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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment