Monday, 1 August 2016

Some colour woodcuts on British ebay


                                                                                    

There has been such a dearth of good colour woodcuts on British ebay for such a long time, I began to wonder whether anything decent would ever appear. Kenneth Broad's pair of nursery printsare now for sale and they are good, but we have seen them more than once before and, what is more,  I remember the way they set the whole show rolling when Clive Christie bought them soon after he had started his old blog 'Art and the Aesthete'. Arthur Rigden Read's virtuoso Stormy seas has never appeared on British ebay. The only image available online until very recently was one lifted from The Studio, a 1920s reproduction that did Read's print little justice.

                                                                           

Stormy seas is not Read at his very best. It owes a lot to Hans Frank's 'Seagulls' of 1924 although in many ways, it's the better print. Read was never averse to pinching good ideas and often made witty use of other artists but he had a weakness for birds and they failed to bring out the best in him. 'May morning' was an early exception; for all its bravura and undoubted skill, Stormy seas is seascape and Read just wasn't any good at landscape and was wise enough to avoid it and concentrate on figure subjects or still life. Am I being too critical? I don't think so, because when Read's prints were good, they were very good indeed, he just wasn't a good enough artist to avoid a hackneyed image like this one. That aside, the sense of the waves and the play of white and green is pretty sensational really and very clever. The print makes a very rare use in British colour woodcut of the technique known in Japan as karazuri or shallow embossing. You can make out what is happening on the detail at the top. And in case, you dod not recognise this image I have used here from its recent appearance, it's because the proof you see here belongs to Gerrie Caspers from The Linosaurus, so many thanks to him for a superior photograph.
                                                                             

Far more of a surprise for me was the appearance of Phillip Needell's The mill at Cley. I'd never seen this before and was not at all aware that Needell could turn out anything as good as this. It is just as conventional as the Read but unlike Read, Needell understood the conventions of landscape art well enough to come up with this pleasing and delicate image. If it owes quite a lot to French artists like Henri Riviere or Lucien Pissarro, the way he has broken the image down into a series of marks is surprisingly modern for him. We could have done with more of that and less of the mill. It is certainly far more satisfying than E.A. Verpilleux's lurid treatment of the same subject. At £200, it was not a bad buy either and I was expecting it to fetch more.
                                                                       
 
Needell and his wife spent a lot of time in France, especially after his retirement. The sketchy understatement, the delicacy of mood and poetry of space recalls personal favourites like Corot and Seurat and it shows how much an artist who lacked thorough training as Needell did, could nevertheless respond to great artists and make something satisfying of his own. I only wish he has done more like this. Or perhaps he did and we still haven't seen them.
                                                                

Hugo Noske has never really been on my radar and has never had a post to himself on Modern Printmakers but why this fruity autumnal image remained unsold the other night, is just beyond me. The colour is rich, the description of dahlias, rudbeckia, helenium and montbretia is apt and frisky and it would look better on a wall than either the Read or Needell.  Not evocative enough, I suppose, no real sense of the collectable about it, that would be it. Solid, yes, but all the same, I think it's rather glorious.

 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Oskar Laske, the White Angel Apothecary & mosaic

                                                                         

As soon as I read the comment left by Andreas this morning about Oskar Laske, I knew I had a lead for another post. And here it is. But the result is unexpected.

Laske began his professional life as an architect. His father (also Oskar) had been an architect in Czernowitz and young Oskar began training in fine art in Vienna when he was about thirteen before moving to the Technische Hochschule, a leading school of modern architecture and design at the age of eighteen. Six years later, he moved on to the Academy where Otto Wagner was director and then began to practice. It was not to last very long.
                                                            

The designs for the White Angel Apothecary at 8, Bognorstrasse, were made soon afterwards between 1901 and 1902. The mosaics he had made for the fa├žade suggest why his career in architecture might have been such a short one. There is something abnormal about his angels; they are too overstated and imaginative for a pharmacy and too much like a pair of dragonflies.
                                                                  

I suggested in the last post they he must have visited Istanbul by about 1910 but the mosaics begin to make me think he had visited while still a student. The C11th image above shows Empress Zoe, the wife of Constantine IX, in what was then the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.

                                                                        
Laske was not the only Viennese artist to make use of mosaic. Gustav Klimt incorporated them into his designs for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, which was built after Laske's designs had been made. What I do think is Laske responded to mosaic in a way that Klimt did not. Byzantine art remains a kind of  lost aspect of European art, anomalous but one of tremendous craftsmanship and tremendous feeling.
                                                                     
 
 

Klimt adapted the old technique with verve and imagination but Laske's paintings owe just as much to the example of mosaic but lead off in an other direction, well away from the impressiveness of the great mosaics of Ravenna and Damascus and others like these marvellous apostles at St Michael in Chora in Istanbul. Andreas also mentioned a trip Laske made with Emma Bormann to Sicily and Tunisia organised by the University of Vienna in 1913. I have to assume again that one good reason for going as far as Sicily was to see the mosaics in Palermo and at Monreale. Here he is as a soldier-artist about three years afterwards. Now have a second look at Zoe's eyes and face.

                                                                            

                                                                               

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Istanbul

                                                                         

One of the more extraordinary aspects of old Muslim cities is the way they living co-exist with the dead. Cemeteries are a feature of all old towns from Istanbul to Rabat to Cairo. It isn't always obvious because old Jewish cemeteries are sometimes hidden behind walls as they are at Tangier and Marrakech (and they are in Britain) but Christian and Jewish graves are still there. Frank Brangwyn's view of Istanbul from one of the cemetries at Uskudar across the Bosphorus is one of his most affecting prints. It comes from Yoshijiro Urushibara's Ten woodcuts published in 1924 and less than ten years after the defeat inflicted on the allied armies by Ottoman forces on the Gallipoli peninsula early in 1916 after a year of fighting. (The man with the moustache and the field glasses in the photograph below is Mustafa Kemal, later first president of the Turkish Republic, showing the battlefield to a delegation of writers).
                                                                                                                    

Brangwyn wasn't against the war. One of the eighty propaganda posters he produced so enraged Kaiser Wilhelm, Brangwyn may well have been in danger if Germany and their Ottoman allies had won. What Urushibara's attitude was, I do not know, but he was a nigh-on perfect collaborator with the British artist. Brangwyn could be hackneyed, trite and unsubtle but Urushibara's printing methods often added nuances that were beyond Brangwyn and no more so than here with his sympathetic use of green.
                                                                            

Oskar Laske must have been in Istanbul around about 1910 or before because Der wunderbare Fischzug was made between 1911 and 1914. It may not look like Istanbul or anywhere near there but, although the subject comes from the New testament, the etching shows the kind of tower used by Turkish fishermen along the shore of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous. This print turned up in excellent condition on British ebay some years ago and the only person who wanted it was me. I can tell you the image above doesn't do Laske's work any justice. I include one of his watercolours of the city.
                                                           

What I like about Emma Bormann's view of Istanbul (below) is the way it avoids the common western depiction of the oriental city as a warren of narrow streets teaming with people. It often is, but that isn't the point! And so far as I'm concerned, the Orient begins at Budapest. And in case you don't believe me, keep in mind the way someone once described Naples: 'The only oriental city without a European quarter'.
                                                                               


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Kazuyuki Ohtsu, a cherry tree at full moon

                                                                                  

There is just one aspect of Kazuyuki Ohtsu's career as a maker of woodblocks that everyone mentions and it is the long-standing working relationship with Kiyoshi Saito. Ohtsu went to Tokyo at the age of eighteen or nineteen and studied at the Umehara Hanga Studio in Tokyo between 1954 and 1958 and then for the next forty years worked for Saito, an extraordinary enterprise, which I have no information about.
                                                      

Saito died in 1997 and Ohtsu himself is now eighty-one. It hasn't stopped him making prints of the greatest refinement. Kyoto, Ryoanji stone garden (at the top) was published only this year and all the prints you see here were made over the past ten years or so. Cherry tree at full moon, the woodblock that suggested the title for this post about him, was published only in 2012 and provides the best example of what Japanese artists can do so well. There is no sense here that anything has passed him by, the complexities are handled with unaffected ease, as well they might be, after making prints alongside another artist for so long. But then, this is what his own art is about.
                                                                        

I like some of his prints more than others and have tried to show one or two I might not have chosen. Grey is a perennial in Japan and not just a fashion as it has been in the West, and many of his prints are surprisingly bold. In Hakone from 2006  (above) is something of a halfway house. Even so, it is the understated ones I like most. But they all remind me of a line from the British poet, Edward Thomas, 'and what was hid shall still be hid'. To be hidden behind another artist as long as he was is unusual but looking at the half-enclosed world of In Hakone, I have to conclude it suited his purpose. But then, I think these images speak for themselves. The Japanese are very good at putting you in their shoes and then quietly leaving you alone.
                                                                    

Monday, 20 June 2016

Hugo Henneberg, the first linocut virtuoso

                                                                

Around 1904 the Viennese artist, Hugo Henneberg, made this remarkable colour linocut  he called Der blaue Weiher (the blue pond), remarkable not only because of the image itself, but because he had used a cheap and nasty material like linoleum to make it. Exactly where he got the idea from, I do not know. Lino had only been used for making printing blocks in wallpaper production since the 1890s, so here was an example of a modern artist adapting a commercial technique in the same way pochoir was used in the twenties and screen printing in the sixties. What really is surprising, though, it just how good it was.


Henneberg was not the only artist to be using lino at the time. Gabriele Muenter had begun her series of portraits of Wassily Kandinsky (who had been her teacher at Munich) in 1903. Henneberg was different, more formal. Linocuts like Am Quai (above) also took photographs he had been making since the 1880s as a starting point. So, he was no youthful beginner. Although Am Quai is based on a photograph taken at Trieste in 1899, I'm including  his photograph, Bach in Fruhjahr, (below). It gives more of an idea of his overall approach to making images. The problem is it's not always easy to say exactly what he was doing because  Henneberg began to make colour woodcuts at the same time and in reproduction it can be very tricky trying to tell linocut from woodcut. Am Quai is sometimes described as woodcut and mistakes have been made with other prints, probably because no one expects them to be linocuts!
                                                                          

The temptation to head the post with Der blaue Weiher was too big for me to resist. Yet in many ways it isn't typical and most of his other prints would strike most modern readers as more conventional, a shame because what Henneberg's was doing with lino was new. But then, look here. He goes off to Italy with Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll in 1899 and comes home and  makes an atmospheric but formal print like Am Quai. It's Hiroshige without the humour and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that what followed over the next few years was a fascination with baroque.
                                                             

Stiftshof in Duernstein (above) might come over as more intriguing than exciting, particularly the version in black and white. Certainly, it sits oddly with the Secession reputation for innovation and advanced modernity. I think what he had done with Der blaue Weiher was draw on the decorative work of Klimt. The way the reflections end up making patterns is similar to both Klimt and Egon Schiele. Frankly, he might have been better following this up with others like it, but he turned to Moll instead who was both less talented and more conservative. Both artists had homes designed by Josef Hoffman on the Hohe Warte in Vienna and Henneberg went as far as to base one of his colour woodcuts on a painting by Moll. This was inexplicable. Seeing one medium in terms of another is basically anti modern. It also causes confusion. To my dismay, only this weekend I discovered that I had put a colour linocut by Henneberg at the top of a post about Moll's colour woodcuts and no one but no one picked me up on it!
                                                              

I tend to think that so far as Henneberg and colour print went, Moll led the way. Moll had published a portfoilio of large prints in 1903. Other artists made even larger colour woodcuts than Moll, but lino lends itself to a big scale because it is cheap and is easier to manipulate, particularly if you to go in for the kind of architectural detail that Henneberg seemed to like. Funnily enough, this makes him look a lot like his British contemporary, Sidney Lee. What was missing in Lee, though, was Henneberg's sophistication. Italy was easier to comprehend when looked at from Vienna rather than Manchester where Lee came from. Henneberg's virtuosity sits easily on him while Lee always has too much northern grit about him (though I used to like that). Henneberg could turn from photography to woodcut and lino with ease and get it right and, what is more, having no other artists to turn to for an example when it came to lino. Nor did anyone think of working on such a scale for many years. The fact that no one much, apart from Ernst Stoehr, followed his example only emphasises how individual he was. The Wachau portfolio of seven linocuts he published in 1910 became his testament because only eight years later, he was dead. You can see Duernstein above.
                                                          
                                      
Unfortunately, not many of the images available online are all that good and the situation is complicated by an edition that was printed posthumously in 1921. The original edition published by Gesellschavt fur Vervielfaltignede Kunst have their mark on the left and a studio stamp of Henneberg's signature on the left, while the 1921 edition was annotated by Karl Nickman but with the printer so far unidentified (or at least that is how I understand the German notes). But either way, you get the idea. Here is Stein, above, and no doubt readers in Bavaria who are fans of Henri Riviere will notice what Henneberg was able to learn from that artist. (It's worth saying that Riviere was invited to exhibit with the Secession in 1899 along with William Nicholson, so there is no doubt about Henneberg knowing his work, I would think.)
                                                                   

In all this Henneberg was pretty forward-looking. If he derived styles and ideas from artists as diverse as Hokusai and Moll, he also set the tone for a lot of work that came after the first war. British printmakers as diverse as S.G. Boxsius, Claughton Pellew and Edward Bawden would all recognise a fellow practitioner, I would have thought. One thing they all have in common is an interest in place. Wachau is in Upper Austria and the prints take in similar views over one small area. It is what a portfolio can do in the right hands; the prints speak to one another as much as they do to us. And I think they do speak. The atmospherics of the photographs and the Secession formalism of the earlier colour prints have developed into that old thing, a flowering later in life. Claude Flight liked to claim that linocut had no history and that was what made it attractive to him.. What he should have said was it had no history he knew about, but some of it you see here - in fact a lot of it is here! It is astonishing really that Henneberg got so far.


At a time when symbolism came all too easily to artists and was often taken for granted, it would be easy to miss the poetic mood in Henneberg. Take a look at  Waldweg (above).  Nothing else really explain his shifts from photography to colour print and the way he appeared to change so readily from wood to lino (but because a lot of the prints are not dated, it isn't easy to say exactly what he was doing). So far as I can see, he preferred to use colour with lino. The colour of the woodcuts tends to be flat and unvaried. Even so, I also think the black and white linocuts like Wehrturm in Duenrstein, below, find Henneberg at his most delicate and subtle. It's a paradox I know but a paradox the traditionalist in him would understand.



Last but far from least, I am indebted to Galerie Walfischgasse in Vienna for the high standard of many of the images you see here.












                                                                      



Saturday, 18 June 2016

Art for all, colour woodcut in Vienna 1900: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and the Albertina, Vienna

 
 
The exhibition (and the book) we have all been waiting for and deserve. It opens at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt on 6th July, 2016, and runs until 3rd October. It then moves to the Albertina, Vienna, where it opens on 19th October and closes on 22nd January, 2017. If you can get to either venue, this is a must for your diary. If not, the book is there to offer consolation. The publication date I have for the book is 15th October but it already available to order on the Schirn website and on Amazon. A review will follow this post.
                                                                          

There are so many fabulous works to be shown, it is almost impossible for me to make a fair selection but rest assured that many images familiar to readers of Modern Printmakers will be on show alongside many that are new to me such as Nora Exner's astonishing Dog (1903), above. The exhibition quite rightly identifies L.H. Jungnickel as the most important colour woodcut artist of the period 1900 to 1910. One of his jokey hybrid images from 1910 can be seen at the top, identified as A smoking cricket by the curator, Tobias Natter. Apparently this had been erroneously given the title Smoking billy-goat. Modern Printmakers begs to differ. As I pointed out in http://haji-b.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/lh-jungnickel-origin-of-species.html, the artist was a humourist and prone to come up with animals not currently known to zoology and this is one of his droll hybrids.
                                                                    

Unlike Jungnickel, important galleries and curators are in the habit of taking themselves rather seriously and this show is no exception. As always with colour woodcut they claim to have made a re-discovery, largely based on the fact that the subject has been neglected by art history. Even in art historical terms, ten years is a short time, but Natter, whose idea it was, is a specialist. It concerns itself only with artists associated with the early days of the Vienna Secession, some of whom were also teachers at the Kunstgewerbeshcule in Vienna and worked for the Wiener Werkstaette so artists who took part in the wider printmaking movement are not included. All the same, Hugo Henneberg's striking Night scene - blue pond (1904) was also new to me, so there will be a lot that is worth seeing on display.
                                                                   

Not surprisingly, the show is filled out with a good deal of other graphic art, notably from periodicals like Ver Sacrum and the famous square calendars and also examples of Japanese colour woodcut. It also includes examples of linocut and Jungnickel's schablonenspritztechnik but here instead are three of his loony parrots from 1909. All of these would be hard for any curator to resist but here is the additional problem with a show that willingly limits itself to a period of only about ten years: a need to fill the exhibition out with work that was produced at the time but is of more academic interest. The prints of Carl Moll and Jungnickel's stencil spray technique have both been covered on Modern Printmakers but I can't say I get excited about either. Moll is rather dry as Secession artists go and schablonenspritztechnik is quirky rather than original and ran counter to Jungnickel's real talent for design and colour and ends up making him look like some also-ran impressionist. More to the point is an image like Irwin Lang's uncompromising Girl in red dress, below. This is more like it. Be there, or be square.
                                                    

Saturday, 11 June 2016

In with the new: Mabel Royds & Alphonse Legros


                                                                            


It is a very curious thing to discover (or at least to believe you have discovered) one of the sources of a print you have studied with care. The print I mean is Mabel Royd's colour woodcut Choirboys (below). According to the Scottish National Gallery she made the print as early as 1898 and by my reckoning, it must be her first. Nothing very much is certain about the first colour woodcuts made in Britain but one thing we do know is that John Dixon Batten made his first independent woodcut The tiger in the first class held at the Central School of Arts & Crafts 1897 - 1898. The date suggests to me that Royds made her own woodcut during or after attending the class but what has surprised me is a link between Alphonse Legros, who was Batten's teacher at the Slade School of Art, and Royds (also a student there but after Legros had retired).

                                                                         

I owe this discovery (if that is what it is) to a post published a few days ago on the Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon blog http://charlesricketts.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/254-two-of-rickettss-legros-engravings.html The subject is the appearance at auction in Rome of two wood-engravings by Charles Ricketts after drawings by Legros. I must admit I had no idea that Ricketts had made these until today, possibly just as well, because as soon as I saw Une messe macabre (top), a third engraving Ricketts had made after Legros, I was struck by a resemblance to Royds' Choirboys. I can hardly believe it is coincidental the prints were included in 'The first exhibition of original wood-engravings' held at the Dutch Gallery in Bruton St. in 1898 and I think Royds must have visited this exhibition.

In 1898, British colour woodcut was finding its way. Batten had published Frank Morley's Fletcher's important print, Meadowsweet, in 1897.With Allen Seaby, Royds was Fletcher's most important follower and she may have adopted the Japanese method of making colour woodcuts with expertise and panache but the style of Japanese prints was not for her and Choirboys owes a great deal to the recent manner adopted by William Nicholson for coloured wood-engravings like H.M. The Queen (1897), below. But it was a Nicholson who had attended the life-class at the Slade and who employed conventional perspective.
                                                         

Royds was the daughter of a Church of England rector and I believe her first woodcut shows the choir singing in her grandfather's church in Bedfordshire. But she turned Legros' macabre drawing round completely. The figures not only look right, to the future, her theme attends to life and not to its end. I am suggesting noting more than this, that Royds took an idea from Legros, as Ricketts had done, and turned it neatly on its head. As Legros himself used to tell his students, 'If you going to rob anyone, rob the rich'. Legros may not be to everyone's taste today but he was a very fine academic draughtsman and contemporaries as different as Edgar Degas and Lord Leighton admired his work and hung it in their homes.

But Legros had been rather forgotten by the nineties and there had been a concerted effort, led by William Rothenstein (another of his students) to bring about a revival. So, it is doubly interesting to find Ricketts working on ideas by Legros as well. What is more the Dutch Gallery, who showed the Rickett's engravings in 1898, had an exhibition of work by Royds' mentor, Walter Sickert, in 1894. (It has also been said that Royds and Sickert were lovers during her time in Paris). All of which goes to show there is still more research needed on what is already a well-researched period!

Finally, for anyone who wants to follow up some of these ideas elsewhere on the blog, there are three posts you could look at, one about Legros in the nineties http://haji-b.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/alphonse-legros-and-1890s.html another about Nicholson and his influence on Royds and other artists http://haji-b.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/william-nicholson-square-book-of.html and most intriguingly one about a colour woodcut caricature of Laurence Binyon made by Edmund Dulac and owned by Ricketts http://haji-b.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/laurence-binyon-colour-woodcut-by.html.