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.