Monday, 11 March 2013

Leo Frank


                                                                              
When all around them, everyone had gone woodcut-crazy, from Emil Orlik with his raw Ruthenian peasants to Carl Thiemann and his dandified cockeral and on to LH Jungnickel and a zoo-full of hyperactive maccaws, Leo Frank went down the road of refined and understated landscape. Now, this should suit a British collector such as myself, and I admit I would like to own the first woodcut you see here (in fact, another version, in awful condition, as you can see below, came up recently on British ebay), but at the end of the day, with quite alot of his prints, I just think there's something missing, and it's not just a keyblock.

                                                                                    
I think one thing that appeals is the woodcut feel it has. As so often with British colour woodcuts, you can see the way the medium has been applied in the foreground, and there is a tactful use of the keyblock, and a subtle massing of colour that wouldn't be out of place in an English watercolour. I was surprised to see Herbstnachmittag, below, was dated as early as 1908. It was the year of the great Kunstschau in Vienna, when Jungnickel had only just begun to exhibit woodcuts. But Jungnickel wasn't Viennese. He wasn't even Austrian by birth. Nor were Orlik, Thiemann or Klemm. Frank, though, was a local. What we have in the woodcuts is somewhere. And if isn't Austria, then it's Italy. And when not there, we move on to Egypt. But one place we never visit is Japan. Too modish by far.

                                                                                   
Along with his twin brother, Hans, he studied first at the Kunstgewerbeschule, or School of Applied Arts, before moving on to the Academy of Fine Art where they presumably studied painting, pure and simple. It was the standard thing to do, if you proved you had the talent. (Even Egon Schiele took that course to fine art martyrdom). Leo's woodcuts owe less to the emphatic rather abstract style of the Secession than his brother's do. He's also less varied in his approach. He takes a course that blends various styles and trends to come up with work that is sensitive to the effects of light and yet decorative, as other people eventually did, many of them, as it happens, in Britain.
                                                                                  

How far either of the brothers had an effect on British printmaking is hard to say. Hans exhibited six prints with his British colleagues in 1913, and both brothers exhibited  their work in Britian throughout the twenties and thirties. (They were so respected, their work was on show in Birmingham after the outbreak of the second war). It was also available from print-dealers here soon after the first war. The elegant trees that come up time again in Leo Frank, became a standy-by for many British printmakers from the twenties onwards.

                                                                               
You can see how easy it would be to switch alot of this to Sussex or the Isle of Wight. Frank had an interchangeable manner. He re-uses elements - the soft skies, the floating birds, the floating trees - to bring off his aerial enchantment. He suggests, it isn't too exact, nor too demanding. It might have offered a way out. In England we were cowed by French art, above all by the drawing of Ingres. But Frank wasn't Royal College or the Slade, and that's for sure.

                                                                                 
But you could also convert Berkshire to Capri. If  Frank didn't know William Giles' September Moon (see the post) before he made this last delicate print, I'd be surprised. It was a two-way thing, I suspect, for many of them. Both brothers' prints often look like aquatints, and the way Leo abandonned the keyblock so early on in his career could well be a lesson he had learned from Giles who was articulate enough not too need one.
 


5 comments:

  1. Yes, Charles, I share your opinion that in most of Frank's woodcuts there is something missing. They are nicely done but they hardly ever go beyond the picturesque, do they. In addition, both Frank brothers have a bit too much "Blut und Boden" to my taste. The harvest scene would have gone through as Nazi-propaganda. Talking about it: so would have some of Bresslern-Roth's scenes of of animals which relentlessly lacerate a weaker creature. She's striking that chord a bit too often, I think. Even if her husband was half Jewish and she refused to break with him for that reason, as far as I know.

    Klaus

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  2. Part of the problem is the images are generalised. He also falls back on a formula to often. But would you say his prints of showing Egyptian farmers are 'Blood and Soil'? Probably not!

    He reminds me of their British contemporary, James Alphege Brewer, who also did away with the keyblock and made these very smooth-looking images that lack modulation. Once artists permanently stop using the keyblock rather than experimenting without one, it all starts to look bland and samey. It's one reason I've never reason I've never really taken to John Platt's later work.

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  3. Well, Charles, if they're Egyptian, the Führer would not have liked that! But how do you know they are? And what do you think about my remarks on Bresslern-Roth? Have these thoughts never occured to you?

    Klaus

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  4. The Fuehrer can rest easy. They aren't Egyptian. But Frank did make prints showing Egyptian agriculture, all the same.

    The facts are their British colour woodcut colleagues selected nine prints by Leo and Hans Frank and Bresslern Roth for an exhibition in April, 1940, and William Giles' 'Whitby' followed the Austrian section, which suggests to me he wished to be identified with them. (They also showed eleven prints by Urushibara who had to sail home with his British-born children from neutral Ireland later that year).

    People in Germany and Austria are going to be more conscious of their history than we are. I am conscious of the fact that Hans Frank's grandson reads blog posts about his grandfather and I wouldn't want to offend people by talking about the politics of artists I know very little about.

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  5. I don't want to offend anybody, either, but it's simply a fact that in the Frank brothers' woodcuts the image of the farmer who works his soil reappears quite frequently, and it is also a fact that images like that fit exactly the cultural norms of the darkest period of German history. This might or might not be a coincidence, in any case I think there's nothing wrong in pointing this out and discussing the matter. But it's your blog, of course.

    Klaus

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