Thursday 28 April 2016

Lill Tschudi: the Latin Quarter


Somewhere or other Stendhal mocked the Jardin des Tuileries for being a superficial imitation of Italian style. (I can't remember exactly what he said). All the same, with its self-conscious swags and fountains, its singing and light-heartedness and grace of manner, it strikes me that Paris is a Latin city just like Nice (for instance) and what I like about Lill Tschudi's French linocuts is how much of a Latin she became while in Paris and Jeu de boules (1934) sums up exactly what I mean.

She was thorough when she came to make her linocuts. Scale drawings and studies in gouache or watercolour survive for a number of them and what is interesting is how much the sense of scale and perspective changed once she translated the image into linocut and the textures of the printing were left to speak for themselves. But something got to her in Paris and I think the French linocuts are Tschudi at her best.

Apparently, she saw an exhibition of Norbertine Bresslern Roth's prints while still a girl at home in Switzerland and it was then she decided she, too, would turn into a maker of stylish linocuts but first London and then Paris got in the way. In the early thirties she went off to take Claude Flight's now famous weekly class in linocut at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London. Flight certainly had a way with him when it came to students following his 'I belong to no school' example but Tschudi survived his rather doctrinaire approach and, as you can see from Jeu de boules, she was able to combine the flat, rhythmic designs of the typical Grosvenor linocut with a strict sense of space, perspective and original form of which Georges Seurat had been the modern master. What Seurat didn't have but what Jeu de boules does is a representation of Gallic masculine posture. And it absolutely oozes concentration.

So, how did she do it? While Flight in London was still banging on about the futurists and vorticists as if they had only happened the week before, in Paris there had been a 'return to order' and, interestingly enough, what Tschudi did was to become a student of three of the most orderly of these artists. Gino Severini  had even been a futurist before the war but had made the great return to the twin shrines of tempera and mosaic. But perhaps, as with so many others, the greatest of her teachers was Paul Cezanne. You only have to look at the way he simplifies form and also lets both the paint and the canvas have a say in his self-portrait of 1900 to see what I mean. By comparison, Flight was clueless.

So, how many teachers did she need? Severini was based part of the time in Rome and part of the time in Paris and I don't know anything about his classes or if he gave any. Andre Lhote was a decorative cubist and ran his own academy that attracted many artists of talent (and showed commitment by continuing to teach during the German occupation of Paris). But most famous of them all was Fernand Leger, very noticeable on the internet nowadays for the almost endless series of photographic portraits that testify to his physical presence and allure. And it is all very French (and Italian) and you wonder to what extent these three different men were as much models as teachers because the actual subject of Tschudi's French prints is the male form, pure and simple. They sing, they dance, they do the Twist.

What I am also saying is that she was taking on ideas and I think her considerable achievement was to make prints that are buoyant, colourful but that make sense simply because she had thought them out. She isn't the engineer that Leger was; nor does she have the cool beauty of Severini, but she can move us around her pictures with skill and conviction. It's always an interesting journey, we don't trip over too much stylisation and we see the male form from various angles. Its cubism with gusto, that's what it is.                                               

Sunday 24 April 2016

Walther Klemm and Carl Thiemann, two masters of the colour woodcut at Dachau

Just opened on Friday at the Art Gallery, Dachau, 'Walther Klemm und Carl Thiemann: Zwei Meister des Farbholzschnitts'. The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Carl Thiemann on 3rd December, 1966. It runs until 15th August, 2016, and may be the one and only opportunity to see the work of these two famous colour woodcut artists side by side. The gallery at Dachau has a large collection of the work of both men.

The show re-unites two old friends who were brought up in Karlsbad in the old Sudetenland, studied at the Prague Academy and shared a studio in the city, then moved to Liboc in the Czech countryside. Klemm saw the work of Emil Orlik in Vienna after Orlik's return from Japan and showed Thiemann how to make colour woodcuts. They published their first prints in a portfolio they called Alt-Prag about 1905 and, all in all, this is a chance to see the way young artists commonly worked together during this important period. There is an informative preview (in German) at .

Just how much they had in common they had at the time may be judged by two of the woodcuts here. The third one is Klemm's Moorbach from 1908, the year they both began to work at the artist's colony in Dachau. (The other two landscapes are by Thiemann, including a version of his Kiefern am Grunewaldsee). The exhibition takes their Dachau as its central subject. Klemm left Dachau for a post in Weimar in 1913 and eventually stopped making colour prints. Thiemann stayed for the rest of his life. The photograph below, taken in 1906, shows the two friends, with Thiemann on the left.

Many thanks to Klaus for letting me know about this exhibition. Other details can be found on the Dachau museums and galleries website.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Z was the zoo


In 1896 this famous poster designed by Theodore Steinlen was used to advertise a tour by the company from Le chat noir cabaret in Paris. With its alley cat looking as fierce as a Japanese kabuki actor and the bold use of red and black, it helped set the tone for what was to come, both the forthright appeal of modern advertising and the eclectic appeal of modern art. Steinlen was not the first artist to mix the skills of printmaking and commercial art. In Britain, William Blake had learned his skills as a fine commercial engraver in the late C18th but the reliance on imagery over content was new and the effect in Britain, Austria and Germany was immediate.

Readers may doubt that Allen Seaby's exceptional image of a cockerel had Steinlen's cat as a predecessor but I can assure them that the fame of Steinlen's poster had reached provincial Reading where Seaby was teaching and that he was familiar with it. (And I am afraid I am not saying here how I know). But for all its fame and skill, I tend to think Steinlen's poster was soon improved on. L.H. Jungnicke;l's magnificent Tigerkopf  (1909) is a good example of the way an artist can strip away irrelevant detail like hammy Japanese lettering and arch stylisation and produce something of remarkable power. Jungnickel himself was a commercial artist and here you see the early stage of Andy Warhol's Marilyn (1962).

The whole thing really is a story. Artists are forever picking up ideas and Le chat noir attracted so many kinds of people, everyone from bohemian artists and performers to Edward, Prince of Wales, it's hardly surprising a mere poster could have such a large effect. Others perhaps were more subtle but perhaps no one was more effective. But if we have to start somewhere, we have to begin with the Swiss artist, Felix Vallotton, who led the way with a woodcut of Paul Verlaine (himself a patron of Le chat noir) in 1891. It remains odd and perhaps isn't much of a woodcut in itself. I prefer his later woodcut of Verlaine from Le Livre des masques (1898) but Vallotton went on to describe a world in woodcut where all the creatures lived, from bohemian poets to communards to cats, they were there. His remarkable image Two cats was published by the German magazine, Pan, in 1895.

It was not only the images that themselves or the modern subjects that represented a great innovation. By drawing on the tradition of books of woodcuts, Vallotton provided artists with yet another precedent. La flute appeared in his 1896 book, Six musical instruments. It ten re-appeared in the Saturday Review in London in 1897 as H.M. The Queen by William Nicholson. For Nicholson, the image was a great coup and made him famous overnight. Not that he had been unoriginal. He had had the bright idea of removing the Prince of Wales from a double portrait photograph of the Prince and Queen Victoria (a photograph that appears to have disappeared from the internet) and substituted the Queen's terrier.

I think his debt to Vallotton is obvious and like Vallotton he also went on to make his own series of woodcut books for the publisher, William Heinemann (whose nerve had failed him over H.M. The Queen). Where Nicholson did move forward was in his use of colour. Curiously, Nicholson's woodcuts were not cut at all but engraved on end-grain. I suppose he had needed to provide his publishers with a durable material like box-wood. He certainly had no intention of using the finicky wood-engraving style commonly used by newspapers.

Just as influential was his book An Alphabet. (The date is usually given as 1st January, 1898, but it appeared in time for Christmas, 1897.) For all his modern boldness, Nicholson regularly fell back on a folksy style and the longer he went on the more he relied on a period feel that tends to set the tone for a lot of British illustration. But once the folksiness is removed, we are left with the sumptuousness of  images such as Moriz Jung's Jaguar from his Tier-ABC made about 1906 while still a student at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule. By comparison, Jungnickel's Tigerkopf is conventional. Jaguar is out-and-out Vienna Secession while Tigerkopf  is Secession modified by a visit to the zoo.                                                                  

After that, there was no holding anyone in Vienna back. The posters produced by Erwin Puschinger and other artists for the Jagd Ausstellung of 1910 may well be fussier and less original than some of the best posters of the period (and there were a lot of them) but no one after all was looking at posterity. Peter Behren's woodcuts had been appearing in Pan around the same time as Vallotton's work but his poster from the 1910 Deutsche Werkbund falls back on a more conventional fine art approach but I like it all the same for its sheer bravura.

Huehner (1907) was the nearest Carl Thiemann came to the commercial poster style but he was a fine artist by training and more associated with Munich than the more radical styles of the Vienna Secession. All the same, I have always thought this woodcut was Thiemann at his exquisite best. It sums up the modern need for fine but uncomplicated imagery. His woodcut landscapes tend to start looking like paintings for all the woodcut feel they have. The sheer decorativeness and subtlety of colour is what makes this Thiemann's greatest and most telling print. But then Thiemann had looked around the farmyard, not just the zoo.

Sunday 17 April 2016

The colour linocuts of Norah Pearse


A copy of Exeter School of Art magazine with a lithograph on the front by Norah Pearse came up for sale on ebay a few weeks ago.Sadly, I missed it. Not that it was much good (the drawing was haphazard)  but The cloakroom had a St. Trinian's sense of anarchy and fun typical of Pearse. (See note below) The girls were larking about in gym-slips and it reminded me what kind of institution an art school in the 1930s really was. It was a school; the students were in their teens. Nor were they there to train as artists. The whole idea was to send them off later for a year's teacher training, a fact that goes some way to explaining why it is that so many of them were skilful  enough to make good prints but were often hopeless when it came to drawing.

As for linocut, it had been promoted as suitable for use by children in Vienna long before it arrived in Britain. It didn't make the break-through here until the 'Children's Art Exhibition' was held was held in London in 1921. Allen Seaby must have gone to see it because he was writing about linocut for educational purposes soon afterwards. Claude Flight's much more famous book Lino-Cut followed in 1927). Lino isn't very durable but it is easy to manipulate and, as Flight never tired of saying, it was simple enough to achieve a sense of being modern. Whether or not this makes Pearse's Seals worth £200 is another thing, but after seeing St. Trinian's, I think I would pause for thought before I coughed up. But I did buy in the Cotswolds (above) and I'm glad I did.

Splash shows part of the sea-front at Exmouth in Devon very near to where I had a bed-sit type of flat in the mid-seventies, so, for all her ways, I must take Norah's side. (She came from Exmouth and she appeals). What should be obvious by now is that Pearse was aware of London trends (and exhibited with the Graver Printers) and had what Clive Christie would always call 'an aesthetic'. The subdued tones of the prints are very thirties just as much as the observation of social life. What is interesting is the way Pearse moves easily between the social life of seals and tigers and even trees and the everyday activities of human beings. She also makes good use of the free line that linocut so readily allows without going in for the kind of pattern-making that followers of Flight tended to adopt after a stint with him at the Grosvenor School.

Ladies surfing (above) reminds me of the more vigorous approach taken by Julia Mavrogordato whose work she would have known. This image has turned up since the post was written and it is obvious to me that Pearse not only had a linocut style all of her own but an approach to subject matter that is unlike anyone else. Images of people enjoying themselves was a thirties thing but I suspect many artists steered clear in case they came across as slight or sentimental.

Where she does depart from Flight and all of them is in her use of perspective. She was more modern in her subject matter than in her manner. Of tigers, watched by children has the Pearse sense of humour, the unpredictability of the tigers matched by the kiddies beyond the bars. I have no doubt she knew the linocuts of Norbertine Bresslern Roth but again she goes her own way and this is why she interests me. Look at the way she plays off the tiger-stripes and the bars, and the effects she gains with patches of light and shadow. The anecdotal humour shouldn't detract from the complicated arrangement of the print. It wasn't that easy to get all the figures right and she wisely limited herself as always to a narrow range of colour. And again it works.  Picasso it isn't but nice it is and it's a shame this is the only image available. At least we now have a better idea of what she could do.

As for St. Trinian's School, it first appeared in a British film in 1954, based on the work of the cartoonist, Ronald Searle, and with an eccentric headmistress played by the character actor, Alistair Sim. Some very wayward schoolgirls indeed were a great part of the success of the film and I always found it hilarious. It went on to become part of a series of five. Go to YouTube and behave!

And thanks to Gerrie Caspers at The Linosaurus for sorting out the lithograph from Exter.


Thursday 7 April 2016

A modernist colour linocut for sale on ebay


Before you all go hurrying off to look at British ebay, the colour linocut proof up for sale right now is not the superb impression, above, of Sybil Andrew's Steeplechasing (1930) but the less exciting one, below. Of course, when I saw it, I hurried off myself to do some research because I recognised Andrews style, well aware that other people would do exactly the same thing. But it isn't Andrews; it is someone else.

Who it is, I don't know, and I can't say I particularly care but it is interesting to see artists making good copies of classic British linocuts - good untill they are compared with the original when you see just how exceptional Andrews could be. I am a fan, certainly more than I am of Cyril Power or Claude Flight and frankly I think it was basically dishonest to edition such a close copy. It isn't exactly the same because one pair of coat-tails is missing and the marks below the hedge are different, but in basic respects, it is similar. The print has also mis-registered, something I don't think you would ever see in Andrews.

Somehow whoever did it missed the point though. Andrew's stylish Grosvenor modernism (because she wasn't really a modernist, she was only pretend) has been lost. The sharp, geometric shapes that gave the Andrews' print its up-to-date appeal look like a cereal packet in the copy. You can also see that the edition is ten, not really an edition number that you would expect from Andrews. In fact, she made three. The British edition was fifty and that was followed by the U.S. edition, which was sixty. You can see USA 32/60 on the image above. It also appears that the Osborne Samuel proof at the top was from the US edition. There was then an Australian edition in 1936 but with only twenty proofs taken before the lino-block failed. There were also trial proofs that have come up for sale.

So far as price goes, the ebay print is up with a starting-bid of £25 wheras proofs sold in Britain sold for about £15,000 at Christies and last year another went for £19.000, so I dio hope what I am saying is correct. Decide for yourself.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Kenneth Broad, Paolo Uccello & others

I have no doubt that sooner or later someone with a Pinterest page will come along and swipe Kenneth's Broad's The harbour, Brittany for their little scrap-book. I suppose I don't mind all that much but it is galling to see prints taken from the blog and stuck there for no other reason than they look decorative. But meaningless, also, because, although The harbour, Brittany is decorative, there is more to Broad than that and, in the end, people who come along and nab stuff for Pinterest hardly do the artists themselves any justice. So, I thought I would do a pin-up page of my own and try and suggest appropriate images to place along side Broad's work, pictures that he would have known and I believe he had in mind when he came to make some of his prints, a pin-up page of the imagination, if you like.

You only have to look at the raised lances and the colour scheme of Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano from the Louvre to see what I mean. Some readers may remember the post where I first talked about Broad and the painting by Uccello of the same name in the National Gallery, London. (There is a third painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.) I think it was hardly any coincidence that Broad included part of the facade of the Gallery in his view of St Martins in the Fields. We are fortunate in Britain to have three works by Uccello in the country and for anyone who isn't familiar with him, he was a C15th Italian artist who became famous for his innovations - principally, a very thorough-going use of perspective. Rather eccentric-looking today, yes, and Uccello may not have been a great master, but he was master of draughtsmanship and colour as the superb drawing of the central horse and the black-plumed knights on the left make clear.
Broad was not a true master, not like Uccello who was, but his very best prints are masterly. His primary skill was architecture and this is partly what he has in common with Uccello whose work was designed for large architectural spaces and have the same concerns with volume and line that architects have to have. Notice how Uccello uses a dramatic three-quarter profile for his self-portrait and looks up while Broad turns on the opposite direction and looks down.

Of course, it wasn't until I saw The harbour, Brittany that I realised that Broad appeared to have made use of Uccello's work more than once. He had already depicted the red and white poles from Mitcham Fair in 1925 and I was already pretty certain that he had been looking carefully at the Uccello in the National Gallery, London. But I have to say it was almost by chance that I founbd other intriguing and striking similarities. I may of course by wrong but it's still worth saying simply because I think an artist/architect like Broad had a very wide range of references and interests and I think it shows.

In 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti won a major competition to produce a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery at Florence. The commission was so large, he set up a workshop and took on other artists that sound like a roll-call of all that was original and decorative in early C15th Florence. The painters Antonio Pollaiuolo and Masolino, the sculptor, Donatello, and also Uccello were all amongst them. I don't think it's known how the individual artists worked on different panels, but going by the evidence of the one below with its crowds of people, tents and trees, I think Broad must have known them. He was first and foremost an architect with a classical bent, but he was also an enquiring and original printmaker who had learned to look and copy and adapt and I like the way he took his modern and witty and quirky look at the quattrocento, and I think it was well-worth doing. And put all of that on Pinterest, if you dare.