere of the cafes that Roberts would warm to, and which contradicts the self-consciousness noted by Suschitzsky.

There will be more about all this once I have more news. Untill then, remember, you read it here first.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Ethel Kirkpatrick & Isola San Giorgio Maggiore

It takes an artist who knows what they want to do to go on returning to a view of the same small, island. Not any island, I have to admit, but the extraordinary Isola San Giorgio Maggiore at Venice as seen here by Ethel Kirkpatrick in 1898.

It was at that time she began to first make colour woodcuts, but she had already been painting and exhibiting watercolours like this one for at least four years. But what we have seen untill now are the watercolours painted in the west of Cornwall, even though she and her sister Ida went on various sketching trips in southern England and beyond. What we have seen so far may only be a matter of what has turned up, so I am very grateful to the reader who sent in this unusual view of the island with the domes of Santa Maria della Salute at the entrance to the Grand Canal just to the right.

It shows San Giorgio from the west, possibly from the Giardini Pubblicci, or from a boat. Almost all the views of the island you find tend to emphasise its isolation, but Kirkpatrick takes a viewpoint that recalls Istanbul seen across the Golden Horn.

The restricted palette of blues and reds is telling. Here is an artist who was about to embark on a career making colour woodcut, and it shows just how much that medium would suit her style.  Early morning, Venice (above)  involves another view of the island, with the campanile apparently missing. It was made years later, when the topography of the city was of less interest to her than the nature of its light. But watercolour gave her the opportunity to create a panorama with a real sense of depth that colour woodcut does less well.

By the time she came to make Evening, Venice  (above) in 1913, I think she was on the top of her form and it just shows what expressive freedom she had gained when she came to colour woodcut. It has her taking yet another view of Isola San Giorgio, probably from St Mark's Square this time, and it is fascinating to see her looking at the same subject in three such different ways. So, many thanks to Kia for sending the watercolour in today. We now know more about Kirkpatrick than we did on Tuesday.

Sunday 17 February 2013

W was for Wormell


A second look at the British illustrator and all-round success story, Chris Wormell - a second look because my first post only dealt with his designs for the Adams brewery campaign, and much as I like those, I actually prefer his animells.


His success, as I've said before, his based on the canny method employed, one way or another, by the illustrators that make a name for themselves. Wormell has drawn heavily on the two great founding-fathers of modern British relief printmaking. Both Thomas Bewick and William Nicholson have seeped into our visual awareness simply because artists and designers have returned to them time and again to build on their approach, so much so we now recognise something we know as soon as we see a Wormell zebra or kingfisher. This has to be one of the main tenets of Adland.

I am not decrying the originality or variety of Chris Wormell's work, but there is a difference between his wood-engraving of a hedgehog, which comes from a small edition, as you can see, and the more upfront frog on a lily pad. The hedgehog goes its own way, in a descriptive world to itself, and relies as much on Bewick's delicacy as the work of Ian Stephens does; the frog blends knowingness, caricature and appeal in equal measures, and is probably closer to the work of his peers in the United States.

Like Nicholson, he has no scruples when it comes to a keyblock, even though he has less need. All but two of Nicholson's woodcuts were hand-coloured, whereas Wormell's linocuts, so far as I know, are all printed. With Wormell, the keyblock is there for the impact and for the style. I doubt that you could print off one of Wormell's keyblocks and publish it the way one of Mabel Royds was, to reveal expressive or incisive cutting - and Royds learned just as much from Nicholson. His keylock provides pattern and outline but no more. Compare Seaby's broken, ragged line the second his alarmed grouse take flight with Wormell's deliberateness. His work is sometimes stationary, like old-time zoological prints, but like Royds and Nicholson before him, he has a great sense of shadow.


Even if Wormell is joyful colourist and rugged designer both, the truth is that, in the end, when it comes to birds or other animells, Bewick and the Japanese printmakers were better masters than the chapbooks or Nicholson who, after all, was only biding his time till he turned into Titian.



Monday 11 February 2013

Ethleen Palmer linocuts


It's all been said before about Ethleen Palmer, 'Oh, that one reminds me of someone or other', so it's a routine I'm going to try and avoid simply because it detracts from Palmer when she is at her best. And when she is on form, as she was with her Kookaburra, her best was pretty good. This will also be very much a personal selection from her work. I much prefer her earlier linocuts to her later screeprints, which I think come across as brittle by comparison - online, at least. But then, that is where most people are going to see her prints.

I gather she spent her childhood in various places in the Far East with her travelling parents, where her mother picked up oriental art as she went along. So, she was probably predisposed, when she at last arrived in Australia at the age of fourteen, to be as alert and observant when it came to her new habitat as the true natives you see here. That she was alert is beyond doubt. She knew that to be too representational would be fussy and fatal when it came to a medium as fluid as lino, that she needed to select as much as to describe. That she can get this balance right is one of her strengths.

 One thing she does have in common with Bresslern Roth is the way she sometimes puts her birds in square, or square-ish, Secessionist cages. But these are intimate prints from vast new spaces and really the comparisons with Roth that were made even early on her career, in the hallowed pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, were superficial. She is far more in sympathy with the British wood-engraver, Thomas Bewick, simply because she approaches her fauna the way a naturalist does, and not like a designer. It doesn't matter how much time you spend at the Vienna Zoo, the overall effect of Palmer's work is different. She doesn't always manage the differences between intimacy and huge spaces quite as well as she does here, but the sense of light, that is missing from the bird prints is ethereal, above. That she can ring the changes is important; that she doesn't always succeed perhaps suggests more about the need to make a living.

There is no doubt that she falls back on formulas and it can all turn just that bit too cute at times. I am not personally fond of pastiche (above), for instance, but that she was prepared to have a go, also takes you by surprise. The fact that this succeeds as modern print is perhaps even more of a surprise. The curtain-call trees work well against the well-defined drama below them. Even the scenery is wonderful.

And speaking of highway robbery, the images here, that were largely lifted from the National Gallery of Australia, are in reasonably good condition (though not always), but what I do notice about some of the others by her that I see around is how many of them are stained and foxed in the margins, and to carry on with the discussion about condition, when it comes to buying Palmer as opposed to just reading about her, it seems one must be realistic in one's expectations, hint, hint.

At least with Palmer we are by large spared the outlandishness of the Grosvenor School and its Australian contingent. More like Allen Seaby she relates animals to their habitat with deftness. The cliffs behind the pair of sturdy-looking horses are quite magnificent in themselves. She is nimble when she could have been self-conscious. If the interaction of her subjects veers towards sentiment on occasions, well, we can forgive her because she's good.


Friday 8 February 2013

Ebay at your own risk

I had an interesting discussion with a reader very recently about the condition of prints. He rightly pointed out that there had not been enough discussion about this important issue when it comes to buying prints from, say, the twenties or thirties. I mean, I think you can get a bit too precious about these things, but now, as if by magic, there are three modern British prints by minor artists up for sale on ebay that show exactly what the problems are. At least two could fetch reasonable prices. But should they?

First off is Thomas Todd Blaylock, an artist who when it came to woodcuts was never shy about coming forward and laid the colour on with verve. At the top the rather drab image now on British ebay, below a typical Blaylock of a similar scene at Poole harbour near where he lived. You can see that all the paper on the top image has light-burn round the mount and in itself this should reduce the price quite alot. One dealer commented helpfully, I suppose, about the merits of restoration as part of much the same discussion. But this print is a terminal case way beyond help. Someone may come up with exactly the same image to prove me wrong, but till then there is a well-known print-blogger who likes to apply a bit of photo-shop technique to images of prints he considers past their best and then puts them back online where he found them. I think this is the print-equivilant of genetically modified crops and irresponsible. Faced with doctored images like that on the internet, you finally have no idea where you are when it comes to judging what a print should look like. But this Blaylock is beyond even his efforts at resuscitation - I hope.

By no means common, and quite nice to see, a Dutch canal scene, as it happens, by Frank Whittington. More ambiguous but still, I would say, not as it came off Whittington's press down at Brockenhurst. We don't see enough of Whittington to say how bright his prints should be, but reason tells you an artist doesn't go to the the trouble of cutting blocks to turn out a drab little print like this. Or do they? He often applied colour sparely in the way his friend Eric Hesketh Hubbard did, but may have decided on something basically monochrome - another Hubbard habit.

I would not want to prejudice anyone over this final conumdrum of a print by John Reginald Taylor. Not at all bad, but is it right as the trade like to say. The seller has it up as lino, but again do you go to the trouble and do you make a print of India that comes out tepid? The other option is the work is simply poorly-printed. When they come out of the package, you will have more of an idea. Till then, proceed with care.

Note: I have just come across a catalogue description for Blaylock's 'Fishing boats, Poole Harbour' (top): 'printed in blue and pink inks. on warm cream wove paper'. A printmaker told me only yesterday that pink was one of the first colours to fade, along with yellow.

Thursday 7 February 2013

The Society of Graver-Printers in Colour, Paris, 1910

If the British Society of Graver-Printers in Colour had been as truly francophile as they appear to be, they would have have had a group photograph taken after their first meeting at Raphael Roussel's studio in London. Perhaps they did; I don't know. But Roussel's son, Theodore, was another founder-member, along with William Lee Hankey, who had a studio at Etaples, and also the Austen Browns who had moved to live at Camiers nearby. The Society's next move was to hold their first exhibition at the Bedford St gallery of the French dealer, Goupil. The show then moved on to Manzi Joyant in Paris, a firm of print publishers and dealers who worked alongside Goupil.

I can't be absolutely sure that Allen Seaby's robust and brilliant Peacock found its way to Paris because I failed to make a note of what he and William Giles showed in London. But never mind, he had certainly made it by then and it is exactly the sort of bravura piece you would want to put on show.

But what is so striking about the Paris show was how varied, experimental and inclusive it was. Elizabeth Christie Austen Brown's Girl and goose is much less flamboyant in mood than Seaby and falls into line with the kind of low-key work with a rural subject that the French really were producing. If it looks genre and rather cute, her cutting and colours are bold. Her use of white is typical of the British avoidance of snow as an easy option and the patterning of the birds and their beaks with the fence behind is subtle and musical. (Incidentally, this print came up on ebay more than once, but was mis-sold as her husband's work even though Mr Austen Brown wasn't capable of anything so professional and she often printed for him.)

Lucien Pissarro was never a member and, so far as I know, only exhibited with the Society this once, but I have to assume they wanted to fill out the Anglo-French character of the show in Paris. Yet again I didn't make a note of what he showed but his small and delicate wooodcuts would have sat easily alongside the work of Lizzie Brown. Poor Lucien! His life was beset by domineering men. If it wasn't his father exercising quality-control over his work, it was the formidably patriarchal Jacob Samuel Levi Bensusan whose daughter, Esther, he married. At the time, the print room at the British Museum was a favourite meeting place for artists and collectors and Esther and Lucien took the opportunity to meet there out of range of Jacob and his velvet fez. His work has tremendous delicacy and charm and was quite unlike anything else being made in England.

He also worked in black-and-white, but this show was about one thing: colour. It didn't matter what kind of a colour print it was. Lee Hankey didn't show any of his wonderful colour etchings but the Society also invited another non-member to show with them. This was Charles Mackie who had already made the near statutory move to Paris and the art colonies of Brittainy. He had also gone off to Venice with his wife and, I believe, Harold and Laura Knight, only two years before this show and a number of his very individual colour woodcuts take the serene republic as their subject.

I would think it was both his sympathies with France and his unorthodox printing style (he used paint with oil of lavender as a medium) that attracted the Society. Perhaps politics were also at work, but there seemed to be a genuine desire to show a broad range of the colour prints being made in Britain. If I have mainly included colour woodcuts here, it doesn't give a fair idea of what the other printmakers did. Mackie's period of making these prints was fairly-shortlived and the reason why he was never a member was because his blocks were cut for him All the same his impressionism, when it works, is hard to resist. I think the prints were certainly intended for a wall and not obe pored over in a portfolio like mine are.

If John Dixon Batten learned to use the Japanese method with great aplomb, Japanese style was another matter. By 1910 his Constance, with its literary background and narrative style, must have stood out as odd and old-fashioned and I must admit I find it odd that his prints were being exhibited. He had stopped making them by then but he was such a founding-father himself, I suppose he was hard to avoid. The low-key eroticism harks back both to Burne Jones and the days before Batten's own marriage, but the colours and the sensuous inking are pure Batten. No one else quite did this after him and as I've said before, this print is under-rated.

I couldn't say the same thing about Frank Morley Fletcher's Minx. His print output was surprsingly small and Girl reading as it is also known, was his one and only figure subject in print form. Possibly just as well. Batten's drawing may be conventional but he had had learned his trade illustrating books of fairy tales, which required figures, large, small and varied. But he made even fewer prints than his friend Frank, a simple fact that hasn't helped the reputation he has today. But then, I wonder what they made of him in Paris.

French print collectors may well have recognised Henri Riviere in the work of Sydney Lee. Never a member and not even making colour woodcuts by that time, Lee nevertheless maintained a strong position amongst the colour print fraternity, a position I find hard to credit (and I have to say I am surprised that the Royal Academy in London have given him a show). He's not a stylist - or at least he's not the sort of stylist that I would go for now. (I had a Lee phase many years ago). But then almost all the prints here are less stylish than the work produced after the war. What all this work does have is a sense of newness. Behind all these works was a real effort to master the difficult art of colour-printing and this accounts for the healthy diversity of methods and the perplexing diversity of styles. The actual range of post-war colour prints was probably narrower than it was in 1910.

One man who went on with experimenting long after this show closed was the man from Wallingford, William Giles, and he was still at it in the 1920s. There is something rather technical about the way Lee allocates his flat colours in Drying Sails and if Giles' colours are just the sane side of lurid in Swans, well, he and Ada did spend hours in a punt on the river Thames observing them. But he completely rises above any of his studies (and he often took great care in making prints) and his swans inhabit a dream-world in the end more seductive and more evocative than the work of Carl Thiemann simply because he is as observant as he is visionary, and Berkshire to the core.

Monday 4 February 2013

Sydney Lee at the RA & Aberystwyth


I know that I have not always been kind to Sydney Lee, but the forthcoming exhibtion of fifty prints at the Royal Academy in London is nevertheless a must for your diary. Lee played a pivotal role in the early days of modern British printmaking. He was one of the first practitioners of colour woodcut, then took over Frank Morley Fletcher's class at the Central School, which morphed into Noel Rooke's famous and highly influential wood-engraving class.

The show runs from 27th February to 26th May, 2013, and will be held in the Tennant Gallery and Council Room, and coincides with the publication of Robert Meyrick's catalogue of Lee's prints. Robert, who is professor and head of the school of art at Aberystwyth University, has also curated the show. (Some years ago Robert published a very enjoyable and must-have book, 'Edgar Hollway and friends' about the artist's personal collection). The exhibition then opens at Aberystwyth on 17th June and runs untill 6th September.

Of the three British print exhibtions I have posted on over the past year, this will certainly be the most thorough. I know that Robert has been buying Lee's colour woodcuts far and wide and this will be a one-and-only chance for you to see these rare and unusual prints at first hand.

You can see some of Lee's large, painterly wood-engravings propped up behind him in the photograph, including one showing the Kissing Bridge at Walberswick to the right, eventually made famous for readers of Modern Printmakers by SG Boxsius with his glorious At Walberswick. But you only have to look at Lee's 'Sloop Inn' and this view of St Ives, above, to see what Boxsius learned from Lee.

 Easy to get to, not to be missed. You will find his colour woodcuts in December, 2011.


Saturday 2 February 2013

Roman Sustov: the third Rome

Even though it wasn't intended as a compliment when I was called 'Arroumi', a Roman, by teenagers in southern Morocco, I nevertheless took it as one. I'm sure, being artists themselves, Roman Sustov's parents took more care when they called him the same thing. But even if they didn't, their son's work still draws heavily on the antique past.

Probably to find a similar melancholy refinement, you need to search out the images from old Constantinople preserved in modern Istanbul. Somehow he appears to have inherited the exquisite skill and formality of the old Greek artists. As Sustov suggests, it is the cities that travel.
He comes from Minsk in Belarus where he studied first at the School of Art followed by the Belarus Academy. I have to admit I have no idea what kind of a training he received, but I would be surprised to learn that the old disciplines of drawing and printmaking, the ones that have gone out the window in countries like mine, were not a big part of the curriculum. His level of skill and the dedication it requires is far more incredible than any of the images themselves.

He has an almost weird mastery of various techniques. The red image is a lithograph, the two black and white ones are etchings, the one above is mixed media, and the one below, believe it or not, is a linocut. But I don't think you can learn to be like this. Somehow he also finds himself with skills and subtlety reminiscent of the artists of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was different from the West. When Manuel II Paleologus was the guest of Henry IV at Eltham outside London in 1400, the court were deeply impressed by the diginity and simplicity of the emperor. He travelled for two years across western Europe to save his city from conquest, but to no avail.

After that, it was orthodox Russia that claimed to be the third Rome. I think Sustov's images inhabit that borderland between ourselves (I mean the West, in general!) and that whole area of culture and history that many Europeans know nothing much about. When I wrote to Sustov soon after I'd bought the top image (it shows Budapest), he said the client had asked for a more conventional image. For a long time I found it one of the most satisfying of his works for that reason. But it isn't really typical and his mind is obviously set on other things.

If you look closely enough, you will see the etchings are bookplates, though they are a long way from what many of us would call bookplates and are, to all intents and purposes, straightforward etchings. You won't be surprised to hear he is also an illustrator and has worked on at least twenty fine books.

Most of the images here are taken from his website .It is well worth a look and, unlike many of the artists I post on, his work is easy to buy. I was lucky, though. I found a Czech dealer on ebay selling mine and incredibly no one else bid.