Monday, 17 August 2015
On ebay: Helen Stevenson 'Moonrise'
I wonder how it is that a dealer on US ebay can have the outlandish nerve to ask much as $1,450 for the Scottish artist Helen Stevenson's colour woodcut Moonrise and put up a photograph so cheap, so tawdry you can gain no idea of the print's real worth but there you are. I just feel sorry for the artist. You pick up the excited tone from the little note attached to the sale, a note I won't reproduce although I was tempted by the utter daftness.You would think that someone had at least been off to the British Museum or British Library but no, they have idly swiped their information from the Annex Galleries' website (where another print by Stevenson has languished for quite a number of years now simply because it is far too expensive).
I hate to disappoint people who intend to make so much money but there is no evidence that Frank Morley Fletcher (or anyone else) taught Stevenson to make colour woodcut. Fletcher was principal of Edinburgh College of Art when Stevenson was a student there but no one has any idea whether colour woodcut was even on the course. Both Clive Christie (from the much-missed Art and the Aesthete blog and who put me on to this sale) and myself put a lot of effort into researching Stevenson but without much reward and, as I said, in the recent post on Jessie Garrow who studied at Glasgow School of Art at the same time, she and her husband taught themselves. All we can say is that Fletcher gathered staff round him - essentially Mabel Royds and John Platt - who made great use of the keyblock as he did and Stevenson did much the same.
That said this looks like Stevenson at her most seductive, transparently atmospheric but firming everything up with her signature use of black. I know from work I own just how effective this can be when combined with Stevenson's wonderful way of applying the ink. I think you can just make this out on the hillsides. She was sometimes careful to restrict the colours she used and make the best of her grey-greens but Moonrise appears to be unusual even by Stevenson standards. In the foreground and on the cottage you can also make out the type of patchwork she used on The hen wife. Working around a particular time of the day and its light was admittedly in favour with Fletcher and some of his early students like Allen Seaby and William Giles although Giles couldn't put up with Fletcher's dogmatism about method.
This print dates from 1928 or just before. She exhibited with the Graver-Printers in London but all her subjects were Scottish and she must have sold consistently through galleries in Edinburgh because many pictures retain old gallery labels. My own proof of Goatfell is in Wales so I can't say offhand which gallery sold that but Stevenson's work isn't rare in the UK as colour woodcuts go. She made a lot more prints than Fletcher who is sought after partly because of the cachet and partly because of the scarcity. But who wants Fletcher? Only people with collectoritis. It's Stevenson at a fair price for me. And I can wait. I'm used to it with her.