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.

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