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).