Wednesday 30 August 2017

From Corot to Urushibara: Corot, E.C.A. Brown and Theodore Roussel


In 1907, the National Gallery in London acquired Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's Marsh at Arleux (below). The picture had been painted in Artois in 1871 during the revolutionary period of the Paris Commune. Many artists had left the city and moved to the Pas-de-Calais and continued to paint whatever they saw there. But Corot's picture is strange, lacking in detail, laden with atmosphere and with a deliberate lack of finish. There is a sense of dislocation and foreboding that looks forwards to modern art. Corot is not an artist  I would associate with an image, pure and simple, but it does show exactly why French artists had so much to learn from colour woodcut artists like Hiroshige to whom the meaningful image was naturally a part of what they did.

By the lake (at the top) by E.C.A. Brown was first exhibited (so far as I know) in February, 1911, and shows one of the lakes at the village of Camiers in the Pas-de-Calais where she lived with her husband. The couple moved backwards and forwards between France and accommodation in London and while I do not know whether Brown saw Corot's picture newly-arrived at the National Gallery, you will agree, her woodcut takes so much from Corot, it is uncanny. The picture was given to the Gallery by Mrs Edwin Edwards. She and her husband had made strong links with French artists, including Henri Fantin Latour and Alphonse Legros, as well as Whistler, who had been close to Theodore Roussel, and it is always possible that all these artists had already seen the Corot.n at their home.

Brown knew Charles Bartlett who went to work in Tokyo with the publisher Shazaburo Wantanabe and, as Modern Prinmakers said some while back, used Georges Seurat's A Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jatte as a basis for his colour woodcut Silk merchants, India. What you see here is the first time a British colour woodcut artist made direct use of modern French art rather than a Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut. Roussel's  Moonrise from the river made in London (where he lived) in 1914 is an interesting variation. The mood has changed again to something far more neutral. There is more I could say, but what you can see here is the beginning of Urushibara's work with Frank Brangwyn and this is why.


All of these artists - Corot (above and below), Fantin-Latour, Whistler, Legros and Roussel - made prints and all of them, apart from Corot, knew London and some of the artists working there. For Corot what mattered most in a picture was what he called himself 'the value of tone' - and he meant the tone of the overall picture, so it made particular sense for him to produce etchings because he could explore and use tonal value in a new way. Corot was remarkably diverse in the things he did. Despite the basic similarity of the subjects, The dreamer (made in 1854 but not printed until 1921), is very different in approach - basically a type of northern expressionism, if you like - from his etching, Near Rome (1866) He was a translator and an interpreter and that would make him interesting to other artists.


One of them was Brown. By the lake was not the only print she made that drew on Corot. With others, it is just less obvious, but I think it is still there and the French art historian and critic, Gabriel Mourey, who saw Brown's prints when they were first being exhibited in Paris, said the same thing: 'the countryside between Montreuil-sur-Mer and Etretat is the countryside of Cazin and Corot'. Corot was based at Arras in 1871, but he and his biographer-friend rented a house at Arleux 30 km to the east during July and August, where Corot made a prompt return to the scratchy technique of the first etching.

There are two points here. The importance of French art to the first British colour woodcut artists like Brown hasn't been talked about. It has been very easy to discuss the importance of Japan simply because so little is known about what they were doing and what the artists were actually thinking and doing (and because some of the people doing the writing knew more about C19th Japanese colour woodcut than they did about C19th French etching). The fact that Brown and her friends and colleagues were using the Japanese method is almost beside the point; her husband's prints were mainly colour etchings and as she was the better printer, she printed at least one of them herself (above). And what she achieved there was a sense of tone; it was already an interpretation of Thomas Brown's work because he was never as subtle as that.

Urushibara's main contribution to Frank Brangwyn's Bruges portfolio (1919), above, was its tone. This wasn't a by-product of being very clever when it came to making prints. As The Studio said in 1920, he was translating Brangwyn and to me, at least, that is what Corot was doing, and what Brown did, when she printed her husband's fishing fleet at  Etaples. She was a co-artist on that print and signed it on the left. This was where Urushibara's work with Brangwyn began; this was the environment Urushibara came into when he arrived in London in 1910. People talk as if he were some kind of boy-genius who has arrived from the wilds of Tokyo and did it all by magic. Urushibara was in Paris over the winter and where By the lake, as well as Roussel's etchings, was exhibited and I would think it likely that he saw all of them, along with other colour woodcuts by British artists, simply because his French colleagues were interested, too. So, I am not saying he began by studying Corot etchings; there was no need to, he was surrounded by people who had.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Klemm & Thiemann, modern woodcut in Prague: Eva Bendova (ed)


Quite  a long time ago, I tried to write  a post I called 'The studio in Liboc' about the early woodcuts made by the two Czech artists, Walther Klemm and Carl Thiemann. I must admit I didn't have much to go on on except a great liking for the work of both artists. I wasn't helped by the lack of images available online and especially a lack of dates for any of the ones I knew.  Im Frankfurter Hafen (1906), below, was one of those frustrating prints I have had illustrated in a book for many years but was too large to scan. But here it is now, in all its glory - and, I must add, owing something to Hugo Henneberg's print showing Trieste harbour (see the relevant recent post about his linocuts).

I am pleased to say that only today I heard about a book I think you need to have. It is Klemm & Thiemann: moderner holzschnitt in Prag published in Prague in 2016. It is in German and Czech and available from Narodni Galerie in Prague or at East View in U.S. dollars. A well-illustrated book and, I understand, an indispensable one. Anyway, they are both artists Modern Printmakers approves of, so you can't go wrong. You only have to apply the plastic.


There  was a related exhibition Land Tier Stadt Der Farbholzshcnitt in Prag um 1900 at the Ostdeutsche Galerie in Regensburg. Although that is now over, the gallery may be another source for the book for readers in Germany. All being well, Modern Printmakers hopes to review it at some point soon.

Monday 14 August 2017

The Great Wave of Georgetown


The mural was painted by John McConnell, an architecture student from Harvard University, in August, 1974, for friends who lived at the house. He used Sherwin-Williams house paint, which, he says himself, has held up remarkably well. Fortunately, the current owner wants to maintain the mural and is seeking advice about its restoration. McConnell now works as an architect in Winchester, Massachusetts.

His mural is at 3510 O St NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC.


Saturday 12 August 2017

The colour woodcuts of Jules Chadel


When Alphonse Legros was professor at the Slade School in London, he would encourage the students to make models in clay as a way of understanding 'form'. I suppose, to some extent, this makes sense, but I don't believe that is all there is to it. Legros was versatile and understood the need of students to find out for themselves - I was going to say 'explore', but that sounds too modern.

Legros had made sculpture and medallions himself and during his early days at a school of drawing in Paris, he had also made friends with the sculptors, Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou. He also made etchings and was a leading member of the early revival in the 1870s, but what  really interests me is the way artists associate prints with modelling and sculpture, without perhaps being too conscious of it, and I think Jules Chadel  was one of them who did. You only have to look at his Magpie and bee (above) to get my drift. It is flat, but he still imagines everything in the round and achieves a lot of what the print is about by a deft and vigourous use of perspective. For an experiment in colour woodcut, it is remarkably self-assured. What I should add is this: it also appears more Japanese than it actually is.


Chadel first trained as a sculptor, but moved from there to jewellery design and about 1905 went to work for Robert Vever, the leading Parisian maker of jewellery. Vever was a notable connoisseur of   Japanese art with an impressive collection of Japanese woodcuts. Vever would be 'at home' on Sundays and enthusiasts like himself would come along to indulge their passion, as collectors always have. Vever was also a member of Les amis de l'art japonais, an exclusive society of designers, connoisseurs and artists, who would meet eight times a year at a Paris restaurant (usually the Cardinal) and took turns to produce illustrated menu cards and place-cards in the manner of ukiyo-e woodcuts.


For a number of years, Chadel worked on his cards with the fabric designer, Alphonse-Prosper Isaac. It was one of those happy arrangements; Isaac had been making these small prints for a while had learned how to print them, but Chadel was the better artist of the two, and between them, they made some of the small colour woodcuts you see here. Simple but subtle, and well-designed, there were nothing throw-away about them and, for all their self-evident charm, they were made with complete seriousness. You can see Chadel and Isaac's two stamps at the corner of print of the bird with the cherry and, though I am not absolutely sure, this little print appears to make use of the technique of karazuri, or shallow embossing, to suggest the breast-feathers. If so, Isaac was hardly a beginner.


Chadel also went on to make prints in editions like Le port de Douarnenez. As you see, it is a more conventional French prints, with nothing much that is Japanese about it. For me, the most interesting aspect of the print,  is the way he is still working 'in the round' and making great use of perspective. It reads from bottom to top the way a Chinese print would but the conception is western. But I also think the first prints he made for Les amis de l'art japonais are less Japanese than they appear or, at least, that writers on art have emphasised what Chadel took from Japan without considering what else might be there. I don't think this has done Chadel justice, but this has been the standard approach to colour woodcut and especially to artists using the Japanese manner of making prints. In Britain, this was the approach taken by Alan Guest who did the first research hereand has been followed by his collaborator, Hilary Chapman. Alan (who was both mentor and friend) came to colour woodcut as a librarian with a specialist knowledge of print technique and as a collector with an interest in Japanese art and generally there has been too much emphasis on Japan and technique.


This view of mine is nothing new. It was taken by John Dickson Batten and S.R. Koehler in the 1890s (as Alan knew) and by Herbert Fust in 1924 (and picked up from him by the linocut artist, Claude Flight). Both Furst and Flight were hostile to colour woodcut but were not well-informed enough to make a lot of sense. I am far from hostile; I just tend to think there is more to most artists than the commentators say, Chadel included, and that writers have tended to take one aspect of their work as it suited them and make more of it than they should. This has happened to Flight and his linocuts. You only need to look at Chadel's wonderful Dragonflies to see its works the way that it does by combining aspects of western and Japanese art; it is a synthesis like the work of Mabel Royds. This is what gives it that typical turn-of-the century decorative clout. The wings and leaves are mainly flat against a flat background, but the bodies and the way the wings overlap rely on conventional perspective despite Chadel attempting to cover this up. It's not a crime; it's just more Paris than Tokyo. Dragonflies (and insects in general) are typical of Japanese art. Here they allow for unprinted space. But sculpture also relies on what isn't there - the space between arms and bodies, the holes in a Henry Moore. Sculptors also have to see their subject in the round and Chadel was looking at his dragonflies from above and below and from the back and the front, something that came naturally as a designer, but a designer who knew Katsushika Hokusai's manga (see below for an example).

You will see that the menu with the cat image was made for a dinner held on 8th November, 1912, and had a magic ingredient. This was called Yoshijiro Urushibara. Urushibara had arrived in London in May, 1910, and first visited Paris in the December of that year when he addressed Les amis. Isaac and Chadel, in particular, were always grateful for the lessons he gave them; Isaac's own lessons went on daily for months and his way of making woodcuts improved. But look again. The cat manages to suggest both Japanese brush technique and European lithography, which had come into its  own in the 1890s and was being widely used by artists like Pierre Bonnard and Henri Riviere and not  just for the famous  posters of Steinlen and Lautrec . It works not because it's Japanese; it works because, like Isaac and Chadel, two cultures of tradition and innovation, had become firm friends.


Monday 7 August 2017

The Great Wave as gable-end


The BBC news website as got well and truly into the Hokusai mood with a nice feature on different manifestations of the famous Hokusai print on the end of people's houses. The one you see here is in Washington D.C. (and we expect a full report on  that).

The piece is timed to coincide with the current Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, but it is too late for readers to go if they haven't been already. It's a sell-out and all the tickets are gone.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

A cosmopolitan show at the Hasse Gallery, Leeds, in 1929


One notable thing about the British colour print movement (and I'm including colour etching and linocut) is how many artists from other countries were included and how far British artists were ready to learn from them. Only look at the narrow-mindedness of  etcher, David Bone, chairman of the Society of Twelve. Founded in 1904,  Alphonse Legros, who had become a British subject, was a founder member, but Bone objected to Lucien Pissarro's membership simply because he hadn't. By contrast the Society of Graver Printers (officially founded in 1909) included the Irishman, E.L. Lawrenson and was determinedly Anglo-French. It later branched out into Japan, Austria and Germany. Then recall the Australian contribution to woodcut and linocut in the 1920s.


What is very striking about the exhibition of coloured woodcuts held at the Hasse Gallery in Leeds in 1929 was that not one of the artists whose work was on show had been born in the United Kingdom (not even Frank Brangwyn, who was born in Bruges). This probably says two things. The Hasse family came from German Moravian stock (the sect not the region) and had been settled in England and Ireland  since the C19th, but presumably had maintained business connections with Austria and Germany. Leeds was a large and prosperous city and the gallery appeared to have shown the artists they believed would sell. What is extraordinary to me is that I had two of the prints sold by Hasse in my own collection (one was sold by me only recently) and I assume that was how they came to be in Newark and Sheffield where I bought them in the first place.

What I must warn you is this: I have not seen a catalogue of this show, only a review in the Yorkshire Post, which gave the titles of a limited number of prints. Urushibara's Dahlias comes first because I have come to like its eccentric earthiness, but Messina after an earthquake after a drawing by Brangwyn was certainly in the show (and is shown below). A friend of mine used to have the Urushibara on his wall over the television, so you couldn't miss it, and it was one of the very first British colour woodcuts (and I claim Urushibara for the British School) I came to know well. I will also admit that at the time I was disappointed with it. What  I wanted from a colour woodcut was that sense of outlandish period glamour while I thought Dahlias was a sombre and pernickety study in maroon and grey.


Nowadays, it would appeal far more than Brangwyn's deliberations. I mean, the Brangwyn isn't bad but it isn't a print, it's Henry IV Part One, (enter Falstaff right). I can no longer take his theatricality very seriously. Nor can I be sure that John Hall Thorpe's print you see here was in the show. What was a sale was Piccadilly Circus, an early woodcut I dislike so much, I won't so much as look at it unless I really have to, which fortunately doesn't happen often.


Again, I can't say the Ilse Koch-Amberg (second from the top) was in the show but a flower print by her would be fairly certain, I would think. What you could have bought was M.E.Phillip's Macaw  (and it  might have been a good idea if you had). I have never been a great fan of Phillips and this is the first time he has appeared on Modern Printmakers. At Leeds I don't know how much it was, but it is currently for sale in New York if  you have a mind-bending $4000 and more to spend. Cardinal birds was there, as well, but would not have been such a wise investment.

Inscribing their work in English - even dubious English - presumably helped the artists to sell their work. Engelbert Lap's After the rain would also have gone into my collection if I had found it in Sheffield that day because, all in all, I think it's one of his most appealing print. But then, Lap was consistent in a military way and I am not surprised to find him in league with either Hall Thorpe or Urushibara. All three had an easily recognisable professional manner, though Urushibara was by far the most versatile. None had been trained as artists in the first place but Dahlias is more than a decorative print. It still speaks across cultures, the way he handles space is poetic and not merely formal.


Another print for sale was Helene Mass' Reflections. The one I own has no inscription apart from 'H Mass' and I only properly identified the artist years later using an old Antwerp auction-house catalogue  that was stuffed with colour woodcuts and was an invaluable resource, but, sadly, was removed from the internet some years ago.  Without it, I doubt either Art & the Aesthete or Modern Printmakers would have ever got going. Anyway, without knowing anything about the artist, the Mass was on obvious thing to buy, one that made best use of the medium, and I have always been surprised that generally none of the other prints I have seen by her have ever been so good.