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.

8 comments:

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself Charles. I was actually shocked when I saw it, both because it was there and then because of the price. I am fairly certain that she did study under Platt, and that was confirmed by the Edinburgh Art School, but there was NEVER any mention of Fletcher. His name is only used as a come on to American buyers because of his connection to Santa Barbara. I am also very sure she never studied under , adjacent to, kitty corner to Mabel Royds. The only person of any cache that she studied under was Platt, and he certainly has little name recognition in the USA. Anyway, like the gorgeous Broad print, this one will simply sit and do nothing, because NO ONE is not going to buy it at that price. Having said that, it is a lovely print but certainly not as good as yours :)

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  2. Now that you mention it, it makes sense that she studied under Platt because he was head of applied art at Edinburgh when she was there. On more than one occasion her prints followed Mabel Royds' in the Graver Printers catalogues and I must admit I drew conclusions from that. The other talented student at the time was Lucy Gill who moved to South Africa and dropped out of the picture. What all of them have in common is felicitous printing something Fletcher did know about.

    I see that Broad's 'The coach' is also currently for sale at £285 but you have that in your collection and it has a nasty little mark.

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  3. May I turn this comment thread grotesquely off topic by asking your opinion of a printmaker who, to the best of my knowledge, you haven't covered yet?

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    1. Rather mysterious and challenging! I am intrigued.

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    2. Oh, no mystery, I'm afraid. No, I was just wondering if you harbour any opinions regarding Paul Binnie's woodblock prints. I've spent quite a lot of time peering at pictures of his work and I'm still not absolutely sure how I feel about them.

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    3. Did you see that Darrel Karl covered Paul Binnie recently on his new Eastern Impressions blog? I can't work up much enthusiasm myself for many of the Western artists working as shin hanga printmakers and Binnie's subject matter anyway puts me off, so I am not a very good person to ask. Darrel is much better qualified in that area than I am.

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    4. Well that's fair enough. Thank you anyway. I can understand the subject matter not being to everybody's taste - still not entirely sure it's to mine either. I hadn't seen that particular blog post but I have since looked it up. Interesting stuff. The truth of the matter is that I suspect I'm not going to be able to make my mind up until I see some of the work "in the flesh", so to speak.

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    5. Anthony should e-mail me and I'll be happy to discuss Paul Binnie's output in detail with him, as I don't want to clog up these comments and it's beyond the scope of the Gordon's post on Stevenson. But for the general readership, let me just say here that, while many of Paul's prints depict subject matter associated with prints of the shin hanga movement, his prints are self-carved and (other than in a few rare cases) self-printed, and so it would be a misnomer to call him a shin hanga printmaker. His prints also depict a wide range of subject matter (male and female portraits, nude or otherwise, Japanese, European, and American landscapes, kabuki actors, tattoo, animals, flowers, clouds, mythological subjects, etc.).

      Like most artists, Binnie has certain strengths and certain weaknesses, so I prefer his prints which play to his strengths. I find that he is stronger in some genres than in others, but there's something for everyone somewhere in his output. When I've showed his prints to visitors who had never seen any of his prints before, especially those with no real knowledge or interest in Japanese woodblock prints, they usually find certain prints appealing, even if others are decidedly not to their taste. (My favorite Binnie prints tend not to be his best-sellers, and vice-versa.) Whether or not you find a particular design personally appeal, it's hard to deny that most are highly detailed and elaborately and luxuriously printed. And, as with the prints of many artists, many of his prints need to be seen in person to be properly appreciated. Jpegs usually don't begin to do the prints justice.

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