Thursday, December 30, 2010

A new moon

Despite its harvest theme, I think this ravishing colour etching by Arthur Illies a suitable image for the turn of the year. It was published by the Jugendstil art revue Pan in 1896. Its title, Mondaufgang, means Moonrise, though this print also seems to be known as Ripe Cornfield, Evening, under which title it is one of the treasures of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University. A gallery assistant at the Barber, Sarah Brown, writes eloquently about it here. As she writes, "The variety of colour throughout this image is immense, as gold, sienna and turquoise bring the mass of corn to life." This is landscape imbued with that spiritual potentiality that Gerard Manley Hopkins called "inscape".

Arthur Illies, Mondaufgang
Etching, 1896

The painter and printmaker Arthur Karl Wilhelm Illies was born in Hamburg in 1870, and died in Lüneberg in 1952. Illies studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Art, after which he returned to Hamburg, under the patronage of the director of the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Alfred Lichtwark. In the 1890s Illies worked in a Symbolist mode allied to Jugendstil. Arthur Illies was an innovative printmaker who, tired of the limitations of conventional colour etching, developed his own methods to bring a painterly richness of hue and tone to his etchings. He did this through multiple bitings of the etching plate in layers of aquatint, and also invented a method of printing colour etchings from a single plate by combining high and low pressure on the press.

I assumed from what I had read of Illies' printing methods, and from the subtle colour gradations of the etching itself, that Mondaufgang was printed "à la poupée", with the colours hand-applied to the plate and all printed at once, rather than one colour at a time. But I have since found the excellent site of the Arthur und Georgie Illies Familien-Stiftung (the Illies Foundation in Lüneburg), and it seems that in 1896 Illies was still using the more traditional au repérage method, with a separate plate for each colour. In the case of Mondaufgang, four plates were used. Illies printed the edition himself, an ambitious undertaking in the case of an etching for Pan, which had a print-run of 1300 ordinary copies on wove paper, plus some de luxe copies on Japan; the Illies website gives the total edition as 1600 copies. Alfred Lichtwark, who was on the editorial board of Pan, allowed Arthur Illies to set up a printing workshop in the former reading room of the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Even with assistants (probably eager young art students), it took Illies fourteen working days to print the edition, according to his diary. It was no doubt because of the complexity and ambition of his colouring that Illies preferred to print his own etchings on his own hand press.

On Mondaufgang the artist is credited as Artur Illies, but as reference books and the Illies website spell his forename Arthur, I assume that is the correct spelling. A mystery surrounds the title of the etching, which again is printed on every copy, as the Illies website gives it as Ährenfeld, Cornfield, rather than as Mondaufgang.

I will summarise here a few biographical details gleaned from the biography by Oliver Fok on the Illies website. From 1895-1908 Illies taught at the Women's Art School run by Valesca Röver. In 1908 he was appointed to run the life class at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg, where he was made Professor in 1926. In 1933 he retired to Lüneburg, where the city provided him with a studio in an old department store. In WWI Illies was a War Artist on the Eastern Front in Russia. As a Nazi supporter, he was able to continue exhibiting through the Nazi era and WWII. In 1945 he and his second wife Georgie were evicted from their home, and retreated to the department store studio. Illies married twice. In 1900 he married Minna Schwerdtfeger, who died the following year giving birth to their daughter Helga. In 1905 he married Georgie Rabeler, who had been his student at the Röver Malschule für Damen, with whom he had four children, Kurt, Herta, Harald, and Anke.

Oliver Fok estimates the total artistic output of Arthur Illies at 2,600 paintings, 1,200 drawings, and a large body of graphic work. Even in this extraordinarily productive life, the creation, printing, and publication of Mondaufgang, or Ährenfeld, must have been a highlight.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas every one

Adventures in the Print Trade wishes all its readers a merry Christmas and a peaceful 2011.

Hermine David, Angel of the church bells
Drypoint coloured à la poupée, 1943
From one of 50 coloured suites of Hermine David's drypoints for an edition of Sagesse by Paul Verlaine. printed by Georges Leblanc on china paper

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The etchers' guru - Maxime Lalanne

The name of Maxime Lalanne would once have put thrills down the spine of many a keen young etcher - because it was Lalanne's Traité de la gravure à l'eau-forte (Treatise on Etching), first published by Alfred Cadart in 1866, from which thousands taught themselves the art of etching. Walter Franklin Lansil from my last post was one such young hopeful - and he had the pleasure of seeing his first ever etching published in an 1880 American edition of Lalanne's work. But Lalanne was not just seen as a teacher, he was revered as a master of etching. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, for instance, an etcher himself and editor of The Portfolio, which published many original etchings, wrote that, "No one ever etched so gracefully as Maxime Lalanne." The etcher and lithographer Joseph Pennell went further, saying that "His ability to express a great building, a vast town, or a delicate little landscape has never been equalled, I think, by anybody but Whistler." So are their contemporary judgements still valid today?

Maxime Lalanne, Une rue de Rouen
Etching, 1884
Villet 152, state ii/II

In my view, Maxime Lalanne was a supremely competent etcher, who in some plates - maybe a dozen out of around 200 - captured not just a sense of harmony and beauty, but the true atmosphere of a place. I don't have many Lalanne etchings, and wish I could show you at this point his Rue des Marmousets of 1862, his Un effet du bomdardement of 1870-71, or his Vieux quartier d'Amsterdam of 1881. But I do have one of his stunners, Une rue de Rouen, a relatively late work etched in 1884 and published the following year by The Portfolio.

Maxime Lalanne, Traveller on a Road in a Forest
Etching, 1866
Villet 32, state iv/VI

A while ago I had cause to be in touch with Jeffrey Villet, the leading expert on Lalanne. I had been offered a plate by Lalanne, published in 1889 by G. Barrie in Philadelphia, with what appeared to be a drypoint remarque by another hand in the margin. We managed to work out that the remarque was almost certainly by the Philadelphia artist Frank Le Brun Kirkpatrick - a piece of information now generally available to the public in the latest edition of The Complete Prints of Maxime Lalanne: Catalogue Raisonné, Lithographs and Etchings (3rd ed., expanded; Washington: 2010), of which Jeffrey Villet has been kind enough to send me a copy. It's a model of its kind, guiding the collector and connoisseur through a bewildering number of "states" of each of Lalanne's prints, which are almost never hand-signed and numbered as they might be today.

Maxime Lalanne, À Séville
Etching, 1866
Villet 33, state iv/VI

François Antoine Maxime Lalanne was born in Bordeaux in 1827, and died in Nogent-sur-Marne in 1886. A pupil of Jean-François Gigoux, he exhibited at the Salon de Paris from 1852-1886, chiefly etchings and charcoal drawings. His first prints in the 1850s were lithographs, but by 1862 he had switched to the newly-popular technique of etching (though interestingly he never embraced the use of aquatint, which enables the etcher to draw on tone as well as line in compositions). Maxime Lalanne was one of the earliest etchers of the French etching boom, and was commissioned by that movement's ringmaster, the publisher Alfred Cadart, to write his highly influential guide to the art of etching, Traité de la gravure à l'eau-forte, in 1866. Lalanne was one of the founding members of Cadart's Société des Aquafortistes in 1862, and the bulk of his etchings were published by Cadart or his successors.

Maxime Lalanne, Souvenir de Bordeaux
Etching, 1878
Villet 124, state iii/III

Maxime Lalanne was devoted to etching and drawing, and died with a stick of charcoal in his hand, despite suffering from the crippling bone disease osteomalacia. Despite all the praise he garnered in his lifetime, Lalanne's star faded with the arrival of Impressionism, besides which his meticulously detailed etchings began to seem fussy and overworked. The extent to which Lalanne's organization of his compositions results in a sense of harmony and balance that reflects the artist's individual vision, rather than simply recording what he saw, has only recently been recognized.

Maxime Lalanne, Le simoun
Etching after Eugène Fromentin, 1878
Villet 126, state iii/IV

After a long period of neglect, the gently perceptive and unfailingly harmonious art of Maxime Lalanne is once again appreciated.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A homemade etching

This is the first - and so far as I can tell, the last - etching by the Boston-based marine painter Walter Franklin Lansil. We know exactly how it was executed, from a description by Sylvester Rosa Koehler, the first curator of prints at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. Koehler writes: "It is eminently 'home-made.' The ground was prepared according to the recipe given; the points used were a sewing-needle and a knitting-needle; the tray in which it was etched was made of paper covered with stopping-out varnish; even the plate (a zink plate, by the way) did not come from the plate-maker, but was ground and polished at home."

Walter Franklin Lansil, Ships in Boston Harbor
Etching, 1879

Walter Franklin Lansil was born in Bangor, Maine, in 1846. He studied originally under J. P. Hardy in Bangor, alongside his younger brother Wilbur. In 1872 the brothers moved to Boston, which remained their base. However in 1888 they headed for Paris, to study at the Académie Julian. Walter F. Lansil was profoundly influenced not by the Impressionists but by their precursors, the plein-air artists of the Barbizon School, and also by the Barbizon painter of Venice, Félix Ziem. Although the bulk of Walter Lansil's work reflects his home territory on the coast of New England, he continued to visit and paint Venice for the rest of his life. Ships in Boston Harbor (also known as Vessels in Boston Harbor) was made in 1879, before his time in Paris, but already shows the Barbizon influence. Walter Franklin Lansil died in 1925.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Magnolia grandiflora

This voluptuous flower-maiden dates from 1885. At first glance you might take her for the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but he had died three years earlier.  His influence is certainly strongly present in this ravishing early work by George Woolliscroft Rhead.

George Woolliscroft Rhead, Magnolia grandiflora
Etching printed in brown, 1885

George Woolliscroft Rhead was born in North Staffordshire in 1855, into a family with a long association with the Potteries. His father, George Woolliscroft Rhead senior, was a talented pottery designer, and the younger George Woolliscroft Rhead and three of his siblings - Frederick Alfred, Louis John, and Fanny - were all apprenticed at Mintons. When Mintons set up an art pottery studio in Kensington in 1871, under the directorship of W. S. Coleman, George Woolliscroft Rhead moved to London to work there. He then gained a scholarship to study at the South Kensington School of Art. He studied painting under the Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown, and etching under the French master Alphonse Legros. A painter, etcher, and designer of stained glass and ceramics, George Woolliscroft Rhead was a central figure of the English Arts and Crafts Movement that arose from the Pre-Raphaelites. Especially talented as an etcher, he was elected RE in 1883. He was married twice, to Louise in 1894, and to the Scottish artist Annie French in 1914. His brother Frederick Alfred Rhead remained in the Potteries, and four of his children, including the designer Charlotte Rhead, followed him into ceramics. Louis John Rhead moved to New York in 1883, becoming an American citizen; he is regarded as one of the most important artists of American Art Nouveau. George Woolliscroft Rhead remained in London, where he died in 1920.