Monday, 9 December 2013

Seventh International Printmakers Exhibition, Los Angeles Museum, 1926

It took a Londoner like Arthur Rigden Read to send a colour woodcut showing the old southern French city of Carcassonne to a great modern city like Los Angeles. But that was what he did when the California Society of Printmakers held their seventh international show. As Rigden Read images go, it was one his most accomplished (unfortunately the picture above was the best I could do) and I can understand why he was asking $25. Market day, Languedoc was even more at $30. By comparison, you could buy a good Seaby for $12 and John Platt's Siesta (below) for $18.

The image, with its detailing, use of shadow and warm colour, and dramatic perspective, shows Read considerably in debt to William Giles' Ponte Vecchio from 1908. By the time he sent his three images off to L.A., Read had only been making colour woodcuts for about four years, but was already confident enough to be asking a lot more than well-established colour woodcut artists like Seaby. For a long time, I found it difficult to understand exactly why Read was rated so highly and was always considered one of the leading British colour woodcut artists. The prices may help to explain the problem. He was prolific, and like Eric Hesketh Hubbard, he published prints with a range of prices, but his very best work rarely turns up and there is very little of it national collections. The fact that Ponte Vecchio was a better and more ground-breaking piece of work with its use of bravura perspective of the kind that Read used in his print, is perhaps beside the point. Carcassonne remains a very nice print, and one I would like to possess.

To my frustration, I have always been unable to find an image of Seaby's print Redwings Calling (or, at least, what I believe is the print by that name). I shall have to content myself with Shetland Ponies, which he also showed at the exhibition, but which I think has a lot less about it. Redwings Calling is Seaby at his most daring and poetic whereas I actually sold Shetland Ponies to a friend many years ago (mainly because it was laid down). But again, just like Read, his own selection showed Seaby showing both more conventional and more original work. Personally, I much prefer Seaby's birds to anything else he did, but I'm aware that not everyone would share my taste.

You will notice I am limiting myself to British colour woodcut for this first look at the exhibition. After the Americans, the British showed the largest number of prints. This shows by how much the colour woodcut scene had taken off, with artists like Read, Kenneth Broad (below) and Eric Slater (above) all showing work that was part of the great revival of interest in colour woodcut at the time. I think this is the right Sussex windmill by Slater. In some respects, it hardly matters; many of Slater's landscapes are very little more than designs, with little sense of place, light, interest, or anything else.

Kenneth Broad's subtle A Sussex Farm is another matter altogether. It comes from the short period in the mid 1920s when Broad's colour woodcuts were at their very best and I am surprised he didn't send more work like his masterly New Fair, Mitcham to California. The taste for landscape, I suppose, was something both the British and the Americans had in common and it certainly strikes me that the British were presenting a rather restricted image of themselves.

Apart from Mabel Royds, that is, who by 1926 was embarked on her great project of turning her Indian sketch books into colour woodcut. As her Lamas Harvest (above) dates from 1924 and is the only thing that seems to fit the bill 'Musicians' which was the tile used in L.A., this is the one I'm going to use. It's a fine and original conception of people working through the rhythms of the agricultural year with actual music to accompany them. There were other women artists exhibiting, but it hs been impossible to turn up any other images by them that were on show apart from Frances Blair's Cornish Cream Shop, which of course  I have used before. Even the three Helen Stevenson prints have defeated me. But that just goes to show you all that there are still plenty of discoveries to be made.

I also need to add that a reader has pointed out there is a woodcut by Royds called 'Musicians' and here it is.


  1. Charles,

    very interesting post. As usual, you're doing Slater wrong. Talking about "little sense of place" seems a harsh misjudgement especially in his case.


  2. Yes, I admit, it wasn't a very carefully considered remark, Klaus. What actually annoys me are the people who make claims for Slater he doesn't deserve not the work itself - and I don't mean you.

  3. Hi
    Firstly, thanks for work that goes into your blog, very useful indeed.

    Couple of comments here ... The Mabel Royds woodcut Lamas Harvest may not be the only one to fit the bill for 'musicians' as i think another is titled Musicians and features two with audience. A search would turn it up to view.

    I would also disagree with the comment about Slater having little sense of space and good to see you reconsider :-)


  4. Very pleased to hear the blog is of use to you, Shaun. I will say nothing more about Slater, but I had 'Musicians' on file all along. It's going up now.