Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Max Svabinsky

Max Švabinský (Czech, 1873-1962), born in Kromĕříž, was a contemporary and close ally of T. František Šimon. Both studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Art under Max Pirner, benefiting from the graphics teaching of J. Marák and E. Karel. In 1910, while Šimon was in Paris, Max Švabinský was appointed professor of graphic arts at the Prague Academy. I believe I am correct in saying that up until this time there had not been a dedicated graphic arts atelier at the Academy.

Max Švabinský, Grossmutter (Grandmother)
Etching, 1912

Although Max Švabinský was also a painter, he began to devote more and more time to graphics from around 1900. Švabinský is regarded as the founder of Czech modern art, introducing the influences of both Max Klinger and the German Symbolists, and Édouard Manet and the French Impressionists.

Max Švabinský, Untitled (Woman preparing for bed)
Colour lithograph, 1912

As the lithograph above shows, Max Švabinský also absorbed the influence of Bonnard, Vuillard, and the Nabis. In 1917 Max Švabinský and František Šimon founded the exclusive Hollar Association of Czech Graphic Artists, whose founding members were mostly students or ex-students of Švabinský’s.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The conquest of the air

Just over a century ago, on 08/08/08, at 18:25 hours, Wilbur Wright made the first public flight anywhere in the world. It was not in the USA, but in France, at the Hippodrome des Hunaudières at Le Mans, within easy reach of Paris. Over the next five months Wright made another nine exhibition flights at the same location, in a Flyer III bi-plane with a Barriquand-Marse motor.
         I imagine newspapers at the time published cartoon sketches of these exciting displays (though I haven’t seen any). But who was the first fine artist to record this extraordinary breakthrough for mankind? My guess is the Czech painter and printmaker Tavik František Šimon (1877-1942).
         Šimon was born at Železnice in Bohemia. He studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, where he was in 1928 appointed as Professor of Graphic Arts, a position he took over from his friend Max Švabinský.
         František Šimon lived and worked in Paris from 1904 to 1914, when the outbreak of WWII caused him to return to Prague. He was therefore right on the spot when Wilbur Wright made his inaugural flight. I believe that this etching, first published in 1909 by Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, Vienna, almost certainly shows that very first flight, though it is possible that František Šimon attended one of the later displays.

František Šimon, First Flight of the Aeroplane, Paris
(also known as Die Eroberung der Luft)
Etching, 1909

The title given to this etching in the catalogue raisonné by Arthur Novak (in which it is listed as N106) is First Flight of the Aeroplane, Paris. However, the published title in German is quite different: Die Eroberung der Luft, The Conquest of the Air.
         The etching is signed with T. František Šimon’s monogram in the plate, but not, sadly, dated. If anyone knows any detail that might precisely date this as showing the very first public flight, I would be fascinated to hear it. So far, one can only say for sure that it must depict one of those first 10 displays, given at the Hunaudières racecourse between 8 August 1908 and 2 January 1909.
         The initial edition of this etching was 125 signed prints (printed in brown on Japan paper) issued by Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, plus 10 artist's proofs. In 1911 the same publisher included this etching in the art revue Die Graphischen Kunste, still printed in brown, but this time on cream wove paper. The artist is credited as Franz Šimon (his calling card at the time says François Simon), and the printing of the etching is credited by K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Wien.

František Šimon, Passerelle de L’Estacade, Paris
Etching, 1909

First Flight of the Aeroplane, Paris, and another original etching—N113, titled here Alte Brücke (“L’Estacade”)—were published in Die Graphische Kunste to illustrate an extensive article on the art of T. F. Šimon by Joachim Friedenthal.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Woodcut Patterns

One of the most interesting things about British art in the 1920s was the blurred distinction that arose between art and design. This can be seen in all kinds of areas, from textiles to advertising to architecture. In the field of pattern papers, the Curwen Press was at the forefront, commissioning designs from artists such as Edward Bawden, Margaret Calkin James, Claude Lovat Fraser, Albert Rutherston, Enid Marx, and Eric Ravilious. Curwen were so proud of these papers that in 1928 they published the delicious A Specimen Book of Pattern Papers Designed for and in Use at the Curwen Press, with an Introduction by Paul Nash. I don't, sadly, have a copy of this extremely rare and costly publication. But I do have a copy of The Woodcut: An Annual for 1927. Like the Specimen Book, this was printed at Curwen and published by the Fleuron. And it contains an essay by Paul Nash (identical with the introduction? I'm not sure, but probably) entitled Woodcut Patterns. It is illustrated with two tipped-in colour samples, one by Enid Marx, the other by Eric Ravilious, while the boards of the journal itself are covered with a design by Nash.

Paul Nash, Wood engraved design for the cover of The Woodcut, 1927

Paul Nash writes that, "I have become lately more interested in woodcut patterns than in woodcut pictures. It is always a relief to be rid of the responsibility of representation. To concern oneself solely with the problem of formal relationships is to escape into a new world. Here one is in touch with pure reality..."

Eric Ravilious, Wood engraved pattern paper for the Curwen Press
from The Woodcut, 1927

Nash considers block printing on textiles, including not just wood blocks but also the fabrics decorated with linocut designs being produced under the name Footprints at the Hammersmith workshop established by Celandine Kennington to supply Elspeth Little's shop Modern Textiles. He also discusses block-printed wallpapers (noting that in France fine artists such as Marie Laurencin and Raoul Dufy have "produced some charming designs"), and paper covers for books.

Enid Marx, Wood engraved pattern paper for the Curwen Press
from The Woodcut, 1927

In the field of textiles printed from wood blocks, Paul Nash singles out Phyllis Barron ("a true artist as well as a craftswoman) and her two colleagues Dorothy Larcher and Enid Marx. Marx was only just launched on her distinguished career as a designer, having failed her diploma at the Royal College of Art because of her allegiance to abstraction. Of her work Paul Nash writes, "Miss Marx's designs have the character of a fugue in music. Another quality which distinguishes them from the majority of textile designs is the peculiarly rigid movement of the units, which are not conceived in fluid waves or undulations, or as an efflorescence, but are more like the delicate architecture of birds, building with rather awkward shaped sticks."

Enid Marx, Wood engraved pattern paper for Chatto and Windus
from Signature, 1936

Enid Marx, Wood engraved pattern paper for the Curwen Press
from Signature, 1936

His conclusion is that, "we should begin to consider patterns as important as pictures."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Lying on my desk as I write is a modest little hardback volume entitled Change: The Beginning of a Chapter in 12 Volumes, edited by John Hilton & Joseph Thorp. It was printed and published in January 1919 at The Decoy Press, Plaistow, London.

Herbert Rooke, The Torch

The appearance of the word Plaistow in the address is enough to suggest that this booklet has something to do with the Curwen Press, whose printing works was in Plaistow. And indeed on page 122 of Joanna Selborne’s British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940 a footnote tells us that, “The Decoy Press, Plaistow, was Thorp’s publishing imprint only, not a printing press, used sometimes by the Curwen Press when it was impolitic to use their own imprint.” This was one of those times, for Change was a radical publication, calling for a new post-war order based on socialist and spiritual values.

Eric Gill, The Decoy

This idealistic publication did not find a ready market—of the announced 12 volumes, only two appeared. But apart from offering its readers a thoughtful alternative to the glib talk of “reconstruction” in the popular press of the day, Change is notable for its nurturing of the green shoots of the between-the-wars wood engraving revival.

Robert Gibbings, The Little Copse

It would appear to be Joseph Thorp who was responsible for commissioning, publishing, and championing the engravers. Thorp was one of the founder members of the Design and Industries Association in 1915, alongside Frank Pick and Harold Curwen, and soon became closely involved with Curwen as a consultant and ambassador. Herbert Simon’s Song and Words: A History of the Curwen Press has a whole chapter devoted to Joseph Thorp. He writes, “Thorp was an eccentric and an entertainer. He had the gift of giving substance to the spirit of joy and to outline to war-weary audiences how a new Jerusalem could be built in England’s pleasant land.”

Herbert Rooke, He Stirreth up the People

Most of the wood engravings in Change are tiny vignettes. The contributors are Herbert Kerr Rooke (1872-1944), Robert Gibbings (1889-1958), Philip Hagreen (1890-1988), and Eric Gill (1882-1940). All of these men shared the political vision of the editors. This is most obvious in Herbert Rooke’s full-page engraving, He Stirreth Up the People, but also evident in a vignette such as Gibbings’ The Burst Bonds, and in Philip Hagreen’s sardonic portrait of a bloated war profiteer in One of Our Conquerors. In Change 1 there are also drawings by Claude Lovat Fraser, Raymond Binns, and George Morrow. 

Philip Hagreen, One of Our Conquerors

Philip Hagreen, A Head

Philip Hagreen, A Head

Unfortunately I haven’t seen Change 2. According to Joanna Selborne, the two volumes of Change include work by a total of nine wood engravers. Change 2 apparently includes work by Millicent Jackson, Vivien Gribble, Rachel Marshall (Ray Garnett), and Gabriel Pippet. The ninth engraver is Paul Woodroffe; his contribution may be confined to the title page device, though this is not explicitly stated to be an original wood engraving, and I’m not sure that Woodroffe ever made his own engravings.

Robert Gibbings, The Burst Bonds

At the end of Change 1 is an interesting announcement that shows how interwoven the magazine’s support for wood engraving was with its calls for social renewal:
“The Editors would also like to draw the attention of those interested in modern English art, who are not merely patrons of the dead, to the woodcuts which embellish this little volume. There are a score or so of really competent wood engravers and woodcutters in England, who have great difficulty in finding a market for their excellent work. Their names are unknown often even to the connoisseur, and a fine craft, now just raising its head, may be starved back into oblivion through lack of the patronage of discerning folk.
Change in its very modest way will continue its attempt to advertise this workmanlike and attractive process. Replicas of any woodcut appearing in Change may be had from the artist, pulled on India paper, mounted and framed in passe partout, on application to the Editors, who will put correspondents in direct touch with the artist himself. He will charge his own price, which will be a very modest one—too modest, in our opinion.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is the book half-full, or half-empty?

Before I get too carried away with all my planned posts on aspects of the British between-the-wars wood engraving revival, here's a reminder of another "revival" - the French etching revival of the second half of the nineteenth century. This was in many ways the creation of a single man - not an artist, but a dealer and publisher. His name was Alfred Cadart. He was born in St Omer in 1828.

Alphonse Charles Masson (1814-1898)
Portrait of Alfred Cadart
Etching, 1874

In 1862 Cadart founded the Société des Aquafortistes, which lasted until 1867. In 1868 he founded the journal L'Illustration Nouvelle, and in 1870 he restarted his publishing house at 58, rue Neuve-des-Mathurins, publishing etchings at a furious rate until his premature death in 1875, after which his widow took over the business. All of Cadart's enterprises were undertaken in association with the master printer Auguste Delâtre.

Advert for Cadart's "petite presse"

Cadart didn't just organize everything and publish everyone. He sold all you needed to start etching, from a proofing press at 150 francs to "éclats du Levant" to sharpen your etching needle at 50 centimes. More than that, he offered free etching lessons, and set aside a studio for artists to bite their plates and make trial proofs. In 1866 he published Maxime Lalanne's Traité de la Gravure à l'Eau-forte, and in 1873 followed this with A.-P. Martial's Nouveau Traité de la Gravure a l'Eau-Forte pour les Peintres et les Dessinateurs, two detailed and lucid how-to guides.

François Nicolas Augustin Feyen-Perrin (1826-1888)
Etching, 1874

I've just acquired a fascinating catalogue of Cadart's published etchings from 1868-1874: Catalogue Complet d'Eaux-fortes Originales et Inédites Composées et Gravées par les Artistes eux-mêmes. It begins by listing 247 etchings published in L'Illustration Nouvelle up to mid-way through 1874. Then 2 collections of L'Eau-Forte depuis douze ans, consisting of 100 plates each. Then an enormous list alphabetically by artist of all the Principales Publications de la Maison Cadart. Then all his special publications dealing with the Siege of Paris and the Commune. And finally the 30 plates from l'Album Cadart for 1874.

Adolphe Lalauze (1838-1906)
Female performer
Etching, 1874

Even this comprehensive list doesn't contain all Cadart's work - there's nothing beyond mid-1874, and nothing to do with the Société des Aquafortistes and the failed firm of Cadart et Luquet. And - weirdly - it contains no list of the 12 new etchings contained within the catalogue itself, just a list of the 11 artists responsible for them.

Alfred Taiée (1820-1880)
Aux Champs Elysées
Etching, 1874

The copy I have acquired of Cadart's catalogue contains just 7 of the promised "douze planches types divers", with the remaining 5 in photocopy. The copies (not reproduced in this post) are by Jules Jacques Veyrassat, Charles Beauverie, Maxime Lalanne, Adolphe Potemont Martial, and Adolphe Lalauze (who contributed two etchings). The remaining 7 are posted here. They are all printed on laid paper. The etching by Alfred Taiée, and the missing ones by Beauverie and Martial, credit Imp. A. Cadart as the printer, though I suspect this really means Delâtre, for Cadart.

Pierre Teysonnières (1838-1919)
Border of a river
Etching, 1874

I already have etchings by 5 of the artists, but am particularly thrilled to acquire a really stunning example of the work of the important precursor of the Impressionists, Adolphe Appian.

Adolphe Appian (1818-1898)
Fishing boats in a harbour
Etching, 1874

Alphonse Édouard Aufray de Roc'Bhian (1833-1886)
Fishermen on a riverbank
Etching, 1874

My other "new" artist is Aufray de Roc'Bhian; the work is unsigned, and it was only by the process of elimination that I managed to work out who it was by.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fires of Youth

This wood engraving, showing a Bright Young Thing against a background of flames, with one foot in the cradle and the other in the grave, was published in the London Mercury in October 1923, under the title Youth. It is initialled in the block, E.W.

 Edward Wadsworth? Ethelbert White? Edward Wolfe?
The answer is—none of the above. The E.W. in question is in fact the novelist Evelyn Waugh, five years before the publication of his first novel, Decline and Fall. 
Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh (1903-1966) was at this time a dissolute undergraduate at Oxford University, which he would leave the following year without a degree. In September 1924 Waugh enrolled in the Heatherley School of Art, but left before the end of the year to become a schoolmaster (an episode chronicled with exquisite comedy in Decline and Fall). Apparently Waugh initially saw his future in the visual arts rather than the written word. His own art collection in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, includes two copies of this engraving, catalogued under the title Fires of Youth.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What's in a name?

The name of Tirzah Garwood may well seem vaguely familiar, because it is unusual enough to stick in the mind. And I know some readers of this blog will recognize it immediately as the unmarried name of Tirzah Ravilious, who was married from 1930-1942 to the artist Eric Ravilious, and from 1946-1951 to Henry Swanzy.

Tirzah Garwood, Yawning
Wood engraving, 1929

Eileen Lucy “Tirzah” Garwood was born in 1908 into a conventional middle class background in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Attracted by the artistic life, at 18 she enrolled in a class in wood engraving at the Eastbourne College of Art. The teacher was Eric Ravilious, who was also born in Eastbourne, though by this time he was living either with Douglas Percy Bliss in London or with Edward Bawden in Great Bardfield.

Tirzah Garwood, Kensington High Street
Wood engraving, 1929

Tirzah’s first wood engraving was made on 24 November 1926. By 1927 she was already exhibiting engravings at the Redfern Gallery, London. Over the next four years she was widely recognized as one of the most promising wood engravers of the day, and this at the height of the wood engraving boom. Her work received praise in both The Times and The New Statesman; examples were included in The Woodcut: An Annual for 1929, and (reproduced) in The New Woodcut, a special number of The Studio, in 1930; commissions flowed in from the Curwen Press, the Golden Cockerel Press, the Kynoch Press, and the BBC.

Tirzah Garwood, The Dog Show
Wood engraving 1929

There is a 1987 catalogue raisonné of Tirzah Garwood’s wood engravings, compiled by her daughter Anne Ullmann. Unfortunately I haven't been able to see a copy of this before writing this post; when I do, I may need to revise. It lists 43 wood engravings, the bulk if not the whole of a small but perfectly formed body of wittily observed and technically accomplished wood engravings.

Tirzah Garwood, The Crocodile
Wood engraving, 1929

The title of Anne Ullmann's book is The Wood Engravings of Tirzah Ravilious. While I understand the reasoning behind the choice of title, there is a delicious irony here that my female readers will immediately grasp. For there are simply no wood engravings by Tirzah Ravilious. All her engravings were made between the ages of 19 and 23. After she married Eric Ravilious in 1930, she produced no more. Various reasons are given for this. It is nothing so simple as Eric standing in her way; indeed it was he who introduced her work to Herbert Furst, the editor of The Woodcut, and to Harold Curwen and others. Probably she simply found that she no longer had enough time to devote to such a painstaking art. But I suspect that, as with Marion Dorn and Ted McKnight Kauffer, there may have been a tacit wifely understanding that a sense of artistic rivalry might not be conducive to marital bliss. And her engraving The Wife, published three months before her marriage, implies, I feel, a certain fearfulness about what becoming a wife might entail.

Tirzah Garwood, The Wife
Wood engraving, 1929/30

Following her marriage, Tirzah Ravilious’s artistic impulses were channelled into making beautiful marbled papers (see two lovely examples here), in collaboration with Charlotte Bawden (Tirzah and Eric were living with the Bawdens at Brick House, Great Bardfield). Then came the war. Eric Ravilious was lost over the Icelandic ocean while flying as a war artist observer on an air-sea rescue mission on 2 September 1942. Tirzah, was left a widow with three children, denied a war pension as her husband was not a combatant and his rank in the Royal Marines was honorary.Tirzah Garwood’s early promise was fulfilled not in art (though she did achieve wonders in her highly original marbled papers, and also make some small oil paintings, and some 3D paper sculptures) but in her marriage, her children, and her friendships. Even here, there was heartache. Eric Ravilious took a mistress, Helen Binyon; Tirzah developed breast cancer. She was recovering from a mastectomy when the news arrived of Eric’s death. After her remarriage in 1946 to Henry Swanzy, who worked for the BBC, her cancer returned, and she died in March 1951, at the age of 42.

Tirzah Garwood, The Big Man
Wood engraving, 1930/31

If this all sounds tragic, one has to set against it the memories of those who knew Tirzah as a vibrant and life-enhancing presence. Her friend Olive Cook, in an article on “The Art of Tirzah Garwood” published in Matrix 10 (the text of which is available here) remembered that, “After an absence of close on forty years her presence remains extraordinary and poignantly clear. Light boned and quick moving, she had the figure of a Botticelli angel, a pale, mobile, rather long face framed in wavy brown hair, a wide mouth and dark vivid eyes, shining with intelligence and full of half mocking humour.”

Tirzah Garwood, The Defeat of Apollyon
Wood engraving, 1928

I have been on the lookout for engravings by Tirzah Garwood; her work is, as you might expect, quite hard to come by. But I have managed to acquire impressions of 9 of her engravings. All of my prints are contemporary lifetime impressions, but in 1989 two of her engravings were reprinted from the blocks by Ian Mortimer at I.M. Imprimit in an edition of 500 copies for Merivale Editions. These were The Crocodile and The Dog Show - two of her finest works. These two, High Street Kensington and The Wife were all published in The London Mercury in 1930; they probably all date from the previous year. As I understand it, her last published engraving was the frontispiece she supplied for The Big Man by L.A.G. Strong, published in 1931, but probably executed the previous year.

Tirzah Garwood, Vanity Fair
Wood engraving, 1928

My earliest wood engravings by Tirzah Garwood are the three she made in 1928 for Granville Bantock's oratorio inspired by Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, commissioned by the BBC. While these are strongly composed and show real talent, I can't feel that this commission played to her strengths. There is no room here for her gleeful observation of middle class life, so strongly present in my other examples of her work.

Tirzah Garwood, The Dream
Wood engraving, 1928

Except as the wife of Eric Ravilious, Tirzah Garwood has been almost forgotten. She has no place, for instance, in Albert Garrett's British Wood Engraving of the 20th Century. Patricia Jaffé's Women Engravers reproduces The Dog Show, but does not mention her in the text so far as I can see (there is no index). The only book I have that gives her her due is Joanna Selborne's wonderful British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940. Selborne describes the 8 prints completed by Tirzah Garwood for an unpublished Curwen Press calendar, to be titled Relations, as "probably her finest wood engravings and among the most vivid portrayals of 1920s middle-class life by a contemporary practitioner." Four of these subjects, illustrated above, are The Crocodile, The Dog Show, Kensington High Street, and The Wife. Olive Cook's article tells us that the "masterful figure dressed in the height of winter fashion" who is about to cross the road in Kensington High Street is one of Tirzah's aunts, near whom she was living in London while studying at the Central School of Art in 1929. The rather cowed girl trailing in her wake is carrying a briefcase marked with the initials T.G.