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. 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Portrait of Miss Jessie Garrow



I cannot be sure that the colour woodcut above is a self-portrait by the Glasgow artist, Jessie Garrow, but I tend to think that it is. Even if it is not, colour woodcut portraiture of this distinction was very unusual in 1920s Britain. A number of people including Arthur Rigden Read, Urushibara, Frank Morley Fletcher and Phillip Needell tried and only Urushibara and Read were in any way satisfactory - and, in Read's case, not always. Garrow's portrait pulls it off, mainly because she was a figurative artist and knew what she was doing.


But I think there might have been another reason for her success and it is Ito Shinsui's masterly colour woodcut 'Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Keith'. Again, I have no idea whether Garrow knew Ito's portrait or not, but you only need to compare the two to come to same conclusion that I did. Ito had been working with the publisher Shozaburo Wantanabe since 1916 and in 1922 he asked Keith (who was another of his artists) to sit for Ito. The result was the witty, sensitive and knowing portrait of the thirty-four year old Keith, delectable with her befeathered hat, silken gown and large pink cushion. I also tend to think that Garrow was not alone when she identified the wry splendour of Ito's portrait. Below, I have added Read's portrait of his wife, Kathleen Rigden Read. It had not occurred to me until I began to write that Read might have used the Ito as a source, but as it was made one year afterwards in 1923 and because Read used other people's portraits as a model (notably Edouard Manet's 'Lola de Valence'),, my guess is that he did. Again you decide but this is what blogs are for.


Going back to Garrow's portrait, there are two or three things that stand out. One is the mouth in the pale face, which is so similar to Keith; there is also the hat. To me, this looks like the same  academic cap won by John Swinnerton Phillimore in the portrait painted by Maurice Greiffenhagen in 1924. Greiffenhagen taught at Glasgow School of Art all the time that Garrow was a student there. His work covered a broad range of portraiture, style and other figurative work and the stylised figures and use of white with blue in his painting 'The message' (1923) are pretty close to Garrow's use of them in her colour woodcut 'The wave' which appeared in The Studio one year later. I am not suggesting that Garrow was unoriginal but only like many printmakers she picked up ideas from various sources. Garrow had been making woodcuts by 1919, although they may not have been in colour. Generally I think she and her husband, Ian Cheyne, didn't begin making colour woodcuts until about 1923 or so. He sold his first colour woodcut in 1925. Cheyne was another student of Greiffenhagen, but as a landscape artist, Cheyne had little in common with him. His wife's bold stylisation and wit were more sympathetic to Greiffenhagen than they were to her husband's work, even his celebrated colour woodcuts.





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Sunday, 4 October 2020

A tale of two bridges

 


In 1915, the writer Walter Sparrow Shaw published 'A book of bridges' with illustrations in black-and-white and colour by Frank Brangwyn. Shaw was a great admirer of the work of Brangwyn in a world where the critical reaction to his work was more sceptical at home than it often was abroad. He and Brangwyn also had a fair amount in common. Shaw had been brought up in the Welsh town of Wrecsam but had been educated in England and at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, a background that must have appealed to Brangwyn whose mother was born in Brecon and whose father was born in England of Welsh parents. Brangwyn himself had been born in Bruges where he had lived until the age of nine when the family had gone to live in Shepherd's Bush in London.

So far, so similar. Brangwyn spent more time in his father's workshop and at the South Kensington Museum than he did at school and wangled an apprenticeship with William Morris. Shaw, on the other hand, was very well educated. Apart from the seven years he spent in Brussels, he had attended Chester College followed by  a stint at Newton Abbot College in south Devon. In the late 1870s he then studied for 15 months at the Slade School of Art under the exacting but multi-talented French artist, Alphonse Legros, before moving on to Brussels. This was exactly the kind of a person to recommend themselves to Brangwyn whose bravura style was always in need of sympathetic adjustment. What is astonishing is how many bridges Brangwyn was capable of and wherever he went there was a succession of dramatic arches and theatrical weather.




At face value, the black-and-white illustrations were woodcuts, but in reality were no more than the approximations of a man who could apparently turn his hand to anything but depended on others to do the work, a man who could criticise the art schools for doing nothing but turning out clever imitators but had no scruples about working with artists who had studied there. Enter Yoshijiro Urushibara, a man who followed the longest apprenticeship of anyone I can think of. At the time Shaw and Brangwyn were collaborating on 'A book of bridges', Urushibara was printing a large number of blocks mainly prepared by Sugasiki Hideaki for a reproduction of a copy of an ancient Chinese scroll painting Admonitions of the instructress by the C3/C4th artist,  Gu Kaizhi (below) . He then moved on to a short series of colour woodcuts of Stonehenge roughly based on a print by William Giles remarkable for all being so alike.



Brangwyn knew a good thing when he saw one and there followed a unique collaboration with Urushibara and the curator and writer, Laurence Binyon, on a superb portfolio of colour woodcuts simply called Bruges which Brangwyn designed and Urushibara cut and printed (below). Binyon had an intererest in Chinese and Japanese art for a long time and it was Binyon and the head of prints, Howard Colvin, who had recognised the significance of the Admonitions when it had been brought in to the British Museum a few years previously. Bruges was published in 1919 and Urushibara must have set to worked on Ruins of a Roman bridge soon after the portfolio was finished. The image had appeared in Shaw's but the success of the later image depended almost entirely on Urushibara's interpretation. His work, The Studio Magazine said, were translations of Brangwyn, though interpretation is more like it  and I would find it hard to believe that Urushibara hadn't chosen the image or the time of day. In the original,  there was no obvious time of day and the left hand side of the sky is filled with a shower of rain. In the Urushibara colour woodcut, it is a lucid twilight with a crescent moon hanging above the bridge.



This was the kind of imagery and symbolism that attracted western artists to the work of Japanese printmakers in the first place. On a simple level, the two bridges are images of collaboration, but the ruin in the foreground and the complete bridge seen beneath the single arch suggests the life Urushibara was leading in a way that would be natural for a Japanes artist Within you/without you is crude but it is something like that. Today Urushibara has a reputation for skillfulness but within that over-arching reputation there was more. He was also ambitious and would not have taken the job at the British Museum if it had not suited him and aside from the work with Hideaki and Binyon on the Gu Kaizhi he was asked to supervise a long-term project which involved the unrolling and conservation of scrolls excavated at Mogao in China by Sir Aurel Stein (until the Chinese government put a stop to his activities). Urushibara was not only a professional conservator, he had a professional interest in archaeology and the choice of subjects like the ruins of Stonehenge and the Roman bridge across the river Loire at Brives make sense.



In the original Brangwyn image, the new bridge seen through the one great arch of the old bridge is a neat visual trick. By casting moonlight on the far bridge and making it more prominent by emphasising the small islands in the river, Urushibara made the series of arches the focus of the image. All this came about only because Urushibara handled the colour and printing with such subtlety and care. Niot many artists could use only blues and greys to express the last light of the day and keep a print so varied and of such interest. It is not simply evocative, it suggests the sympathetic relations of one thing and another which no one looking through Shaw's book would have been concerned with.  I am not suggesting Brangwyn didn't understand all of this only that he was too restless a man to be so thoughtful. All too often western artists have concentrated on the means rather than the end of Japanese printmaking. Urushibara's real achievement was to put new energy and poetry into British colour print. As Giles said, all of us owe him a debt, a debt that was not only to do with technical things.




You only have to compare S.G, Boxsius' Houghton Bridge, Sussex (the smaller bridge above) to see the effect Urushibara's image-within-an-image had other artists during the 1920s. Phillip Needell's colour woodcut of the old bridge at Avignon was less subtle and had none of the understatement typical of Boxsius but bears in mind the grandeur (and overstatement) of Brangwyn's original idea. The interesting thing is that we would not have associated Boxsius or Needell with the Japanese school of printmaking but obviously neither of them were immune. Urushibara's version was not about the past because we search for more bridges in the print than we can find, no, the little bridges of Needell and Boxius only go to prove that Ruins of a Roman bridge looked forward to the future,

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Romney Marsh Weavers

 


About 1920, Kathleen Rigden Read moved from Twickenham in London to a house called in North St, Winchelsea, in East Sussex. Once there, she set her the hand-looms her husband Arthur had designed and made and began spinning and weaving wool from the sheep grazed on Romney Marsh (below) as well as weaving and dyeing silk from thread she bought in for the purpose. (The photo shows Chris Finn Kelcey and his dog Pete with a flock of Romneys behind them and a flock of Suffolks in the other pasture.)



I believe she can be seen wearing garments made from both types of material in The Venetian shawl, one of the first colour woodcuts made by her husband Arthur in 1923. Kathleen was a member of Romney Marsh Weavers, a co-operative with a weaving shed in a disused chapel on Peasmarsh Road where they used wool from sheep at Oxenbridge Farm at Iden. Oxenbridge was owned by Catherine Buchanan (below) a friend and fellow member of the Weavers, and her husband Bertram, who was a retired professional soldier and an artist.



The members of the co-operative did all the work themselves from shearing to spinning and dyeing, often using vegetable dyes, including a beautiful fawn made from lichen gathered at Dungeness on the southern edge of the marsh. One reason I think the dress Kathleen is wearing is made from wool is because a tanned Catherine Buchanan can be seen wearing it in a photograph taken at Oxenbridge by Paul Nash.

At the time Nash and his wife Margaret were renting the tied cottage across the road from the farm after they had moved from Dymchurch and where Nash did some of his very best work before surrealism got the better of him. It was an odd mix of the old Arts and Crafts dispensation and modernists like Nash but it seemed to work even if the fastidious Nash was dismayed by his wife's enthusiasm for the folk-dancing that went off at the farm. Whether Margaret ever owned any of the garments made by Kathleen is another thing. Kitty has a rug-loom at the farmhouse where the floors were covered in her rugs.




Other visitors to Winchelsea were S.G. Boxsius and his wife Daisy. Possibly one of the lambing-sheds that are such an important feature of the marsh can be seen in his linocut Afterglow (above) (and once you know the marsh, it couldn't be anywhere else) though many of the current sheds are made from corrugated iron and steel. It is hard t know what happened to any of the products made by the co-operative. They were sold at local exhibitions and praised at larger exhibitions in London. Kathleen silks were sold alongside Arthur's colour woodcuts and some of them certainly were bought by the Carnegie Foundation in the U.S. about 1927.



One of Kathleen's own aims at least had been to teach people how to weave in order to provide them with local employment.  Flax had been grown by the river Brede below Winchesea and there was a linen mill there in C18th.  But it all came to a pretty disastrous end during the war. While she was away in London weaving braid for naval uniforms, the studio was hit by a bomb and both looms were destroyed. I think that knocked the heart out of the project for them because at the end of the war, the couple moved to Slad near Stroud in the Cotswolds. Hopefully this isn't the end of the story, though, and someone will know something more about Romney Marsh Weavers and the things they made. I can hardly believe that a few of the them at least have not survived somewhere and if anyone does know of any, please let me know.






Sunday, 13 September 2020

Edna Boies Hopkins: the Derbyshire connection




Back in 1908, the educationalist Samuel Clegg published a monograph about the American colour woodcut artist, Edna Boies Hopkins. This included an odd passage where he said he  regretted that her prints had not been made available 'for art school purposes'. In those days it was common practice for art students to study and copy the work of other people. Alphonse Legros taught his students at the Slade to distinguish between the hand of Raphael and the work of his two assistants. But this didn't make the remark any less odd, at least not till he wrote a second monograph about Allen Seaby who did make imperfect (and unsigned) proofs of his own prints available to schools at a reduced rate.

Boies Hopkins was a student of Arthur Wesley Dow, himself a well-known art educationalist by the time Clegg was publishing his monographs. Whether she made her own proofs available is another thing but British students did nevertheless make use of her work in a very direct way as you can see from the nicotianas below.



Clegg was headmaster of the new Long Eaton School and one of his school governors acquired four  recent prints by Boies Hopkins for the very purpose. I can't remember offhand whether Nicotianas (below, 1909) was one of them but judging by the children's work made only four years afterwards in 1913, it was. So, here were thirteen and fourteen-year old Derbyshire school children cutting and printing their own colour woodcuts in the Japanese manner with Boies Hopkins examples supplied for them to study by the school. 

But why use Boies Hopkins and not Seaby? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, Boies Hopkins concentrated on one image rather than make a complex picture and, secondly, although Boies Hopkins had gone to Japan in order to learn how to make a keyblock, by the time Clegg wrote his article, the keyblock was no more than a vestige in her work and often wasn't there at all. This all made the process of cutting and printing much easier for the children.



On of these lucky children was Edward Loxton Knight who went on to train at Nottingham School of Art where he specialised in commercial art. When I first wrote about Loxton Knight, I had no idea about the survival of this remarkable series of school prints but, as you can see The primrose-seller (1929) his first professional print, the Boies Hopkins lesson sunk in. It is not so much the flower subject that was like her as the overall tone, particularly the way the print was wiped in the same downward manner Boies Hopkins was using before the first war.

As you can see, Loxton Knight had learned to use a keyblock to define smaller shapes and to provide moulding for larger figures like his primrose-seller. Ironically, he didn't use the Japanese manner at all but printed all his blocks with poster colour, adapting the flat Japanese style to give the contemporary feel of commercial art of the period. But he certainly got away with it and, so far as I am concerned, this first print of his was the most satisfying he made along with The Nottingham Canal.



It is in the nature of commercial artists to make use of approximation to gain their effect. But there was another sleight of hand involved in The primrose-seller and one you could only be aware of if you know this location well. The primrose seller is standing on the north side of the market square in Nottingham where people were still selling flowers and newspapers when I grew up. The problem is from where the man is standing, it is impossible to see the spire of St Peter's church at the bottom of Wheeler Gate. It just looked better that way, that's all.

Gordon Clarke