Sunday, 15 December 2013
S.G. Boxsius 'In old Whitby'
In many ways, In old Whitby is a colour woodcut in search of a subject. It is nowhere near a duff as the last print by Boxsius that I featured, but it is some way short of Boxsius at his beautiful best nevertheless, and I ask myself why.
I sometimes wonder why it was that Boxsius failed to exhibit prints until the early thirties when he knew enough about linocut to write an article about making them in the mid twenties. It may well be that although he signed prints like this, he was still not entirely happy with them for one reason or another. His stone steps and wooden rails leading down to the water are more of an exercise than a subject. He manfully distinguishes between the grey stonework and the maroon shadows and orange rooftops, but all the same one wonders why he bothered. It's not that he wasn't intelligent or able.
Part of the answer I suspect can be found in a print by William Giles called At eventide. Rothenburg am Tauber which Giles came up with about 1905. Now, the article on linocut I mentioned was written for Giles and in my mind there isn't much doubt that Boxsius learned his woodcut trade from Giles, but where Giles succeeded in At eventide with masterful insouciance, Boxsius comes unstuck, and where Giles transforms his wonky white rails and twisting tree trunks into runic sentences, SGB is literal.
Boxsius was clearly searching for something of his own here because he attempted this same subject of harbour slipways and steps more successfully in some of his Cornwall prints. Apart from the imaginative independence of Giles, Boxsius also lacked his training. Almost all British artists who went through the State system were trained as teachers. The only fine art course on offer was at the Royal College if you got on. So far as I am aware Boxsius trained (and taught) exclusively within the State system whereas Giles also studied painting in France. I have no idea about the courses either of them took at the Royal College, but what I am suggesting is that what many artists in the early C20th lacked was formal training as painters. If you add to that the strong influence of the arts and crafts movement which by and large rubbished any distinction between fine art and craft, I think you can see why printmakers as various as Kenneth Broad, Allen Seaby, Sidney Lee and Boxsius often turned to other artists for ideas. As we saw in the post before last, a good look at Seurat transformed Charles Bartlett's rather subectless Indian images into something more spectacular.
Finally, readers now tend to comment when Boxsius images that are new to them turn up on Modern Printmakers. This is because some of the images have only just found their way onto the web. This latest is a good find by William P Carl Fine Prints where it is now for sale at $550. My thanks are due to them.