Monday 15 April 2024

S.G. Boxsius 'October' coming up at Exeter.

Here is a colour linocut by S.G. Boxsius that has a lot to recommend it but leaves me feeling perplexed. It was first exhibited with the Graver Printers in 1931  and suspect it was originally designed as as the calendar image for 'Autumn' but the well-known image of the large trees on the Devon coast took it place. The great strength of the print is its use of colour and I also suspect Boxsius typically went to another artist for a starting-point.

So far as I know, it is the only flower-piece Boxsius made. I would think most of you would not even regard him as a flower artist. The leader of the pack was Yoshijiro Urushibara who first exhibited his Chrysanthemums at the Society for Original Woodcuts in Paris in 1922 but did exhibit the print with the Graver Printers until 1934. So far as I am concerned, the grey version is Urushibara's best print. It manages to combine the subtlety of Japanese printmaking with the western talent for perspective and description but I have posted already about this celebrated group of flower prints in 'Yoshijiro Urushibara visits Kew Gardens' so I have used the blue version here.

This all means I have assumed Boxsius saw the Urushibara print at his exhibition held at the Abbey Gallery in 1928. I do not have a catalogue but there were many prints in the show and it is likely to have been there. I say all this because it is instructive to compare the two different pieces. Without doubt, the Urushibara is austere and the Boxsius surprisingly approachable; one floats in a ambiguous way, the other is fixed inside the frame. It was unusual for colour print artists of the period to work outside the conventional print area but Allen Seaby pulled it off with Heron though the Boxsius leaves me wondering what the actual position of the vase of flowers is. He lets us know the light is coming from the right and leaving a reflection on the vase and casting a shadow on the left. But there is no sense the ginger jar is an important part of the picture in the way Urushibara's vase is, even though we can tell it is round and stands a little above us. That kind of thing would be too literal for a Japanese artist. For them, the vase is not a mere container and in a great masterstroke, Urushibara turned his vase into a wintry tuber. In terms of colour it is close to Giles and his pairs of peacocks, one brilliant, one drab.

What I do like about October is the crowded sense of fullness. What he gives us is a happy bunch not a sophisticated arrangement. What the background is I do not know. Nor can I explain why there is some much unused space above the flowers other than what I said about it being a calendar image. But all of those were woodcuts and this is not. It is lino used in a way it had not been used before. For all their buoyancy, the refreshing colours are arranged in a way no one was doing. With lino you necessarily paint with a broad brush or produce something schematic. Boxsius has managed both detail and expression in a satisfying way that is very different from the large scale detailed colour linocuts made after the second war. For all its occasional awkwardness, October was done with a light and carefree touch and this is what makes it worth buying.

You can do so at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood at Exeter at 10.00 GMT on 14th May, 2024. I have my own proof, so feel free. The one illustrated here is the one for sale. It is not in perfect condition as you can see, but is a lot better than the one I have. 

Chrysanthemums is for sale from Hilary Chapman at £700, but it is the blue version and I think the grey one is the best. 

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Another side to Scarborough: the photographs of Nelson Dawson


An old interest in the work of Nelson Dawson has been given a new lease of life by a conversation with a reader (and some helpful back-up emails). I remember seeing a lot of small etchings by Dawson at Craddock & Barnard on Museum St at more or less knock-down prices but I resisted the temptation to buy any and carried on with the pursuit of colour woodcuts.

I regret my lack of foresight now but even today (as my reader says) Dawson remains beneath the radar and this is even more so with his photography. You can take my surprise for granted when I came across the collection of photographs held by the National Museum at Greenwich. These were not only unexpected, he obviously knew what he was doing and I decided they would make a good introduction to a forthcoming post about his superb colour print Twilight at Scarborough. Nelson lived up to his name and, although he came from land-locked Stamford in Lincolnshire, his wife Edith was a native of Scarborough and they obviously spent a good deal of time there when they weren't working in France. 

Dawson was involved in artistic circles of the late C19th and early C20th century and as many of them did, spent time in all the usual places, including Chelsea and Etaples, though while everyone else went off to Whitby, Edith and Nelson made the very best of Scarborough and its port, harbour, castle and lighthouse. Like all good photographers, Dawson had a strong theatrical bent and, although many of the photographs are records made only just in time, they would have been less effective if he had been using colour instead of sepia. You could object and say he had no other choice, but I suspect he was well aware how much sepia had to offer. After all, he was essentially as artist who tacked between colour and monochrome and was obviously drawn to photography for various reasons including the way it creates atmosphere by restricting tones in the way etching does.

It would also be true to say these photographs stand on their own merit and I have not noticed him obviously using photographs as preliminary work for his etchings. But Dawson was very prolific and it would take someone with a much better knowledge of his work than I have to discuss any relationship between the photographs and the other prints. There obviously is one and I have no doubt further comments and opinions will be forthcoming. In the mean time, we can let the photos speak for themselves and, as I say, if you want to see more of them, have a look at the National Maritime Museum's collection where with luck you may also find the photo S.G. Boxsius used for his colour print The waterwitch.