Friday, 22 November 2013

John Hall Thorpe


I am not going to deny that the Australian printmaker, John Hall Thorpe, hasn't received short shrift on Modern Printmakers; nor am I going to promise to make amends with this postm the first one I have given over to him. What I will say is this: he was the first of the London printmakers to understand the new commercial conditions after the first war. Whether he made the best of them is another thing. But, so far as I know, he was the first colour print artist to have a one-man show in London. And it was not just one; he had two in one year alone.

The year was 1919. Unfortunately, I have no idea which prints he exhibited and in many ways, it hardly matters. Hall Thorpe is not the kind of artist you go to for innovation. You go to him for only one thing: lots of flowers in very simple vases. The only serious book about him offers no dates for any of his prints, but he had certainly begun to turn out his famous series of colourful flower prints by the early 1920s. Three wise men had appeared by 1919 and found him shamelessly exploiting the work of Robert Gibbings (specifically Evening at Gaza) but he had trained as a copyist at home in Sydney, where he had worked as an illustrator and staff artist on two newspapers in the 1890s, so that should come as no real surprise.

But once he had done with variations on the work of Gibbings and E.A. Verpilleux, he set his own very successful trend with his flower studies that actually derive from the height of the Vienna Secession almost twenty years before. And very jolly they are. Hall Thorpe was the very first colour woodcut artists I ever bought, way back in the summer of 1976, when you could pick them up for very little. As I've said before, the one I had was Marigolds, but it was left with friends who became unobtainable. (And I would still like it back, Maureen, if you're reading this.) But why anyone who should want more than one Hall Thorpe, I have to admit, is beyond me. My mother, who is now very ancient, took to Sweet Peas on a birthday card I once gave her, so I shall include that rather insipid image as well. And I think this all sums up the appeal of Hall Thorpe. The prints have little intrinsic value and what you end up doing is associating them with people and places. They have that kind of bold intensity that enables you to do that.

Anyway, Hall Thorpe turned his studio, marooned somewhere between Earl's Court and Fulham Road, into the Hall Thorpe Studio, then opened the Hall Thorpe Gallery somewhat nearer to the West End, the real innovation being that he was the first artist to both make and publish his own colour prints. Almost everyone else depended on society exhibitions and, if they were lucky, a one-man show or, if they were more fortunate still, a permanent dealer like Colnaghi or Bromhead Cutts. Hall Thorpe dispensed with all that, and for almost twenty years was very much his own man, right until the end, in fact, when he refused any medication for the pneumonia he was suffering from (he was a Christian Scientist) and died.


  1. I don't think the sweet peas is insipid. I actually got a whiff of sweetpeas when I saw it. Maybe your mom did also.

  2. It's been a long while, Karen!

    I admit the image isn't a very sharp one, but it was the best I could do.