Sunday 27 December 2020

The studio at Liboc: Walther Klemm & early colour woodcut


Walther Klemm enrolled at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna in 1902. This was the year a number of Austrian artists associated with the Secession began making colour woodcuts. In the spring a colour woodcut workshop had been set up at the Secession exhibition halls where artists worked together making prints and sharing techniques. The most important of them so far as knowledge of technique went was Emil Orlik. He had not only been to London where he had met both Frank Morley Fletcher and William Nicholson, he had also been to Japan and studied colour woodcuts methods there. This had created enough interest for Orlik to have a touring exhibition of the work he had produced during his stay. It also included work by the ukiyo-e artists he had collected (a collection that remained intact until it was sold by Sotheby's in London when the Museum of Fine Art in Prague bought a small selection). This had begun in Berlin and moved on to Dresden, Prague and Brno. 

Orlik was very interested in going to source wherever it happened to be and after his visit to London, made The English woman (1899) one of his first larger woodcuts and a seminal print but using only two colours. (I will illustrate this in another post). But there was always something uneventful about Orlik's colour woodcuts. They could be documentary and unexciting while and the peacocks and turkeys made by Klemm and Hans Frank had verve and vigour. According to Gustav Mahler, Orlik was talkative, a strength when it came to dealing with students and other artists but he was also academic, a side to his character that came out when he included work from his collection in the 1902 exhibition.

The other main participant at the 1902 exhibition was Carl Moll. He was editor of the Secession magazine Ver Sacrum and apparently showed woodcuts that year. His prints were bigger than Orlik's but had a similar understated, documentary feel to them and never made dramatic use of colour. 1902 was also the year that Hans Frank enrolled at  the Kunstgewerbeschule and, as I said in the recent post about him, he had begun to make his peacock prints in 1904. A year later Klemm was back in Prague where he met Carl Thiemann in the street one day. Both were natives of the spa town of Karlsbad (which David Hockney visited in the 1970s) and took a studio together in Liboc on the western side of the city and where Klemm introduced Thiemann to colour woodcut.

Klemm was twenty-two and Thiemann twenty-three and over the three years they spent at Liboc  the two artists worked together on the first great collaboration of modern colour woodcut. Their common starting point should be fairly obvious. Nicholson's The square book of animals (above) published by William Heinemann in London in time for Christmas 1899 was by and large pastiche. The blocks he used were box and he only once printed the colours by hand (for A fisherman in The Dome magazine). Hans Frank's peacocks also appear to be forerunners by a year while it is generally considered that Orlik showed Klemm the technique (though I have yet to come across any documentation in English). Orlik had previously made a series of woodcuts that included views of old Prague. I also believe Klemm and Thieman then worked together on a portfolio of colour woodcuts of the old city which were very different from the work of Orlik. Enhanced by powerful and vigorous cutting and subdued colour, Thiemann's in particular were the work of a sensitive painter while Klemm used the architecture to organise the picture plane (below).


The best collection of these early prints by Klemm is held by the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest where an astute curator acquired prints it seemed almost as soon as Klemm had made them. Notable amongst them is 'Fishing boats on the Spree' (second from the top) made in 1906 presumably after a trip to Berlin. Here like nowhere else you see how original Klemm could be. Thiemann was a greater stylist than Klemm but the huts and wharves and their rough reflections on the Spree are the source for every one of Thiemann's later Venice woodcuts. If Thiemann had feeling, Klemm had ideas. Both needed each other for a time because both were very different but not yet different enough to go their own ways and during 1906 both artists worked on a second collaboration. (I' m assuming Old Prague came first.) This was a calendar for 1907 with twelve colour woodcuts and a black and white image on the front.

To be truthful I had forgottten all about this but to make amends I finally found four colour images including January and October (both above) by Klemm. A facsimile was produced by Thiemann's wife, Ottolie, in 1981 and these are both from that edition and once agaib make it plain what Klemm's strengths were. Thiemann's work was small scale and decorative. For all the small size, Klemm thought big and objective. The girl on the sledge is wonderfully depicted, with a strong sense of light, three dimensions and expression. I am in no doubt that Thiemann's print of a cockeral was the best of all the Liboc period by either artist but I suspect the idea came from Klemm. Thiemann never did a bird before and never did one again.

The two artists left Liboc in 1908 and moved to Dachau near Munich but the collaboration was at an end and some time afterwards Klemm took up a position as head of graphic art at the Weimar School of Art. There had been collaborations before in recent times - for instance between Nicholson and James Pryde as the Beggarstaff brothers and John Dickson Batten and Frank Morley Fletcher in London in the 1890s, but Klemm's introduction of Thiemann to new ideas marked the beginning of one of the best loved of all the series of prints made in central Europe early in the C20th. But it was Kleem who constantly invoked group effort with his wandering turkeys and it is Walther Klemm and myself who wish you a happy and prosperous 1907.

Saturday 12 December 2020

Road to the isles: Helen G Stevenson & Norma Bassett Hall


On 16th June, 1925, the American artist, Norma Bassett Hall arrived in Glasgow after sailing by ship from the United States with her husband, Arthur William Hall. The Halls immediately travelled on to Edinburgh to meet Mabel Royds and Ernest Lumsden who had respectively distinguished themselves as a colour woodcut artist and an etcher. Lumsden's The art of etching had only just been published in London and Philadelphia and since 1919 Royds was had been working on a series of woodcuts of India that remain unique in modern British printmaking to this day.

It goes without saying the Halls believed they had something to gain by coming so far and that Edinburgh might be an important staging-post in their common journey as artists. During their honeymoon in 1922, the Halls had put together Some prints of Cannon Beach  in book form. (I was under the impression these were linocuts though Jody Patterson in her book about Bassett Hall only describes them as block prints.) While William concentrated on etching after that, Bassett Hall read Frank Morley Fletcher's Woodblock printing and began making colour woodcuts in the way that he described.

This is the story that has been told about the journey, but looking at it with a dash of scepticism and a good deal of hindsight, it is difficult to see what the young artist from Oregon and the unconventional upper class Englishwoman might have in common apart from an interest in colour woodcut. Royds had attended at least three art schools, she had relatives living variously in manor houses in Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire, Allington Hall in West Derby, Liverpool, and a castle in Co. Louth, she had travelled widely, she was on the staff at Edinburgh College of Art, she had lived in Paris, she belonged to a fairly bohemian circle of friends and, more decisively, she had no interest in landscape or in depicting the country she had lived in for nearly twenty years. Hall, on the other hand, came from the backwoods and could tell a mean story by way of mountains, trails and trees. Or at least that is what she began to do once she and Arthur had taken the road to the isles.

In mid-August the Halls spent a week at Portree on the Isle of Skye and going by prints that she made after their return to the United States like A Highland croft (below, 1927 - 28) and Croft at Crianlarich (sixth image down, 1928 -29) they stopped off in Perthshire on the way to Skye. Hall made only four Highland prints, the other two being Portree Bay (seventh image down 1929) and Cottage in Skye (eighth down, 1941 - 42).  All of them prominently feature crofts like the ruined one above in Lochranza (1927) but none of them include a lonely tower. Highland redoubts, like the one in Lochranza, were prominent in the work of Helen Stevenson who understood that a ruin and a castle so often meant clearance of people from the land and emigration.

When the Halls arrived in Scotland, Stevenson had been teaching art for three years and had exhibited probably no more than half a dozen colour woodcuts. During her first year as a student on the applied art section at Edinburgh College of Art, the designer Charles Paine was head of the department, John Platt took over one year later but no two artists could be less alike than Stevenson and Platt, something that makes the common ground between Stevenson and Bassett Hall more intriguing. Only compare Stevenson's frazzled keyblock and over-printing for the thatch in The hen-wife (second from the top) and Bassett Hall's use of the same techniques in Croft at Crianlarich  and you will see what I mean. And it doesn't stop there. The way Stevenson handled the light and shade on the tree behind the croft is repeated by Bassett Hall. It is always possible that the woman looking down at her hens in Croft at Crianlarich is the same person as Stevenson's hen-wife. No one knows. The fact remains Bassett Hall learned more from Stevenson than she did from Royds.

As a reader has only just commented in an email, Bassett Hall's work could be flat, but her Scottish subjects brought out the best in her and I think the Highland prints are the best things she made. They had an intensity and drama that was beyond the means of Stevenson who would not have had the gable-end of the cottage echoed by the mountain peaks. Stevenson was true to what she saw around her; Hall turned the hen-wife into a frontiers-woman and the Highlands into the Rockie Mountains, substituting a feeling for place with an uplifting message. Hall could be samey. There were too many shacks, too many trails, too many mountains and after a while you are not sure whether she is in Oregon or Provence.  There are not just too many different places, there are too many influences, including the engravings of Noel Rooke and the colour woodcut arches of Elizabeth York Brunton.

This is something you could never say about Stevenson. From early on, the Appin Peninsula, Argyll and its islands were the main focus of her work. England appears only once in Bamburgh Castle and Edinburgh twice in Edinburgh Castle  and Braid Burn. The burn was not far from her home in Morningside, but nearness didn't make it into a better print. Both were some of the weakest things she ever did. In this respect, she is the Highland Boxsius, a holiday artist who needed to get away from her job as an art teacher. Boxsius was a Londoner and occasionally depicted London with sensitivity. Stevenson reinvented herself in Argyll. She took what she had learned about poster design, illustration and stained glass from Paine and Platt, and turned it to good advantage. This was exactly the kind of training Hall never had and that no amount of visiting Edinburgh or the Central School or St. Paul de Vence would quite make up for. Her only consolation was the Highlands and her Highland guide.

Monday 7 December 2020

A Christmas card from Ernst Stoehr


A reader in Scotland has out me on to some prints by Ernst Stoehr (1865 - 1917) that made use of lino for the very first time between 1904 and 1908. At first sight none are obviously linocuts in the way that Hugo Henneberg's Der blaue Weiher (1904) is and the final print of the series has been properly described as mixed technique. All were sent out as Christmas cards by Stoehr and his wife, Frederike, and were dated on the back. Unfortunately when Dorotheum sold them last year in Vienna, they failed to give the dates. At a guess, the earliest cards are the ones that look most like lino though even there Stoehr was experimenting and as he went along, he tried different kinds of paper and different ways of applying ink.

Stoehr was a leading figure of the Vienna Secession which he helped found in 1897. He can be seen sixth from the left leaning forward in the homburg hat in the famous photograph taken at the 1902 Beethoven exhibition. Others included are the designer Koloman Moser, dapper and unmissable in front of Gustave Klimt seated in the chair and also Emil Orlik sitting cross-legged immediately to the right of Stoehr. Note the two painters who have left their paint-pots on the floor.

The Albertina give a date of 1904 - 1905 for the top print which they call Seelandschaft. The date makes sense because the fluid line that lino is so well-suited to can be seen along the left margin of the lake and in the brown shadow on the rock. As an image it is close to an oil, Abend am Weiher showing a winding path beside a lake made by Stoehr in 1903. What is surprising was the way he had identified two of the great strengths of lino as a medium. It is easy to work and made sense to use when making Christmas cards and it is soft and makes it easy to produce a sinuous line of the kind widespread among designers and artists of the period.

This all suggests to me how much all these artists were picking up from one another and trying out new approaches and how much making prints was a real part of the process. Only consider the way Stoehr has adapted the action of the roller to make suggestions rather than apply the ink evenly. He was obviously more interested in producing blocks of colour rather than hard lines and even-looking surfaces. Wisely he limited himself to grey and blue ink and achieved varying tomes either by putting less pressure on the block when printing (the leaves) or under-printing (the ground round the lake).

Under-printing was not unique to linocut. Ethel Kirkpatrick in Britain was using the technique with great subtlety on he Cornish prints about 1906 or 1907. But in order to appreciate what Kirkpatrick was doing you need to see successive proofs. Stoehr realised that with lino the technique could be used far more directly. Bear in mind nthis has become a standard approach when making lino prints and when he made his Christmas cards this was possibly the first time it had been applied so effectively.

By the time he made the lake-scene above, the techniques he used were much less obvious. Presumably the mountain and its shadow were printed over a basic stippled background partly. Only one of the sets if initials of the five sold last year in Vienna was printed. It may have been this one, but it is very hard to tell from a photo. Stoehr had a press at his home in Slovenia and this made it possible for him to experiment with effects.

You will not be surprised to read that Stoehr used pastel but printing colour impressions using lino blocks not only meant he could reproduce images for cards, he could achieve depth by conrasting the trees with the reflections of the woods and mountains.  Very few linocutters ever really both about the effects of light in their prints. Gertrude Lawrence was one of the few British artists to do so. What she had in common with Stoehr is that both were mainly painters and both of them understood the greater possibilities. So far as that goes, I think the print above is pretty good and certainly well-thought out.

The landscape above seems to be the last of the series and is dated 1908. Of all of them this is the one that is farthest from lino and closest to sablonenspritztechnik or stencil spray used by L.H. Jungnickel about the same time. Long-term readers might remember a series of posts about Jungnickel, including his use of stencil. This looks like Stoehr used blocks as a basis but no-one so far as I know has said exactly how the inks were applied. This uncertainty only goes to prove (if further proof were needed) how far Austrians artists were putting graphic art, including photography, not only at the centre of the modern movement, but making it a cornerstone of modern visual experience. The innovations made in France at the same time by Matisse, Derain and Picasso were far-reaching, but the Secession artists and designers in Austria moved beyond the easel tradition of the old masters to break new ground that left artists in France looking conservative. These are only Christmas cards, yes, but occasional, no, not never.

Friday 4 December 2020

Forthcoming books on colour woodcut


Readers will be interested to know that the cause of modern colour woodcut is advancing both in the United States and in Britain, with major books expected on the subject in both countries. The history of the subject remains little known despite often intense interest on both sides of the Atlantic. Contact between American and British artists was sometimes close and probably reached its zenith in the 1920s when Frank Morley Fletcher left Edinburgh College of Art to teach at the new Santa Barbara School of Arts in California and British artists won a succession of prestigious prizes at the California Printmakers annual exhibitions in Los Angeles.  

There is little doubt in my mind that it was a combination of professionalism, verve and showmanship that attracted Americans to The giant stride by John Platt (above, in his studio at Blackheath) in 1922. Arthur Rigden Read took another gold medal in for Cite de Carcassonne (top) in 1926 and for much the same reasons. By then the Californians had instituted the Storrow prize for best block print, taken by Allen Seaby for The trout in 1927 and Read for his study in affability, Nice weather for ducks, in 1932. The third gold was won by Eric Slater for Seaford Head (below) in 1930.

The British book on the subject is already with the Fleece Press, though I understand the publisher has yet to finish reading it. Not that it is long and tedious, but like Christmas pudding, it is probably best approached in modest amounts. Its joint subject is British colour woodcut and colour linocut from the very first small print made by John Dickson Batten in January, 1894, to the final masterpiece, Normandy beach (below) published by Ian Cheyne, the best of them all, in 1947. A roller coaster ride of history and artists, all the known favourites of readers are included and it promises to be as indispensable to collectors as it is to curators. If I am allowed further updates about either book, readers of Modern Printmakers will naturally be the first in the know. 

Monday 30 November 2020

Hugo Henneberg & the history of linocut


As a proof of Hugo Henneberg's colour linocut Pine trees at Durnstein (above) is currently for sale on U.S. ebay, it provides an opportunity to have another look at the important series of prints the linocut belongs to. The history is fairly complex and has been poorly understood outside Austria. The image I have used here comes from the British Museum collection. The Museum acquired several prints by Henneberg in 1980, but incorrectly described them in the catalogue as woodcuts thereby missing the true value of the historic linocuts in the collection.

Not only that, Henneberg's print acted as an example to other printmakers like S.G. Boxsius who is also in their collection. Pines (above) may not be one of the linocuts held by the Museum, but readers will see how much he depended on Henneberg as an example when he produced his own original work. This is worth saying because the history of linocut has been badly misunderstood in Britain simply because writers on the subject have often repeated a series of misleading remarks made in the 1920s by Claude Flight who saw linocuts made in a children's class at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna at an exhibition held in London in 1920.

In 1903, Henneberg made a series of woodcuts (like the one above) showing the Wachau area of the Danube valley. The art journal Ver Sacrum reproduced two of them that year, possibly in the final edition (but I have not seen them as yet). Many of the artists and designers contributing work to Ver Sacrum were associated with the Kunstgewerbeschule or School of Applied Arts (and the Secession) and went on to provide designs for a new journal of graphic art called Die Flache, with the first edition coming out in 1903. Many designs made use of wood, stencil and lino and this may be the first time lino was used as a conventional print medium by professional designers. Stencil designs like the fish on page 161 partly derive from Japanese dyer's stencils. One or two of the other designs may have used lino in the same way Edward Bawden did for wallpaper designs in 1928.

Some of these designs were figurative, some repeat patterns, others were for lettering. What appeared to happen then was Henneberg decided to use lino as a medium for a fine colour print and in 1903 or 1904 made his sumptuous Der blaue Weiher  or The blue pond (which you can find on the original post by clicking on Henneberg's name on the new index). He then went on to make a series of seven colour linocuts he published in 1910 as a portfolio usually described as the Wachauansichten or the Wachau Portfolio. After his death in 1918, a further edition was printed in 1920. Many of the prints now available belong to that edition and were printed from Henneberg's blocks and have a studio signature in black (below) rather than being signed in pencil by the artist. Other prints, like the 1903 series of castles, have a studio stamp on the back. This doesn't make them not worth having, but it does make the issue complicated.

It also should not detract from Henneberg's innovation and his ability to adapt, specially when it came to using a medium as cheap as lino that had none of the history of woodcut behind it. There was also co-operation between artists who were making prints and it is no longer at all clear to me what happened when Henneberg and his neighbour, Carl Moll, worked together, (mainly because my German isn't good enough). Galleries in Austria now say colour prints I thought were by Moll are the work of Henneberg, although at the time I did think it was odd. Worse still, they now describe prints as lino that were once called woodcuts. Obviously research and knowledge has improved even over the past ten years and contemporary Austrian sources like Galerie Walfischgasse are most likely to be correct. They describe the print below as a colour linocut by Henneberg rather than by Moll as I thought it was! Either way, it is a remarkable use of a medium that has so often been promoted for its expressive use.

An informed view always helps when it comes to buying old prints and this is nowhere more than case than with early C20th colour print. I know there is more than one reader of Modern Printmakers who is an enthusiastic collector of the work of Boxsius. Part of the idea behind this post is to place Boxsius in a proper context and suggest the way a British printmaker took the lead from Austrian colleagues. Some readers will also be aware that a proof of Boxsius' A Devon village was sold only yesterday. This is another print that owes some of its success to the example set by modern European printmakers who were experimenting with a surprising range of mediums that have left some tell-tale signs on mid-twentieth British prints as the next post hopes to show.

Sunday 29 November 2020

Arthur Knighton Hammond 'Peveril of the Peak'

I picked this etching up many years ago in Newark, Nottinghamshire, partly because it was such a powerful period etching and partly because Hammond (1875 - 1970) came from Arnold near Nottingham and was related to my father's uncle. It is a landscape painter's etching, larger than most landscape etchings of the twenties, with a superb and unusual tone, soft and black like the background of a Ohara Koson woodcut and very different from the descriptive work of so many of the artist-etchers of the time. He made a few other etchings, but none of them as eloquent as this one. It is a classic Hammond pose if ever I saw one.

Hammond took evening classes at Nottingham School of Art when the sculptor, Joseph Else, was headmaster. (Another student of Else was James Woodford who worked with John Platt at Blackheath). Hammond eventually got fed up with the restrictive regime at the art school, but the rugged sculptural effect of the tower and rocks suggest what he learned from Else about form and how well he put it to original use in this etching.

William Peverel was part of local lore. A combatant at Hastings and claimed by William I as one of his sons, he died at Nottingham Castle on 17th April, 1115, but was buried at Calvados in Normandy. Peveril Castle is at Castleton in the unkempt northern wilds of Derbyshire. The lonely tower is Hammond's recreation and is much more appealing than his dutiful image of Haddon Hall near Bakewell.

Hammond moved to Stockport in 1914 and began making use of the etching press at Manchester School of Art. It would make sense if Peveril of the Peak was produced around that time. The tone of the one I have is remarkable. A good pastel of workmen on Long Row in Nottingham once turned up at my local auction-house and I tried to get my dad to buy it, though he failed to take the bait. The downside is the current Buy-it-now price on ebay. You could not properly put a value on an artist as modish and variable as Hammond was, but I would not pay £200 for any of his castles and I strongly suspect you won't either.

Saturday 28 November 2020

Gesso Yoshimoto (1881 - 1935)

Going on with the short series of posts on affordable colour woodcutters, we come to the accomplished artist, Gesso Yoshimoto, and prints he made like Cuckoo in the rain (above). A classic shin hanga or new print artist of the 1920s and 1930s, not very much is known about him, but he was sufficiently well-known for the dealer and collector, Robert Muller, to have a large number of prints by him in his stock or collection at his death in 2003.

The term shin hanga was introduced by the Tokyo publisher, Shozaburo Wantanabe, after his first success with Goyo Hashiguchi's Woman in a bathroom in 1915. Gesso would have been thirty-three or  thirty-four by then and was soon working in a manner that very subtly combined old-style ukiyo-e woodcuts and Western descriptiveness and perspective. Like Ohara Koson, his main genre was kacho-e, meaning bird and flower prints and usually (though not always) the size of pillar prints like the ones here. Ostensibly there were designed to hang on the wooden pillars supporting Japanese homes, but many were intended for the Western market.

As Japanese artists go, Gesso was fairly conventional, but no matter. As you see, he was a colourist and designer with sensitivity and flair. The sensibility was also quite different from Koson who was bolder and more dramatic. The other difference is that you can acquire a Gesso on the open market for £125 or less, not something you could say about Koson.

At the risk of making Modern Printmakers sound like Anfield or the Derby again, I will add this. If readers have not done so already, they should familiarise themselves with the signatures of Koson and Gesso and the like. Original prints by Koson are still lying around antique centres and design shops in the UK for an asking price that is well, well below what they are worth. Within the past two or three years I bought a pair of Koson prints in a retro shop in Caernarfon for £35. Even if birds and flowers are not your thing, shin hanga made to this standard are always worth ten or twenty quid of your money. And I would not tell you wrong.  

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Hans Frank: peacocks & other birds


Over the past few days a number of readers have written in to express their astonishment at the price of the recent Eric Slater sale on ebay. A couple of days later there was further ado about the price fetched by Elizabeth Keith's ditzy fashion show of 1922, Kamakura, summer reflections. Ignore the hype and look elsewhere - and you could do worse than consider an artist (above) who continues to be affordable despite making colour woodcuts to a standard well beyond the capability of Slater.

Hans Frank studied at the Vienna School of Applied Arts between 1902 and 1906. This was a period when artists and designers of the calibre of Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser, Alfred Roller and Hugo Henneberg were members of staff, so in buying an early colour woodcut by Frank like his three peacocks (above), by default you buy a piece of art history, hardly something you could say when you fork out £1725 on a Slater. You can tell by the date 04, this was designed during either his second or third year at the Kunstgewerbeschule. It may not have been printed then, but you can buy this on ebay today for a quarter of what you would pay for a Slater. This is nothing new. I once bought Frank's Seagulls at auction for £6 and some time later was offered Slater's Martello tower for £60. I turned it down. 

As we all know, ebay has its uses. But you will also know, ebay prices are consistently inflated. Frank's white peacock (above) sold in March, 2018, at Dorotheum in Vienna for as little as 160 euros - and this was not a blip. The truth is Frank does not have the clout of Carl Thiemann or L.H. Jungnickel, but was such a prolific artist, there is still work available for everyone to buy. I am not a big fan of the landscapes, but the bird prints are another thing. And if peacocks are not to your taste, there are other birds, including his eagle from 1916 (below), cranes and seagulls.

As you will know, Modern Printmakers is not the Racing Post and is not in the habit of handing out tips to readers, but just this once I will point something out in case you didn't know. Like his teacher, Anton von Kenner, Frank made bookplates. This means for of few pounds, you can pick up a small Frank colour woodcut on japan signed in pencil and with proper margins. OK, it may not be to the same standard as Frank's personal ex libris (below) made in 1917, but you can't really go wrong with Frank. His training at the School of Applied Arts and afterwards at the Academy was too thorough for him to make a wrong move.


I was disbelieving myself when I bought one with a butterfly perched on a letter, but there you are. It is possible. All you have to do is get yourself a small Daler portfolio and some acid-free and put them in. There is a special intimate pleasure in such small things as many artists have known for a long, long time. And while you are at it, do remember you read it here first.


Monday 23 November 2020

S.G. Boxius: wood & lino


I do not know how easy it is to tell the difference between the colour woodcuts and colour linocuts made by S.G. Boxsius. Most of us are not all that expert and Boxsius made it harder by using a water-colour based medium that people generally associate with British colour woodcut. Boxsius was not alone here. So far as I know Isabel de B. Lockyer never used printer's ink and always used a water-based medium for her linocuts. She started out by making colour woodcuts and adopted lino about 1923 or 1924. Anna Findlay made colour woodcuts until about 1926 or 1927 when she turned to lino (though I do not know what medium she used simply because I have never seen one of her prints in front of me). In my view Boxsius used wood and lino throughout most of the time he was making colour prints. The difficulty is there are no exhibition records I know of prior to 1928 when he exhibited Rain, St. Michael's Mount (below) at the Royal Society of Arts.

Both Rain, St Michael's Mount and Twilight, Winchelsea (top) say something about his attitude to lino and perhaps why he began using it in the first place. There is about ten years between the two print but both of them are candid about how much he owed to the example of William Giles. Winchelsea in particular is seen in terms of Rothenburg ob der Tauber where both Carl Thiemann and Giles worked before the first war. The white fences and the use of purple Boxsius lifted from Giles' At eventide, Rothernburg am Tauber (below c 1906). I strongly suspect Boxius was a students of Giles at the Royal College of Art about 1899. By this time, Giles had studied color woodcut with Frank Morley Fletcher but had not published his first print September moon (1901). To my mind, the intimate knowledge of Giles' colour prints is a personal one, of a student and artist who saw things develop as a young man. By 1916 when Boxsius was himself a teacher at Camden School o Arts and Crafts, the students were commended for the high standard of their colour prints. Bu were they wood or lino? Or were they both. One answer was provided by Giles who asked Boxsius for an article on linocut about 1925 . Unfortunately, The original colour prints magazine folded before the article could appear. The fact remains Giles had great confidence in Boxsius while Boxsius' admiration for Giles'  Storm over Jura was well-justified.

Like Giles, Boxsius took a pragmatic approach to making prints and used the medium that best suited his purpose. For a long time I assumed all his early prints were woodcuts. Some may have been but most of the smaller prints are lino. But there is another category that are definitely woodcuts and are easy to distinguish. None are signed in pencil ever and have SG BOXSIUS carved within the print - and they are the only ones that are like that. I have not traced all of them but there are about six or seven, including his most well known prints, Autumn and Winter. There is also Spring but there is no print for summer. Not by SGB, anyway.

The proofs of Autumn and Winter that I have seen are printed on fine japan while the linocuts tend to be on something similar. This implies that the prints were made by hand-printing not on a press (as many more recent linocuts are). That was also true of the Grosvenor School students. Claude Flight believed the result of using a press was 'mechanical' and his books all describe the same method. Allen Seaby also made linocuts and one was made available in the 1920s but again I never seen a proof. Seaby and Giles had been friends since the 1890s but what made Giles specially open-minded about method was his experience working in Germany and Paris. By 1904 lino was being used by both Austrian and German artists and most notably Hugo Henneberg. He had been an innovatory photographer before he began making prints and based his linocut of a boat in Trieste harbour (below) on a photograph he had taken during a visit in 1898.

None of that would matter all that much if Boxsius had not done exactly the same thing in about 1933, the difference being the subject was the British ship Waterwitch and the place was Looe. I have never seen Henneberg's photograph but a image of the Waterwitch  used to be online and is in the collection of a national museum. Which one I can't remember but Boxsius' linocut is similar to it. I am conscious that I have said some of this before (and have a post 'Hugo Henneberg the first linocut virtuoso') but I still think it is useful to go over the subject if only because I know more than I did then. I would like to know more of course and realise I need more hard facts. Whether any of us are ever going to turn them up is another thing.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Christmas on ebay


Christmas tends to bring out the colour prints on ebay and Eric Slater's A downland mill has to come out of the sack first simply because it is going to cost so much. I know I am not going to please everyone by saying what I think about Slater, but that isn't what blogs are for. I understand what his appeal is but he is seriously overpriced and always has been. One of the reasons is that he became popular almost as soon as he began exhibiting in 1927, the prints sold well and there are enough of them around for dealers to offer them for sale now and for prices to keep on going up. 

This one is already over £800 and with four days left and Santa on the way, it will probably go for even more. I can't exactly say why this should be, but if you look at the image, to appears to be laid down, something that always put me off.

A downland mill was first exhibited in 1934 so comes in the middle of his career as a colour woodcut artist. The idea of depicting mills and Martello towers came from George Graham who had a house built at Winchelsea Beach around the time Slater moved into Alards in Winchelsea. I mean some of them are OK, but  by 1934 he had overdone windmills and other  his other colour woodcuts made around the time were better. As usual, the muted colour and shadows are likeable, but the image is not only static, it is weak.  In particular, the unattractive line of keyblock on the left hand side of the mill suggests how simple his approach could be.

William Nicholson's A fisherman has been hanging around for some while. Published in The dome in 1897, it was only the second of Nicholson's colour woodcuts and the only one to be printed directly from blocks that had been inked. All the rest were coloured by hand. The on you see here is not the image offered for same on ebay. This one comes from  Annex Galleries website. I am also not at all certain about what its status is as a print. I have seen some images that are signed which may mean that Nicholson printed them himself. All the other unsigned prints I assume first appeared in The Dome. I should also add that none of Nicholson's prints are true woodcuts. All of the were cut on end-grain on box. Nicholson only adapted the style of old hap books because he had come across some blocks in Ridges bookshop in Newark in Nottinghamshire where he had been brought up.

For any fans of Eric Hesketh Hubbard, here is the chance to buy his portfolio The gateways of Salisbury Cathedral Close printed at his own Forest Press and published in three editions in 1925. It is made up of five prints, mainly in sepia tones, but with the addition of some light green. I think one edition was printed on the press, the other two by hand and with the most expensive being on japan. I  cannot say for sure which one this is but almost certainly not the one printed on the press.

Hesketh Hubbard founded the Forest Press in an old shed on the common at Breamore near Salisbury in 1923 and wound it up only six years later. I know of thirteen colour woodcuts made during that time. I gave one of elms trees to my mother and she liked it a lot. I don't what happened to it and I have never seen it on the internet either. None made use of the Japanese manner and some of the ones are tougher paper are a bit crude. That said, many of them are interesting and some of them dramatic, but I wouldn't call them fine prints. Hubbard was in fact an accomplished professional artist and entrepreneur and the small group of woodcuts he made are not all that typical of his best work. But there you are. This is a quirky period piece. I have seen the complete portfolio for sale before but you would meed to be an enthusiast to buy it I would say.

Last but not least is Towards he downs, a colour linocut by Sybella Stiles. It's OK, I suppose, but not stylish enough to set the heart racing. I don't know much about her but she made various prints, including wood-engravings. It all depends what it goes for.