Monday 20 February 2023

Ethel Kirkpatrick: from auction-house to ebay

I know full well that dealers move pictures around. They buy them in one place and immediately try and sell them somewhere else. I am sure many of us have done the same thing at times. I know I have. But the latest example of this kind of behaviour I find depressing and annoying. I am talking about the three Ethel Kirkpatrick colour woodcuts I wrote about recently and which were a bargain when they sold for about £350 I think. No longer a bargain, though. Going under the poncey name of Boston Fine Art, some chancer has the same three prints up for sale at the colossal starting bid of £1,250 each. What gets me is that the individual hasn't even bothered to make a distinction between the three of them.

But let us try and get this greed in perspective. The same outfit has a rather scruffy-looking woodcut by Eric Hesketh Hubbard up for £350. They obviously have no idea because the Hesketh Hubbard is described as a linocut. I mean I quite like Hubbard but only the deranged would pay so much for it. Who are these rogues? And will any of the Kirkpatricks sell? I certainly hope not, but like anything, I suppose, it is worth a try.

The colour woodcuts of Edith Richards



I am not sure why I have never got around to the work of Edith Richards. At one time, colour woodcuts by her could be found online but lacking attribution, like the one of foxgloves above. We were all left guessing. What I can say now is she was born in Cardiff in 1868, and spent time in various places, including Epsom, an affluent area  near London, where she lived with family. 

She also spent time in Cornwall from about 1910 to 1921. By the looks of the large blocks of stone in the print above, this one dates from her time in Cornwall the print above. She obviously trained, because these are properly-made woodcuts, particularly the flower images, which she made in the full Japanese manner. All of the ones here betray the influence of Sidney Lee who worked in Cornwall from the late 1890s onwards and also taught colour woodcut at the Central School in London from 1906. As it happens, I have a black-and-white photocopy of a colour woodcut called Outside the village shop dated 1909, so it is always possible she took Lee's class.

She was a member of the Colour Woodcut Society and exhibited with them and the Graver Printers from 1909 until 1934, including Aigues Mortes (1926) and A Benedictine barn in Greater London (1934), a title that confirms that she had an original point of view (as you can see from the two flower prints here). Yet again, we have a printmaker with a sculptural sense of form. Hence the great blocks of granite!

The four prints held by the National Gallery of Scotland were donated by the collector, Jim Ede, who was born at Penarth near to Cardiff where Richards had grown up. He also trained at Newlyn between 1912 and 1914, so it may be he bought them directly from the artist in Cornwall.  (Ede met his wife in Edinburgh and they went to live there in 1973.)

Richards died at Islington, London, in 1955.


Friday 10 February 2023

Update on Parker Fine Art on 7th February


There appears to be a definite trend which is in favour of the artists that readers of Modern Printmakers admire. Or, rather I should say, in favour of readers themselves, because the results at Parker's yesterday confirm that if you buy unfashionable art, you will get a bargain. That the William Lee Hankey watercolour and pencil sketch I wrote about this week only managed to achieve £190 is a sign of the times. Lee Hankey is a mixed bag. His models are often awkwardly posed, he can be trite, he can tend to be a costume-drama specialist. But £190 makes little sense.

Loup-de-mer (top) is a good example of the kind of work by him you could look out for, namely a portrait study and a male subject. With its skill, stylishness and sense of a character-part, Lee Hankey's sea-dog ticks the Lee Hankey boxes. But men are less appealing than women and here Lee Hankey tells it straight. Again someone tripped up by translating the French literally as sea-wolf, but that should tell you a lot about auction-houses and the mistakes they make. His Goose-girl (above) would do better I am sure but the genre manner lets him down. Nor can Lee Hankey resist giving the picture a strong dose of chic. The young lady may have been a goose-girl at one time (and may even be the same girl who posed at the age of five for E.C.A. Brown) but she is now playing the Lee Hankey part of lovely young woman with dressed hair and negligent blouse. This over-worked picture also made £53,000 at Christies twenty years ago and shows just what a bargain the buyer had yesterday

Even less fashionable apparently is poor Wilfred Fairclough. I decided to use a photograph of Fairclough in his etching studio to emphasise the professionalism and skill of this artist. How come his Orchard Farm only made fifty quid? This would have been an ebay price at one time. But fifty pounds for each one of his etchings? Just compare Charles Mackie reaching £800 and draw your own conclusions. By comparison, the Mackie was over-priced. Take it from me, Fairclough is a little master of printmaking, Mackie is not. The interest of the Mackie lies as much as anything in the period value and the way he was breaking with convention. The moral remains as it was in the eighties - go for skill, go for the unobtrusive. 

Tuesday 7 February 2023

William Lee Hankey, Wilfred Fairclough & Charles Mackie at Parker Fine Art


There is a good selection of prints and watercolours coming up at Parker Fine Art at Farnham on 9th February, including fairly expensive work by Laura Knight. Needless to say, Knight is never likely to find approval anywhere on Modern Printmakers. Nevertheless, there is good work by three artists who always will. Top of the list in my own book is Wilfred Fairclough's etching Hambledon orchard from 1943. William Lee Hankey's fine pencil and watercolour of a Pas de Calais scene (above) is the better work, but I would probably go for the Fairclough if I were going to bid (which I am not).

The delicate study of country women finds Lee Hankey at his best - bold, spontaneous and sensitive to light and movement. In fact, everything a watercolour study ought to be. I would guess the scene shown is in the village of Camiers where Elizabeth Christie Austen Brown lived and where the two artists sometimes worked alongside one another. Both were part of the troupe of English and Scottish artists who had settled in and around the town of Etaples from very early in the C20th and who exhibited together after the Graver Printers finally put on their first shows in London and Paris in 1911. Lee Hankey and his wife, Mabel, had a studio in the town, but had a house built at Le Touquet in 1904. He also acted as secretary for the Graver Printers while Brown was a leading figure in the Colour Woodcut Society when it was founded in London in 1920. Their first shows were held at the Macrae Gallery were her brother was proprietor.

It shows if nothing else how closely these artists worked together (and there is another post about Lee Hankey working at Camiers elsewhere on the blog). It may be coincidence, but Charles Mackie also worked near Etaples at the same time though the work offered for sale is from the distinguished and influential colour woodcuts he made of Italian subjects. To begin with, it is beyond me how Parker Fine Art can have made such a mistake with their cataloguing. They describe the print as At the Borghese Gardens in Rome simply because that is what it says on the label. If they paid more attention they would know the view shows San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, a church which also appears in the work of Ethel Kirkpatrick and Carl Thiemann amongst others. I suppose they thought it might be St. Peter's but the correct title is The Palace Gardens, Venice (below).

About 1904, Mackie received a commission to copy a painting by Diego Velasquez in the Prado. On his way back from Madrid, he stopped off at his brother's flat in Paris then went on to Rouen and painted The return of the flock to the fold in the village of Lefaux only three or four miles from the Browns' home at Camiers. I suspect this was when he became interested once more in colour woodcut because the painting became the basis for a print. But it was after a trip to Venice in 1908 with the Laura and Harold Knight and Adam Bruce Thomson that he began to make the large-scale night scenes that Frank Brangwyn took note of when he was planning his seminal Bruges  portfolio with Yoshijiro Urushibara.

Mackie's method were unorthodox and either you like the end result, or you don't. But the Italian prints are impressive, especially the glorious Ponte degli Alpini, Bassano del Grappa, the one I like best. he had come to know the Knights after a hockey match played at Hinderwell near Staithes when the couple had only just left art school in Nottingham. Mackie took Knight under his wing and once a week she went down to his studio in Staithes where he showed her how to organise her palette. But it didn't really work for either of them and both artists were dogged by an inability to find any kind of working style.

I am going to return to Fairclough in a review of Ian Lowe's book about his work, so all I will say for now is Orchard Farm used to be at Hambledon in Surrey until some affordable homes were built on top of it. What I will add is that Parkers have got the title right on this one, the print comes from the period of his work I like best and there is another batch of proofs plus a later print included in the sale. Fairclough was also in Spain, with the resulting work being austere. After Mackie had been there, the Browns and Lee Hankeys visited the south together about 1906 and where the two friends worked at Granada. What strikes me as remarkable is that British artists and writers like Laurie Lee, Gerald Brennan and Fairclough continued to find the country rewarding long after it had gone out of fashion.

See also 'William Lee Hankey's deserted village' for more about Camiers and his illustrations for Oliver Goldsmith.

Monday 6 February 2023

Night and day at the Villa Henneberg


Yet again I have been put onto something intriguing by the vigilant Jim Barnes in Scotland. This time it is an unexpected connection between the Scottish art nouveau designer, Margaret MacDonald, and a man who has had considerable coverage over the years on Modern Printmakers. I mean Hugo Henneberg. To be honest, I was unaware of the extent of Henneberg's collecting, but in the photograph (above) from the Austrian magazine Ver Sacrum you can see a smoker's cabinet he bought from MacDonald and her husband, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, after it was exhibited at the 8th Vienna Secession exhibition in 1900.

The two silver-plated panels representing night and day were made for the cabinet by MacDonald in 1899 and were considered lost until they turned up for sale at Dorotheum where they sold for 94,000 euros. That was in December, 2019. As you see, they combine classic elongated art nouveau forms with the eliptical shapes characteristic of the Celtic style which played such a part in the national revival in Scotland and Ireland. The ancient Celtic-speaking people of the maritime coast of Europe were famed for their craftsmanship, particularly in bronze, copper, gold, silver and enamel and, as Simon Esmond Cleary once said, objects like the British torc (below) from 1st Century BC remain the finest things ever made on these islands of ours.


But it was all rather odd the way MacDonald went about it. She wore her own hair the same was as the figure in the panel and the whole approach had a sense of theatricality and dressing up which now appears to be at odds with the stringency of what became modern design. Nevertheless, Scotland made a unique contribution and the purchase of MacDonald and Mackintosh's work by such an innovatory artist was typical of the eclecticism of so much modern art (though eclectic may not be the word art historians would make use of).

Henneberg may already have been thinking about a setting for his new piece of furniture because soon afterwards he asked Josef Hoffman to design a house as part of a group of four artist's residences on the Hohe Warte in the hills above Vienna. The semi-detached houses occupied by the artist, Carl Moll, and designer Koloman Moser were covered some years ago in a post called ' Carl Moll: secessio plebis in montem sacrum'. It was a title I could not resist. Nor could another well-known blogger resist the idea I had had because it was immediately plagiarised much to everyone's disbelief.

The Villa Henneberg in particular gave expression to the idea that fine art, design, architecture, gardening and music all belonged together in the same domestic setting, even if it was nit a very comfortable one. Dress reform also played its part as you can see from the photograph of MacDonald. Gustave Klimt was famous for wandering about in long loose gown and Henneberg went to him for a portrait of his wife, Marie, to hang above the over-scale fireplace in the large hall, which you can see in the immaculate maquette above. It was made deliberately hard to say whether you were inside or out. The trellis pattern was borrowed from garden design and it naturally played a part outside.

The house was completed in 1902 in a style which I can feel no great enthusiasm for and which I suspect would generally be regarded to day as laboured if not heavy-going. What it gained in originality, it lost in charm. I used to think that was the way it was with the secession but it was much the same with other artist's houses. About 1906, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had a house built in a gnarled old olive grove above Cagnes sur Mer near Nice. Supposedly based on a local style of farmhouse, the exterior is striking for its overall lack of appeal, but is full of exquisite detail and such a a refined sense of colour, it makes the National Trust look like beginners.

See also 'Hugo Henneberg and the history of linocut' and 'Hugo Henneberg, the first linocut virtuoso'.

Thursday 2 February 2023

Arthur Rigden Read's 'The mandarin gown' at Bentley's

Perhaps things are looking up for colour woodcut, because I now hear that Arthur Rigden Read's show-stopper The mandarin gown (1927) is up for sale this coming Saturday (4th February) at Bentley's in Kent. It is in a job lot, but the Read should be the item of interest so far as I can see and, as with the Kirkpatricks, the estimate is on the low side. It depicts Kathleen Rigden Read wearing a glamourous Chinese gown with a decorative Chinese screen behind her. I will admit, I was rather appalled when I first saw this print. The combination of ruthless overkill and Read's willingness to represent his wife in yet another flattering gown was too much even for one such as myself inured to the runaway theatricality of British colour woodcut. But it has grown on me over time and, let's face it, the execution of such a complicated print is admirable. I mean, who else could have pulled it off? It would be a mistake to come to Read looking for the sensitivity of a Giles or Seaby. What you should expect from him at his best is showmanship and wit.

 It is also important to tell you this: Read made two versions of The mandarin gown. The one at Bentley's is the less expensive one, in a lower key and with a black and white background. The full throttle version (above) is simply the most unusual colour woodcut made by any British or American artist that I can think of in the twenties. That does not mean it is the best, but it does mean it overtops everyone else and that in a field where restraint was hardly a byword. Sad to say, Bentley's do not have the golden version, so you must content yourself with something less outrageous, but worth having all the same.

Three Ethel Kirkpatricks at auction

I heard only this morning that Dreweatts in Newbury have three colour woodcuts by the British artist, Ethel Kirkpatrick, in their forthcoming sale on 10th February. As readers of long-standing will know, I admire Kirkpatrick and I would happily bid for at least two of these prints, but unfortunately, Dreweatts have decided to sell all three as one lot, which may mean they will all be knocked down to the trade. All the same, I thought it was well worth readers knowing about the latest development and seeing for themselves how the sale unfolds.

Kirkpatrick does not come up for sale all that often and although none of these prints are must-haves so far as I am concerned, she was such a subtle colourist and so good at what she did, at the right price, any of these are well worth buying. But how many people want three boat prints? The classic image is Brixham trawlers (above) from 1923 or 1924 (there were two versions). In common with many of her fishing-boat prints made of Cornish subjects before the first war, the main action is in the centre of the image and where most of the cutting is done. It may not look all that much here, but I can assure readers that once you have this print in front of you, its subtlety and attractiveness will be obvious.

Kirkpatrick almost certainly studied with Frank Morley Fletcher at the Central School of Arts and Crafts about 1899. She was a students of jewellery-making there at the time and I think these fine prints complement the jewellery she was learning to make. Her careful craftsmanship says a lot about the approach Fletcher took and like his, these prints are faithful to the traditions of Japanese printmaking. But Brixham trawlers has a vivacity, spontaneity and magic you could look for in Fletcher, but would not find. Like Seaby, Kirkpatrick became the master of the medium. Fletcher was too often its servant.

The canal (second from the top) from 1922 is closer to the kind of pictures Fletcher was making about 1908. The old imagism has been abandoned in favour of a description of the canal and the surrounding country. Again, it is very well-made and would grace any collection of colour woodcuts. It exists in another version which I have included (third from the top) although the one for sale is the best known. I am entranced as I always am by the hills and sky. This was where she was often at her most Japanese and perhaps her most successful. 

Finally, there is Communications, past and present from 1924. For me, this depends far too much on perspective and is my least favourite of all her prints, but it is nevertheless another very well-made piece of work. Interestingly enough, Alan Guest does not have this on his check-list, which must include all the work she exhibited with the Graver Printers from 1912 onwards. If you include her first watercolours, she had an impressive career of more than forty years, including her first visit to Newlyn in 1894 and her final colour woodcut exhibited in 1932. She made at least thirty-four prints, including the small colour linocut Marigolds, (though Alan Guest included one or two variants in his list). Even so, it is a fair old number and is probably equal to the output of William Giles and Arthur Rigden Read. It needs to be said that neither of them could claim to have worked from the mid-1880s onwards as she had done and, really, it is extraordinary that the span of her career covered such very different periods and that she nevertheless managed to hold her own. Whatever you buy then, almost every print is more than a mere persuasive sheet of enchantment.