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. 

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.