Monday 20 June 2016

Hugo Henneberg, the first linocut virtuoso


Around 1904 the Viennese artist, Hugo Henneberg, made this remarkable colour linocut  he called Der blaue Weiher (the blue pond), remarkable not only because of the image itself, but because he had used a cheap and nasty material like linoleum to make it. Exactly where he got the idea from, I do not know. Lino had only been used for making printing blocks in wallpaper production since the 1890s, so here was an example of a modern artist adapting a commercial technique in the same way pochoir was used in the twenties and screen printing in the sixties. What really is surprising, though, it just how good it was.

Henneberg was not the only artist to be using lino at the time. Gabriele Muenter had begun her series of portraits of Wassily Kandinsky (who had been her teacher at Munich) in 1903. Henneberg was different, more formal. Linocuts like Am Quai (above) also took photographs he had been making since the 1880s as a starting point. So, he was no youthful beginner. Although Am Quai is based on a photograph taken at Trieste in 1899, I'm including  his photograph, Bach in Fruhjahr, (below). It gives more of an idea of his overall approach to making images. The problem is it's not always easy to say exactly what he was doing because  Henneberg began to make colour woodcuts at the same time and in reproduction it can be very tricky trying to tell linocut from woodcut. Am Quai is sometimes described as woodcut and mistakes have been made with other prints, probably because no one expects them to be linocuts!

The temptation to head the post with Der blaue Weiher was too big for me to resist. Yet in many ways it isn't typical and most of his other prints would strike most modern readers as more conventional, a shame because what Henneberg's was doing with lino was new. But then, look here. He goes off to Italy with Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll in 1899 and comes home and  makes an atmospheric but formal print like Am Quai. It's Hiroshige without the humour and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that what followed over the next few years was a fascination with baroque.

Stiftshof in Duernstein (above) might come over as more intriguing than exciting, particularly the version in black and white. Certainly, it sits oddly with the Secession reputation for innovation and advanced modernity. I think what he had done with Der blaue Weiher was draw on the decorative work of Klimt. The way the reflections end up making patterns is similar to both Klimt and Egon Schiele. Frankly, he might have been better following this up with others like it, but he turned to Moll instead who was both less talented and more conservative. Both artists had homes designed by Josef Hoffman on the Hohe Warte in Vienna and Henneberg went as far as to base one of his colour woodcuts on a painting by Moll. This was inexplicable. Seeing one medium in terms of another is basically anti modern. It also causes confusion. To my dismay, only this weekend I discovered that I had put a colour linocut by Henneberg at the top of a post about Moll's colour woodcuts and no one but no one picked me up on it!

I tend to think that so far as Henneberg and colour print went, Moll led the way. Moll had published a portfoilio of large prints in 1903. Other artists made even larger colour woodcuts than Moll, but lino lends itself to a big scale because it is cheap and is easier to manipulate, particularly if you to go in for the kind of architectural detail that Henneberg seemed to like. Funnily enough, this makes him look a lot like his British contemporary, Sidney Lee. What was missing in Lee, though, was Henneberg's sophistication. Italy was easier to comprehend when looked at from Vienna rather than Manchester where Lee came from. Henneberg's virtuosity sits easily on him while Lee always has too much northern grit about him (though I used to like that). Henneberg could turn from photography to woodcut and lino with ease and get it right and, what is more, having no other artists to turn to for an example when it came to lino. Nor did anyone think of working on such a scale for many years. The fact that no one much, apart from Ernst Stoehr, followed his example only emphasises how individual he was. The Wachau portfolio of seven linocuts he published in 1910 became his testament because only eight years later, he was dead. You can see Duernstein above.
Unfortunately, not many of the images available online are all that good and the situation is complicated by an edition that was printed posthumously in 1921. The original edition published by Gesellschavt fur Vervielfaltignede Kunst have their mark on the left and a studio stamp of Henneberg's signature on the left, while the 1921 edition was annotated by Karl Nickman but with the printer so far unidentified (or at least that is how I understand the German notes). But either way, you get the idea. Here is Stein, above, and no doubt readers in Bavaria who are fans of Henri Riviere will notice what Henneberg was able to learn from that artist. (It's worth saying that Riviere was invited to exhibit with the Secession in 1899 along with William Nicholson, so there is no doubt about Henneberg knowing his work, I would think.)

In all this Henneberg was pretty forward-looking. If he derived styles and ideas from artists as diverse as Hokusai and Moll, he also set the tone for a lot of work that came after the first war. British printmakers as diverse as S.G. Boxsius, Claughton Pellew and Edward Bawden would all recognise a fellow practitioner, I would have thought. One thing they all have in common is an interest in place. Wachau is in Upper Austria and the prints take in similar views over one small area. It is what a portfolio can do in the right hands; the prints speak to one another as much as they do to us. And I think they do speak. The atmospherics of the photographs and the Secession formalism of the earlier colour prints have developed into that old thing, a flowering later in life. Claude Flight liked to claim that linocut had no history and that was what made it attractive to him.. What he should have said was it had no history he knew about, but some of it you see here - in fact a lot of it is here! It is astonishing really that Henneberg got so far.

At a time when symbolism came all too easily to artists and was often taken for granted, it would be easy to miss the poetic mood in Henneberg. Take a look at  Waldweg (above).  Nothing else really explain his shifts from photography to colour print and the way he appeared to change so readily from wood to lino (but because a lot of the prints are not dated, it isn't easy to say exactly what he was doing). So far as I can see, he preferred to use colour with lino. The colour of the woodcuts tends to be flat and unvaried. Even so, I also think the black and white linocuts like Wehrturm in Duenrstein, below, find Henneberg at his most delicate and subtle. It's a paradox I know but a paradox the traditionalist in him would understand.

Last but far from least, I am indebted to Galerie Walfischgasse in Vienna for the high standard of many of the images you see here.


Saturday 18 June 2016

Art for all, colour woodcut in Vienna 1900: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and the Albertina, Vienna

The exhibition (and the book) we have all been waiting for and deserve. It opens at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt on 6th July, 2016, and runs until 3rd October. It then moves to the Albertina, Vienna, where it opens on 19th October and closes on 22nd January, 2017. If you can get to either venue, this is a must for your diary. If not, the book is there to offer consolation. The publication date I have for the book is 15th October but it already available to order on the Schirn website and on Amazon. A review will follow this post.

There are so many fabulous works to be shown, it is almost impossible for me to make a fair selection but rest assured that many images familiar to readers of Modern Printmakers will be on show alongside many that are new to me such as Nora Exner's astonishing Dog (1903), above. The exhibition quite rightly identifies L.H. Jungnickel as the most important colour woodcut artist of the period 1900 to 1910. One of his jokey hybrid images from 1910 can be seen at the top, identified as A smoking cricket by the curator, Tobias Natter. Apparently this had been erroneously given the title Smoking billy-goat. Modern Printmakers begs to differ. As I pointed out in, the artist was a humourist and prone to come up with animals not currently known to zoology and this is one of his droll hybrids.

Unlike Jungnickel, important galleries and curators are in the habit of taking themselves rather seriously and this show is no exception. As always with colour woodcut they claim to have made a re-discovery, largely based on the fact that the subject has been neglected by art history. Even in art historical terms, ten years is a short time, but Natter, whose idea it was, is a specialist. It concerns itself only with artists associated with the early days of the Vienna Secession, some of whom were also teachers at the Kunstgewerbeshcule in Vienna and worked for the Wiener Werkstaette so artists who took part in the wider printmaking movement are not included. All the same, Hugo Henneberg's striking Night scene - blue pond (1904) was also new to me, so there will be a lot that is worth seeing on display.

Not surprisingly, the show is filled out with a good deal of other graphic art, notably from periodicals like Ver Sacrum and the famous square calendars and also examples of Japanese colour woodcut. It also includes examples of linocut and Jungnickel's schablonenspritztechnik but here instead are three of his loony parrots from 1909. All of these would be hard for any curator to resist but here is the additional problem with a show that willingly limits itself to a period of only about ten years: a need to fill the exhibition out with work that was produced at the time but is of more academic interest. The prints of Carl Moll and Jungnickel's stencil spray technique have both been covered on Modern Printmakers but I can't say I get excited about either. Moll is rather dry as Secession artists go and schablonenspritztechnik is quirky rather than original and ran counter to Jungnickel's real talent for design and colour and ends up making him look like some also-ran impressionist. More to the point is an image like Irwin Lang's uncompromising Girl in red dress, below. This is more like it. Be there, or be square.

Saturday 11 June 2016

In with the new: Mabel Royds & Alphonse Legros


It is a very curious thing to discover (or at least to believe you have discovered) one of the sources of a print you have studied with care. The print I mean is Mabel Royd's colour woodcut Choirboys (below). According to the Scottish National Gallery she made the print as early as 1898 and by my reckoning, it must be her first. Nothing very much is certain about the first colour woodcuts made in Britain but one thing we do know is that John Dixon Batten made his first independent woodcut The tiger in the first class held at the Central School of Arts & Crafts 1897 - 1898. The date suggests to me that Royds made her own woodcut during or after attending the class but what has surprised me is a link between Alphonse Legros, who was Batten's teacher at the Slade School of Art, and Royds (also a student there but after Legros had retired).


I owe this discovery (if that is what it is) to a post published a few days ago on the Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon blog The subject is the appearance at auction in Rome of two wood-engravings by Charles Ricketts after drawings by Legros. I must admit I had no idea that Ricketts had made these until today, possibly just as well, because as soon as I saw Une messe macabre (top), a third engraving Ricketts had made after Legros, I was struck by a resemblance to Royds' Choirboys. I can hardly believe it is coincidental the prints were included in 'The first exhibition of original wood-engravings' held at the Dutch Gallery in Bruton St. in 1898 and I think Royds must have visited this exhibition.

In 1898, British colour woodcut was finding its way. Batten had published Frank Morley's Fletcher's important print, Meadowsweet, in 1897.With Allen Seaby, Royds was Fletcher's most important follower and she may have adopted the Japanese method of making colour woodcuts with expertise and panache but the style of Japanese prints was not for her and Choirboys owes a great deal to the recent manner adopted by William Nicholson for coloured wood-engravings like H.M. The Queen (1897), below. But it was a Nicholson who had attended the life-class at the Slade and who employed conventional perspective.

Royds was the daughter of a Church of England rector and I believe her first woodcut shows the choir singing in her grandfather's church in Bedfordshire. But she turned Legros' macabre drawing round completely. The figures not only look right, to the future, her theme attends to life and not to its end. I am suggesting noting more than this, that Royds took an idea from Legros, as Ricketts had done, and turned it neatly on its head. As Legros himself used to tell his students, 'If you going to rob anyone, rob the rich'. Legros may not be to everyone's taste today but he was a very fine academic draughtsman and contemporaries as different as Edgar Degas and Lord Leighton admired his work and hung it in their homes.

But Legros had been rather forgotten by the nineties and there had been a concerted effort, led by William Rothenstein (another of his students) to bring about a revival. So, it is doubly interesting to find Ricketts working on ideas by Legros as well. What is more the Dutch Gallery, who showed the Rickett's engravings in 1898, had an exhibition of work by Royds' mentor, Walter Sickert, in 1894. (It has also been said that Royds and Sickert were lovers during her time in Paris). All of which goes to show there is still more research needed on what is already a well-researched period!

Finally, for anyone who wants to follow up some of these ideas elsewhere on the blog, there are three posts you could look at, one about Legros in the nineties another about Nicholson and his influence on Royds and other artists and most intriguingly one about a colour woodcut caricature of Laurence Binyon made by Edmund Dulac and owned by Ricketts