Monday, January 19, 2015

Frederik Landseer Griggs 1876-1938

My interest in the work of F.L. Griggs began a little after I had purchased my first etchings of Samuel Palmer and began to investigate some the artists who had come under his spell.  I first purchased Griggs small etching titled Laneham (1923) and have slowly built up a modest collection of his work. Griggs was many things to different people. For me he was a great draughtsman who possessed a unique poetic vision of English architecture. Sometimes the architecture he drew inspiration from was imaginary and was channelled from the an unspoilt past age; etchings like Saras and Priory Farm are examples of this preoccupation. The marks he drew onto the plates were often quite intricate and like Palmer in many of his plates he has overlayed successive etched layers of marks to create rich dark passages while still allowing small areas of white to glint through.

As well as making magnificent etchings, drawings and watercolours, Griggs was also a flawless printmaking technician who at various times was able to assist and encourage young British printmakers in the making and proving of their plates. On the 30th of November 1926 Paul Drury and Graham Sutherland made a journey to Grigg’s home in Chipping Campden where the elder printmaker assisted them in printing their recent etching plates.  Sutherland wrote later, “It was Griggs as an enthusiast and technician from whom perhaps we gained most. A master printer of the copper plate, with infinite knowledge and patience, he had a palm as delicate as gossamer”  [the side of the palm is often used in the final stages of traditional plate wiping techniques]  (Drury, 2006: 58)
During the latter years of his life Griggs was involved in an ongoing battle to save many of the ancient buildings and land (Dover Hill) in the Chipping Camden area from demolition and developers. He spent much of his own funds to preserve a number of buildings of historic importance.  He died during the great depression when print prices in general had fallen and many artists were struggling to make a living. Unfortunately Griggs did not see a resurgence of interest in his marvellous etchings.

Laneham, etching (1923)
This small etching was part of Print Collectors Club commission members print. Griggs used part of Church Laneham, Nottinghamshire as the subject, one of the church subjects he had previously drawn for Highways and Byways. A delicate light can be observed falling on the walls of the church and a partly shadowed figure can be seen either resting or praying inside the porch of the church.

Sarras, etching. (1926) 
 After a new year’s eve feast with the Campden parish church bell ringers, Griggs began a pencil sketch of Sarras.
“On 2 February 1927 he wrote to his friend Russell Alexander of “visualising Sarras as a walled City with three large churches as the very centre of it. ‘I’ve tried for the utmost beauty of effect in aged Gothic, & outside the town harshness and danger, but beauty even there… My view is that the city itself is hidden & mystical - & all that our highest ideals would paint it.’ The concealment of inner world from outer- the opposition of them- touched the centre of Grigg’s art now. “ (Moore, 1999: 181)
Although Griggs began Sarras early in 1927 he continued to work on the plate until it was finally completed in May 1928. He described the making of the etching as “like a pilgrimage to the place itself… all stoney and difficult” (Moore, 1999: 204)
St Ippolyts, etching. (1927)
Both the Sarras and St Ippolyts etchings relate to each other. The making of each etching overlap in time and both were also made during a very turbulent and stressful period in the artist’s life when he was building his grand home in Chipping Campden. Both etchings are also integrally linked to the visionary imagery that the artist pursued.
In another letter to Alexander Griggs explains, “St Ippolyts is one of the places that pilgrims to Sarras see, & I don’t think it’s very far away. For me it’s in the heart of that lost country- oh God, how lovely it was! There was a wonderful road, difficult to find, it seemed to have no beginning & I, for one never knew the end.”  (Moore, 1999: 200)
 In St Ippolytes Griggs has described the three lambs as symbolic of his three children. It is worth considering that the elderly pilgrim or shepherd  with his burden may be a  symbol of the artist on his journey to his visionary Sarras.

Cockayne, etching. (1936)
This etching  was made two years before the artists death and is an imaginary image of London during Shakespeare’s time. The later  states of the etching include a subtle clouded sky and the massive church tower in the distance. The drawing it is based on is in the collection of the Boston Public Library. In the etching Griggs uses heavier areas of tone and strong shadows. This foces our eye to move up toward the lighter more ethereal areas of the cloud and the church tower at the top of the composition.
Drawing of a Pegola at Crowborough, pen and ink. 1908
During his life Griggs made many illustrations for different books and Journals; the most famous being the Highways and Byways travel series. The drawing above was made for an article in volume 44 of the 1908 edition of  International Studio.  The article was titled International Gardening by the British architect, C.E. Mallows F.R.I.B.A.  and became a continuing feature in future issues. Griggs also continued to produce many drawings for Mallows articles.

International Studio 1908 volume 44. P 182
 The caption beneath the illustration reads, "Pegola at Crowborough designed for Mary Duchess of Sutherland by C.E. Mallows.F.R.I.B.A. From a pen drawing by F.L.E. Griggs.” The article also includes the architectural plans for the stately building but  so far I have not been able to find whether the building was ever constructed.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gerald Brockhurst (1890-1978)

When I first came across the etchings of Gerald Brockhurst  I was surprised that he was British born. I had guessed he was from Germany or a Scandinavian country because of the way his etchings were so precise and focused. I initially responded to the intensity he achieved in many of his etched portraits where the central part of the face contains an extraordinary sense of focus and detail. At that time the only other artist who rivalled Brockhurst’s sense of detail was the US born John Taylor Arms.( 1887-1953) In regard to Brockhurst, Taylor Arms notes that,” a greater control of tools of his craft he cannot covet and a more acute and accurate pair of eyes in not within human capabilities.” (Fletcher,1984:13) 

Amanda No1 ( Marguérite) etching 1920
In the text to the Brockhurst catalogue Raisonne titled “Complex Simplicity”,  the author William Dolan fletcher explains how the perfection and beauty of the artist’s etchings,    
“bespeak Brockhurst’s mastery in laying a superb ground, his unmatched skill in biting the plate, and his precision in using a burin perfectly honed to his demand. Of him it must be said, there are no imitators! He is unique possessing keen eyesight, an uncanny sense of proportion, and decorative line, with total control of the medium at all times”. (Fletcher,1984:13)

The Author suggests that Brockhust was a very private and independent person who from the age of ten fashioned and directed everything about him, from his art, his tools, his skill, his discipline. “All was personal and private and for those who knew him best he could be friend and stranger” (Fletcher,1984:11)
Xenia (Marguérite)etching 1923
 Most of Brockhurst’s etched portraits are predominantly of two women, his first wife Anais Folin  and her sister Marguérite Folin. Three of the etchings from the collection illustrated in this post are of Anais or Marguérite while the last etching of the “Amberley Boy No2”

The Amberley Boy No2, etching 1928

Cambell Fine Art web catalogue suggests that,
“The Amberley Boy, No.2 has always been one of the most sought after of this gifted etcher’s works. This beautifully handled etched portrait of a coy young peasant lad repeats a subject which Gerald Leslie Brockhurst had attempted in 1920 and which exists in only 3 proof impressions. The earlier etching had been abandoned at an early stage after the artist recorded the plate as “spoiled” (it was destroyed in the printing press). Fortunately, no such mishap occurred to this second plate which proved to be one of the most successful of all of G.L.Brockhurst’s portraits of children.                                                                                        (

Young Womanhood (Anais) etching 1931
In "Young Womanhood" the  female figure as well as the landscape behind her are exquisitely beautiful. The eye notices the differences between  the stark emptiness of the sky against the rich tapestry of marks representing the figure and landscape.  This etching as well as "Adolescence" and "Black Silk Dress" are thought to be three of Brockhurst's greatest works. In Complex Simplicity, William Dolan Fletcher states that they... "Stand as epics in the history of printmaking".

Friday, May 9, 2014

Paul Drury, four more etchings

In recent months I have been excited to add four more Paul Drury etchings to the collection. The first, a recent purchase is followed by three exquisite etchings which were a generous gift from an overseas colleague and friend.

The first etching titled “On Box Hill” 1933 is annotated on the etching as a third state. After reflecting on this and consulting Robin Garton’s catalogue raisonné it seems that it may be an impression from the final (9th) state which was printed in a small edition of about twenty impressions. In the year the etching was made Drury produced two other etchings, “Woodland Path”, and “March Morning” (a plate dedicated to F.L.Griggs)

In Jolyon Drury’s, “Revelation to Revolution- The Legacy of Samuel Palmer” (2006), the author explains how “On Box Hill” and “Woodland Path” are Drury’s response to Sutherland’s “Wood Interior [etching 1928] with his trees becoming more sinuous, prototypes for work twenty years on.”  The author describes that in comparison to “Wood Interior” Drury’s prints are “sunny not dark.”
In both of Drury’s etchings of Box Hill, there is a lightness of touch which describes the complexity of the dappled shadows formed from the effect of the strong sunlight bouncing through the trees. The plants seem to bask in the sunlight. The artist uses sinuous etched lines in the shrubs and trees and in foreground section of “On Box Hill” to describe the growth and lushness of the landscape he was experiencing. 

On Box Hill 1933
The two etchings illustrated below titled “Mickleham Yews III” and “Forms in a Wood” were both made in 1950-1 and are part of a series that Drury began in the late 1940’s. The early etchings of the series were made on zinc plates while “Mickleham Yews III” and ”Forms in a Wood” were on copper. Both etchings are printed in a warm black ink which helps to bring warmth to these mysterious images. These etchings relate well to each other. Both seem to enclose the viewer and tempt them to enter the complex layers of foliage into a central patch of sunlight while also warning them of the possible danger they may experience if they act.
Mickleham Yews III, 1950
 In the “Mickleham Yews III” a large leaf sits like a jewel basking in the sunlight in the central section but to get to the leaf one needs to pass the trunk of a tree with its hostile teeth bared. Beyond the leaf the path continues around a large tree into another area of sunlight in the distance. In “Revelation to Revolution-The Legacy of Samuel Palmer” Jolyon Drury suggests that this plate, “ is a true bridge from his pre-war pastoral work, now exploring bold forms such as the inverted leaf out of proportion and startlingly illuminated by the otherwise sombre pathway.”  (Drury, 2006: 155)

Forms in a Wood 1950-51

“Forms in a Wood”, a soft ground etching which followed is spatially more ambiguous. Its overlapping forms create a mysterious world inhabited by organic forms twisting through the forest floor and canopy.  Instead of the crocodile like form barring the way in “Mickleham Yews III”  the traveller entering “Forms in the Wood" must pass through a different obstacle. 

  Printmaker and writer Michael Blaker remarks on this in his commentary accompanying Robin Garton’s Memorial portfolio (1996)
“In ‘Forms in the Wood’ we can see the most delicate biting as the sun strikes through and a daring strength in the contrasting darks of the foreground leaves. There is a strange element of lyrical surrealism about the mysterious plate, and the gentle quality seems offset by the sinister piece of barbed wire looming up and round like a threatening snake” (Drury, 2006: 157)

French Cemetery 1938
 The last plate I’m included in this post is the beautiful and poignant etching Drury made in 1938 titled “French Cemetery” made many years before the “Mickleham” series.  Its complex structure incorporates the use of delicate hard ground line in conjunction with subtle deftly controlled passages of aquatint.  This ranges from the lightest of greys to darker areas of intense shadows. To my eye some of the delicate areas of aquatint were achieved through spit biting while other areas with harder edges were shaped through an acid resistant block out. 

In his commentary accompanying Robin Garton’s Memorial portfolio (1996) Michael Blaker perceptively notes that French Cemetery is one of the most,
“out –of- character images of Drury’s work. Not that it lacks (of course) expertise, observation and powerful originality- and Drury’s work is always full of interest- but it can be so disturbed… the anguish in the Cemetery is not merely to do with the subject. It is positively fierce. The stone head of the dead Frenchman on the marble scroll is like a Munich era premonition of the fall of France.” (Drury, 2006: 114)