Thursday, 17 August 2017

Klemm & Thiemann, modern woodcut in Prague: Eva Bendova (ed)


                                                                              

Quite  a long time ago, I tried to write  a post I called 'The studio in Liboc' about the early woodcuts made by the two Czech artists, Walther Klemm and Carl Thiemann. I must admit I didn't have much to go on on except a great liking for the work of both artists. I wasn't helped by the lack of images available online and especially a lack of dates for any of the ones I knew.  Im Frankfurter Hafen (1906), below, was one of those frustrating prints I have had illustrated in a book for many years but was too large to scan. But here it is now, in all its glory - and, I must add, owing something to Hugo Henneberg's print showing Trieste harbour (see the relevant recent post about his linocuts).
                                                                            

I am pleased to say that only today I heard about a book I think you need to have. It is Klemm & Thiemann: moderner holzschnitt in Prag published in Prague in 2016. It is in German and Czech and available from Narodni Galerie in Prague and EastView in the States. It is well-illustrated and I understand indispensable. Anyway, they are both artists Modern Printmakers approves of, so you can't go wrong. You only have to apply the plastic.

                                                                               


There  was a related exhibition Land Tier Stadt Der Farbholzshcnitt in Prag um 1900 at the Ostdeutsche Galerie in Regensburg. Although that is now over, the gallery may be another source for the book for readers in Germany. All being well, Modern Printmakers hopes to review it at some point soon.
                                               

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Great Wave of Georgetown


                                                                        

The mural was painted by John McConnell, an architecture student from Harvard University, in August, 1974, for friends who lived at the house. He used Sherwin-Williams house paint, which, he says himself, has held up remarkably well. Fortunately, the current owner wants to maintain the mural and is seeking advice about its restoration. McConnell now works as an architect in Winchester, Massachusetts.

His mural is at 3510 O St NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC.

                                                                          

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The colour woodcuts of Jules Chadel

                                                                   

When Alphonse Legros was professor at the Slade School in London, he would encourage the students to make models in clay as a way of understanding 'form'. I suppose, to some extent, this makes sense, but I don't believe that is all there is to it. Legros was versatile and understood the need of students to find out for themselves - I was going to say 'explore', but that sounds too modern.
                                                         

Legros had made sculpture and medallions himself and during his early days at a school of drawing in Paris, he had also made friends with the sculptors, Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou. He also made etchings and was a leading member of the early revival in the 1870s, but what  really interests me is the way artists associate prints with modelling and sculpture, without perhaps being too conscious of it, and I think Jules Chadel  was one of them who did. You only have to look at his Magpie and bee (above) to get my drift. It is flat, but he still imagines everything in the round and achieves a lot of what the print is about by a deft and vigourous use of perspective. For an experiment in colour woodcut, it is remarkably self-assured. What I should add is this: it also appears more Japanese than it actually is.

                                                                     
      

Chadel first trained as a sculptor, but moved from there to jewellery design and about 1905 went to work for Robert Vever, the leading Parisian maker of jewellery. Vever was a notable connoisseur of   Japanese art with an impressive collection of Japanese woodcuts. Vever would be 'at home' on Sundays and enthusiasts like himself would come along to indulge their passion, as collectors always have. Vever was also a member of Les amis de l'art japonais, an exclusive society of designers, connoisseurs and artists, who would meet eight times a year at a Paris restaurant (usually the Cardinal) and took turns to produce illustrated menu cards and place-cards in the manner of ukiyo-e woodcuts.

                                                                       

For a number of years, Chadel worked on his cards with the fabric designer, Alphonse-Prosper Isaac. It was one of those happy arrangements; Isaac had been making these small prints for a while had learned how to print them, but Chadel was the better artist of the two, and between them, they made some of the small colour woodcuts you see here. Simple but subtle, and well-designed, there were nothing throw-away about them and, for all their self-evident charm, they were made with complete seriousness. You can see Chadel and Isaac's two stamps at the corner of print of the bird with the cherry and, though I am not absolutely sure, this little print appears to make use of the technique of karazuri, or shallow embossing, to suggest the breast-feathers. If so, Isaac was hardly a beginner.

                                                                        

Chadel also went on to make prints in editions like Le port de Douarnenez. As you see, it is a more conventional French prints, with nothing much that is Japanese about it. For me, the most interesting aspect of the print,  is the way he is still working 'in the round' and making great use of perspective. It reads from bottom to top the way a Chinese print would but the conception is western. But I also think the first prints he made for Les amis de l'art japonais are less Japanese than they appear or, at least, that writers on art have emphasised what Chadel took from Japan without considering what else might be there. I don't think this has done Chadel justice, but this has been the standard approach to colour woodcut and especially to artists using the Japanese manner of making prints. In Britain, this was the approach taken by Alan Guest who did the first research hereand has been followed by his collaborator, Hilary Chapman. Alan (who was both mentor and friend) came to colour woodcut as a librarian with a specialist knowledge of print technique and as a collector with an interest in Japanese art and generally there has been too much emphasis on Japan and technique.

                                                                             

This view of mine is nothing new. It was taken by John Dickson Batten and S.R. Koehler in the 1890s (as Alan knew) and by Herbert Fust in 1924 (and picked up from him by the linocut artist, Claude Flight). Both Furst and Flight were hostile to colour woodcut but were not well-informed enough to make a lot of sense. I am far from hostile; I just tend to think there is more to most artists than the commentators say, Chadel included, and that writers have tended to take one aspect of their work as it suited them and make more of it than they should. This has happened to Flight and his linocuts. You only need to look at Chadel's wonderful Dragonflies to see its works the way that it does by combining aspects of western and Japanese art; it is a synthesis like the work of Mabel Royds. This is what gives it that typical turn-of-the century decorative clout. The wings and leaves are mainly flat against a flat background, but the bodies and the way the wings overlap rely on conventional perspective despite Chadel attempting to cover this up. It's not a crime; it's just more Paris than Tokyo. Dragonflies (and insects in general) are typical of Japanese art. Here they allow for unprinted space. But sculpture also relies on what isn't there - the space between arms and bodies, the holes in a Henry Moore. Sculptors also have to see their subject in the round and Chadel was looking at his dragonflies from above and below and from the back and the front, something that came naturally as a designer, but a designer who knew Katsushika Hokusai's manga (see below for an example).


You will see that the menu with the cat image was made for a dinner held on 8th November, 1912, and had a magic ingredient. This was called Yoshijiro Urushibara. Urushibara had arrived in London in May, 1910, and first visited Paris in the December of that year when he addressed Les amis. Isaac and Chadel, in particular, were always grateful for the lessons he gave them; Isaac's own lessons went on daily for months and his way of making woodcuts improved. But look again. The cat manages to suggest both Japanese brush technique and European lithography, which had come into its  own in the 1890s and was being widely used by artists like Pierre Bonnard and Henri Riviere and not  just for the famous  posters of Steinlen and Lautrec . It works not because it's Japanese; it works because, like Isaac and Chadel, two cultures of tradition and innovation, had become firm friends.
                                                                            

                                                                                 
 
 

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Great Wave as gable-end

                                                          

The BBC news website as got well and truly into the Hokusai mood with a nice feature http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-40830628 on different manifestations of the famous Hokusai print on the end of people's houses. The one you see here is in Washington D.C. (and we expect a full report on  that).

The piece is timed to coincide with the current Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, but it is too late for readers to go if they haven't been already. It's a sell-out and all the tickets are gone.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A cosmopolitan show at the Hasse Gallery, Leeds, in 1929


                                                                  

One notable thing about the British colour print movement (and I'm including colour etching and linocut) is how many artists from other countries were included and how far British artists were ready to learn from them. Only look at the narrow-mindedness of  etcher, David Bone, chairman of the Society of Twelve. Founded in 1904,  Alphonse Legros, who had become a British subject, was a founder member, but Bone objected to Lucien Pissarro's membership simply because he hadn't. By contrast the Society of Graver Printers (officially founded in 1909) included the Irishman, E.L. Lawrenson and was determinedly Anglo-French. It later branched out into Japan, Austria and Germany. Then recall the Australian contribution to woodcut and linocut in the 1920s.

                                                                             

What is very striking about the exhibition of coloured woodcuts held at the Hasse Gallery in Leeds in 1929 was that not one of the artists whose work was on show had been born in the United Kingdom (not even Frank Brangwyn, who was born in Bruges). This probably says two things. The Hasse family came from German Moravian stock (the sect not the region) and had been settled in England and Ireland  since the C19th, but presumably had maintained business connections with Austria and Germany. Leeds was a large and prosperous city and the gallery appeared to have shown the artists they believed would sell. What is extraordinary to me is that I had two of the prints sold by Hasse in my own collection (one was sold by me only recently) and I assume that was how they came to be in Newark and Sheffield where I bought them in the first place.
                                                                      

                                                                                
What I must warn you is this: I have not seen a catalogue of this show, only a review in the Yorkshire Post, which gave the titles of a limited number of prints. Urushibara's Dahlias comes first because I have come to like its eccentric earthiness, but Messina after an earthquake after a drawing by Brangwyn was certainly in the show (and is shown below). A friend of mine used to have the Urushibara on his wall over the television, so you couldn't miss it, and it was one of the very first British colour woodcuts (and I claim Urushibara for the British School) I came to know well. I will also admit that at the time I was disappointed with it. What  I wanted from a colour woodcut was that sense of outlandish period glamour while I thought Dahlias was a sombre and pernickety study in maroon and grey.

                                                                       

Nowadays, it would appeal far more than Brangwyn's deliberations. I mean, the Brangwyn isn't bad but it isn't a print, it's Henry IV Part One, (enter Falstaff right). I can no longer take his theatricality very seriously. Nor can I be sure that John Hall Thorpe's print you see here was in the show. What was a sale was Piccadilly Circus, an early woodcut I dislike so much, I won't so much as look at it unless I really have to, which fortunately doesn't happen often.

                                                                                

Again, I can't say the Ilse Koch-Amberg (second from the top) was in the show but a flower print by her would be fairly certain, I would think. What you could have bought was M.E.Phillip's Macaw  (and it  might have been a good idea if you had). I have never been a great fan of Phillips and this is the first time he has appeared on Modern Printmakers. At Leeds I don't know how much it was, but it is currently for sale in New York if  you have a mind-bending $4000 and more to spend. Cardinal birds was there, as well, but would not have been such a wise investment.
                                          
                                                                         


Inscribing their work in English - even dubious English - presumably helped the artists to sell their work. Engelbert Lap's After the rain would also have gone into my collection if I had found it in Sheffield that day because, all in all, I think it's one of his most appealing print. But then, Lap was consistent in a military way and I am not surprised to find him in league with either Hall Thorpe or Urushibara. All three had an easily recognisable professional manner, though Urushibara was by far the most versatile. None had been trained as artists in the first place but Dahlias is more than a decorative print. It still speaks across cultures, the way he handles space is poetic and not merely formal.

                                                                           

Another print for sale was Helene Mass' Reflections. The one I own has no inscription apart from 'H Mass' and I only properly identified the artist years later using an old Antwerp auction-house catalogue  that was stuffed with colour woodcuts and was an invaluable resource, but, sadly, was removed from the internet some years ago.  Without it, I doubt either Art & the Aesthete or Modern Printmakers would have ever got going. Anyway, without knowing anything about the artist, the Mass was on obvious thing to buy, one that made best use of the medium, and I have always been surprised that generally none of the other prints I have seen by her have ever been so good.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Summer holidays

                                                                             

Modern Printmakers will be on holiday from today for a week, so there  may  be a delay to replying to comments. Please leave them all the same for other readers.
                                                                          

Friday, 21 July 2017

A Sussex wave from Japan, the colour woodcuts of Eric Slater & Arthur Rigden Read: Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

                                                                                                             
                                                                                
In 1934 a friend of Arthur Rigden Read gave fifteen of his colour woodcuts to Hastings Art Gallery and I assume the fifteen colour woodcuts form the basis for the current exhibition at Hastings, but which also includes work by Urushibara, John Platt,  Eric Slater and Frank Morley Fletcher, an interesting mix of colour woodcut artists who all  made use of the Japanese method, hence the title of the exhibition.

                                                                                   

Eric Slater was nowhere near as good a printmaker as Read, but he will help to bring in the crowds. It would be fair to say they formed a local school of sorts in the late twenties and thirties, but the Reads lived in Sussex for twenty years only and many of his subjects were French or Londoners or people like the Romanies who came from nowhere, so it's a shame curators try to give a minor artist this duff local slant. Read may be minor but he deserves better. As does his wife, who appears in a number of his woodcuts.
                                                                              

The show runs from 27th May to 3rd September and will appeal to the summer crowds as well as local cognoscenti. It will be worth going simply because I know that the bequest includes a number of prints that are rare enough to be unavailable anywhere online. Certainly I have never seen  some of them, but they have not been included in the booklet that has been published to coincide with the exhibition. But the less said about that little effort the better.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Yoshijiro Urushibara, a Japanese printmaker in London: Hilary Chapman & Libby Horner

                        
                                                                          

The problem with quite a few people who write about art is that they do not know how to look at pictures and they do not know how to look at pictures, because they have not looked at enough of them and do not know their  Manet from their Mategna. This may not always matter all that much, but in the case of the subject of this book, he was not only Japanese, he had been trained to work in the style of other artists, and then worked with many artists in France and Britain and no-one is more nuanced than Yoshijiro Urushibara. Ignore this at your peril. Unfortunately, the authors do.

                                                          

But there is more. It is imperative, if you want to study any artist properly, to have a chronology of their work and, basically, a catalogue like this ought to do the job. What is lacking with Urishibara is an adequate number of dates for many of his prints and no amount of other detail can make this book do what it says it does. In that case, why did they try? And the answer is, 'Because they wanted to'.

                                                                           

They are not the only writers to divide a catalogue into rather naff sections like 'Florals' and 'Creatures'; Dominique Vasseur inflicted the same indignity on poor Edna Boies Hopkins in 2007, but what else could they do?  The predicament was a predicament of their own making, but producing a catalogue is one way of avoiding too many critical judgements, except of the very obvious sort. All we get is Chapman saying she believed the work he did with Brangwyn was his best. She doesn't explain why, so I needn't say why I disagree (although I think earlier work like 'Ruins of a Roman Bridge' are very good): what you see here is what he did best.

                                                                         

Obviously, not only these; there are others, but I have written about Urushibara's prints elsewhere on Modern Printmakers. Libby Horners' essay on the artist is very good and well-researched though some material is still missing. Hilary Chapman's essay 'Urushibara and the British colour woodcut in the Japanese manner' is thirty years out-of-date and counting. Why bother?

                                                                             

One criticism that has been made about  this book concerns the size of the illustrations. The standard of photography is good and I would say that everything you want to see is there, along with a lot of things you would not want to, minor work after Frank Brangwyn being my own bugbear. It's the same with the text in the main catalogue, which has you wading through details  about exhibitions and incomprehensible lettering. If you enjoy flipping backwards and forwards, this may well be the book for you. This is a missed opportunity to do Urushibara justice. The authors only had to look at Robert Meyrick's 'Sydney Lee' of 2013 to see how this new book should have been done, but  this is all we have and I am afraid Chapman & Horler will be the standard text, whether we like it or not.

                                                                              

For a different view of the book, read Darrel Karl's insider take on things on 'Eastern Impressions'

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ken Hoshino

                            
                                                                       

As it is Urushibara week, I offer this post on the scholar and dealer, Ken Hoshino, as my contribution. Hoshino was born in Japan but  left in 1898 to study at Columbia University in  New York City. Following graduation, he then moved to London where he eventually set up a business selling prints on Chancery Lane.

                                                                                

He was in business by 1907 when he sold 23 images to the British Museum. The woodblock by Utagawa Yotohiro (top) was one of them and the image of fighting during the Sino-Japanese War by Gessa  c1904  (below) was another. In between them  there is a 1912 advert from the Froebel Society Journal for the popular bird and flower prints. (I await identification  and I am not  going to put much money on Koson).

                                                                                      

Hoshino's London career came to an end shortly afterwards. He fell ill and returned to Japan, leaving the business in the hands of a British employee who ran it until the end of the first war, when Ken's nephew, Hiroshi, came to London and instead of selling prints, imported Japanese celluloid toys, which were passed on to East London traders at considerable profit. Such is life.
                                                                                      

It was this later period that is perhaps of most interest to Modern Printmakers. In 1910, William Giles produced a colour print of Stonehenge (below) based on a series of drawings he had made and in its turn, this became the basis for a colour woodcut by Urushibara, or, rather, a series of colour woodcuts where the Japanese artist built on the variants Giles himself had made. The whole process for Giles had been a complex one of selection where many of the esoteric overtones of the sketches and etchings he made, were removed.
                                                                            

Urushibara's images were made some time around 1912 or so. Many are signed and are quite clearly colour woodcuts, but at some point at least two different images were published by Ken Hoshino and Co. According to the Japanese Gallery the Hoshino Stonehenge print they had for sale was a lithograph. It had a chop-mark like the one you see here and an inscription (see below)  but no signature.  I have never seen one of these Hoshino prints, so I am  not going to go in for any guesswork or conjecture. It's  interesting all the same to see Urushibara taking a commercial approach (as his old employers did in Tokyo) at a stage where he was beginning to make prints of his own. It was not untill 1920 that The bamboo vase, his first truly independent colour woodcut, was first exhibited in London. It was a long apprenticeship but there is a process here, I think, and an acute one.

                                                                  






Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Yoshijiro Urushibara, a Japanese printmaker in London: Hilary Chapman and Libby Horner


                                                                          

It was in the nature of things, I suppose, that  Yoshijiro Urushibara went to live somewhere on the boundaries of Holland Park and Notting  Hill  (according to which source you go to) when he first came to live in London. Never an easy printmaker to get  quite right, the first attempt to locate this intriguing artisan-printmaker, teacher and friend has been made by Hilary Chapman and Libby Horner in this book published in  May, 2017. It is essentially a catalogue of his prints and includes essays and other biographical material.

                                                                             

My thanks are due to Darrel Karl who alerted me to the publication on his blog and who  helped the authors with his considerable expertise. (The link is on my list). I will be reviewing the book once my copy arrives.