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.                                               


  1. Wonderful posting Charles. I would rate Tschudi highly and I was always interested that she was a working printmaker and much of her bread and butter came from magazine illustrations. I love the images you have shared, and they are all so ebullient and flowing. She was sought after right up to her death for her magazine illustrations. She had a reputation of being thoughtful, responsive and able to interpret an editor's ideas and turn them into images. It is clear from the illustrations you have shared here, she was clearly able to take a moment and turn into something delightful and alive. She was easily the strongest of the Flight school in my opinion, although my opinion has always been in the minority and I think that was largely because she was not a British/Australian student. I am also intrigued about the idea that she was inspired by Bresslern-Roth, this was new to and quite exciting. Bresslern-Roth was rated very highly by her contemporaries and, like Tschudi, she worked as an illustrator and a working artist. It's also further evidence that Bresslern-Roth was already a star and in some ways, ahead of her time.

  2. But then untill you brought it up, I had no idea she had worked as an illustrator, something that was very interesting to learn. It's surprising how little biography is available in English (unless, I suppose, you start buying expensive books about linocut). But, as we both know, she doesn't quite fit in with the Grosvenor style so beloved of the dealer.

    The fact is British linocuts were sold to a wealthy American collector who then had museum curators salivating like Pavlov's dog. Hence the big exhibitions that were held in the U.S. But it was all taken out of context and to this day many writers about modern colour linocut on both sides of the Atlantic have no idea whatsoever about the wider colour print movement. Nor does it suit them to make judgements about the prints. It's what we are here for, isn't it?

  3. "A wealthy American", "writers about modern colour linocut", "them".. Who are you referring to Charles ? And what was taken out of context ? I'ld love to learn and I wish I could answer your desperate question. Which is not a question but a statement: you are definitely "here" for that. And we all benefit, respect learn and follow.
    It is of course also a very narrow (specialized) field of interest and expertise. Which makes it lonely at the top.
    Who would you today trust to make an expert or at least a reliable judgement on colour lino printmaking ? Besides yourself and Clive, we the readers of Modern Printmakers, consider you to be the experts on these matters (quality, context, history, "the broader view", etc... ). Do you really think there are more new Salamans and Singers on the block ?

  4. I was only sounding off, Gerrie, that was all, and if I sounded vague, it was mainly because I couldn't remember any of the names.

    Anyway, I am certainly not an expert on British colour linocut. The person you need to go to is Stephen Coppel, Assistant Keeper of Modern Prints at the British Museum. He is the acknowledged expert on the Grosvenor School and has written various important books and articles on the subject. I am being cautious here because it's the job of bloggers to say what they think but at the same time I am full of admiration for Coppel's scholarship.

    I had to look the rest of this up to remind myself simply because I only take notes where I have to! But the collectors in question are Johanna and Leslie Garfield and the exhibition was organised by the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and was held in 2005 - 2006. (If I look it up again to check, I will lose what I have written.) There was a further exhibition of the Garfield Collection, which includes German Expressionist prints and modern American artists like Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, at the Chazen Art Museum 2011 - 2012.

    The Garfields are wealthy enough to be able to sponser new galleries for museums like the Chazen. The problem is that they do not collect enough British colour prints to give a real idea of what was happening during the 1920s and 1930s. They placed the emphasis on what they considered to be modern and the Met. actually described the Grosvenor stuff they were collecting as 'pop modernism'. I mean I could think of good artists who would not be in the Garfield collection but who would hold their own against Claude Flight and Sybil Andrews, for instance. Curators at the V&A were stunned when they saw William Giles and Arabella Rankin's work and the curator of Modern Prints told me she is a great fan of John Platt. We have to add Ian Cheyne to that list and Anna Findlay at her best. This is part of the context because they were working at the same time as the Grosvenor artists. I know Claude Flight took ideas from others and revved them up with his very British take on futurism etc but even Coppel doesn't know the broader picture and all of the writers (Clifford Ackley and Gordon Samuel are others) tend to make assumptions about where Flight's ideas and practice came from while acknowledging that he was central to the modern linocut movement. So, they just go round in circles. These are my own conclusions from what I had read but I am not giving away the fruits of my hard research here. And no one else would do that either. Does that help?

    1. Oh dear ! I did not expect such a lengthy explanation, unleashing the beast. I would never ask to give away fruits of hard research, but: you started …. And yes, thank you, of course it helped. A bit, to try and understand what you did gave away.
      It was a surprise to learn "them" (the collectors couple you referred to) was such a recent, contemporary example.
      Developing the broader view is excavating and carefully puzzling together the often unrecorded and unwritten past. Constructing perspective and context from circumstantial evidence, and tons of small bits and pieces. An on going process, much like the joy of the biographer. With time the fruits ripen, becoming sweeter by the year.

  5. I haven't given anything away! Coppel's books are standard texts on British linocut even if they are quite recent. Everybody uses them and the information I give here is readily available in the introduction to 'Rhythms of Modern Life, British prints 1914 - 1939' which was published to coincide with the exhibition of the same name in New York in 2008. The perspective is my own, yes, but that is all.

    Beyond that I have found material that Coppel and the others haven't found simply because their knowledge of the context isn't wide enough. It's how it goes with all research, isn't it? But in this case it isn't 'tons of small bits and pieces'. I wish! People have just approached the subject of linocut with pre-conceived ideas, which derive in part from Claude Flight himself. That's ludicrous. There has been unthinking acceptance of what Flight has said because there is so little else to go on. Don't I know? Funny, really.