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.

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