I don't know who wrote the review of the eighth exhibition of the Colour Woocut Society at the Macrae Gallery in Fulham in 1927, but whoever it was, the person tended to pick out the same artists for special mention for a number of years. The critic probably never noticed but presumably the artists did. No one would be surprised by some of the names John Platt, Allen Seaby and Yoshihjiro Urushibara would almost always be worthy of mention. It's the less well-known names that are more interesting. But even more fascinating and frustrating are the names we barely know at all.
I have no choice about where I start. It has to be Platt's Red chestnut no 1. Not because I think it's the best work the unnamed critic wanted to praise. It's a fine virtuoso print but it also happens to fit in with the lay-out. No, the one I like most inhabits another element. If Platt was fascinated by airborne imagery, just as Allen Seaby was, I think it would have been Seaby's superb image Trout that I would have bought. One image Seaby often goes back to is the kingfisher poised above a brook or river; here we see an animal underwater. Either way, what captivates Seaby most are those things it is least easy to capture. There is a memorable, self-deprecating description where he watches over a partridge nest day after day only to find he has missed the momentary phenomenon of the chicks being dried by the cock-bird soon after hatching simply because the birds were more vigilant than he was. But what we dont always see, Seaby reveals in his woodcuts.
Less striking perhaps but a name that comes up in more than one reviw is Lizzie Austen Brown. It's not often colour woodcut artists seriously attempt an urban subject as Brown does in Battersea factories (at least I think I've matched title and image) and if there is more than a touch of Whistler here, well, we forgive her. Brown was a consistent artist who was serious about printmaking as her unsigned proofs attest to - and better at it than her husband. Whats she loses in bravura, she gains in subtlety.
Geraldine Maunsell's print, Falmouth, defeated me. In fact, I've seen nothing by her anywhere. Her husband, Guy, became a successful civil engineer who built the Red Sands forts in the Thames estuary during the second war. But when they were poor immediately after their marriage in 1922, they took off to the Dordogne and then Portugal simply because living was cheap there. While she made woodcuts, he painted in watercolour.
I was more successful with Mary Creighton McDowall's Church in the Dolomites - or at least I hope I was. The linocut you see in the photograph hangs on a bedroom wall in the house belonging to McDowall's niece. If this really is the image she exhibited, it would be of considerable interest because it shows the society giving space to another medium, though I can't as yet be sure about this. (You can see more of Mike Chisholm's photographs on his blog called Idiotic Hat.)
Poor Phillip Needell was less fortunate than I was.His Northern Patrol was singled out for criticism. If the drawing is literal we can perhaps put it down to Needell basing the print far too closely on a watercolour made some years before when he was at sea with Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Nor did Needell get the chance to draw his head off at the Slade. His father insisted on him working in a bank, just as Neave Parker's did. The only formal training he received was at the Regent Street Polytechnic, presumably during the evenings. It has always struck me as overworked and awkward but it obviously was felt to be a success by the artist himself.
An artist who did manage to escape working in a bank was Arthur Rigden Read. While his four brothers became clerks, Read went into design. Unfortunately, his print The mandarin gown has escaped me. I was tempted to replace it with The batik scarf but decided against. As with all of Read's output, sometimes his shawls and scarves work and sometimes they don't.
Yoshijiro Urushibara's Daisies makes a fine professional contrast to the hand-made feel of so many of the prints here, apart of course from Platt whose work standards were just as high as the Japanese artists were. I shall resist posting Arabella Rankin's Iona simply because it isn't clear which Iona woodcut is meant and also because I have already posted a group of them recently. Ethel Kirkpatrick's Boatbuilding is of course another matter. Kirkpatrick I cannot resist (except for 1928's Communication, ancient and modern).
Her view of a boatyard shows an artist depicting a subject she loved. I was smitten by this print as soon as I saw it. Obviously the reviewer was as well. And whoever he was (and it may have been Charles Marriott who worked at The Times for 16 years) I think he knew a good thing when he saw one. Later in her career, Kirkpatrick discovered a modicum of restraint and this view across what must be Mount's Bay from Newlyn stands in contrats to the more outlandish colours of her view from Mousehole across the bay towards St Michael's Mount. But Kirkpatrick can do no wrong so far as I'm concerned. Or, perhaps I should say, up untill 1927, at least.