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.