Friday, June 19, 2015

Esther M. Crawford

Until last month, I had never heard of Esther Mabel Crawford (1872-1958).   But then I found this little woodblock print (4 3/8” x 6 ½") at Steven Thomas, Inc.’s website, which I immediately knew I had to add to my collection, and I began to scour the Internet to find out more about her career.

Old Canal, Kioto (c. 1908-1910)
Personal Collection

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Esther Crawford attended the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1894-1898 under Lewis H. Meakin, Thomas Noble, and Joseph H. Sharp.  In 1900, she studied at the Académie Carmen with James Whistler and Alphonse Mucha.  In 1901, she spent time at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she studied with Arthur Wesley Dow and Otto Walter Beck, and she also attended the South Kensington School of Design in London.  From 1904 to 1906, Crawford taught art at the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, Illinois, and lectured on and off throughout the aughts at the University of Chicago.  She also studied with B.J.O. Nordfeldt in Chicago, an association that would have had to have taken place prior to Nordfeldt’s departure for Europe in 1908.

At some point between 1908 and 1910, Crawford traveled to Japan and China.  She appears to have returned to Chicago by January 1911, as she exhibited three oil paintings from her Asian trip at an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (January 31 - February 26, 1911).  Thirty-six of her Japanese landscapes were exhibited by the Dubuque Art Association in March 1911.  Then, at another exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (May 9, 1911 - June 7, 1911), Crawford exhibited two woodblock prints:  “Old Canal, Kioto” (believed to be the print shown above) and “Rothenberg.”


As Crawford’s Rothenberg print is not dated, one wonders in light of its subject matter whether it might have been executed prior to her residence in Illinois.  Crawford made at least one other woodblock print depicting a European landscape, “Old Venice,” that probably dates to the same time period as “Rothenberg.” 

 Old Venice

In the fall of 1911, Crawford took a position in the art department of the State Normal School in Los Angeles, California (now UCLA).  She once again exhibited “Old Canal, Kioto” in 1915 at a show held by The Print Makers of Los Angeles (later the Printmakers Society of California).  She also participated in the Southern California Panama Exposition in San Diego in 1915, winning a Bronze Medal -- although I have yet to determine exactly what paintings or prints she exhibited there or what piece won her a medal.  She became a member of the California Art Club and exhibited there on and off until over the course of the next twenty years.

By the end of the decade, Crawford had left the faculty of the State Normal School and she seems to have spent the following decade traveling and painting landscapes.  In addition to painting California landscapes, she also spent time in Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii.   Crawford returned to Japan in 1922, where she is reported to have studied, although I have no idea what she studied or under whom she received instruction.  She also made a return trip to China in 1929, which resulted in a number of oil paintings of Chinese landscapes.
In The Forbidden City (1929)

China (1929)

“Old Canal, Kioto” clearly shows Dow’s influence, both in style and in size.  Compare it, for example, with Dow’s “Gables by the Old Bridge” print, especially in the green-gray color palette.   (Having never seen two copies of any single Crawford print, I have no idea if she, like Dow, varied colors from print to print.)  She might have also been familiar with Nordfeldt’s 1906 print, “The Bridge,” although that is a far more mature work.  One can also see echoes of Dow’s “The Clam House” and “The Old Bridge” in her “Rothenberg” print.

Gables by the Old Bridge (c. 1893) by Arthur W. Dow

Crawford produced at least one other woodblock print as a result of her first trip to Japan, a piece known by the title “Cherry Trees.”  It is, in my opinion, her most interesting print by far, as she seems to be trying to crawl out from under Dow’s shadow and inject the scene with her own personal synthesis of Japanese aesthetics.  It appears to be her only print bearing a cartouche in the lower left corner that, while unclear, looks like a stylized version of her initials.  Her depiction of the trees and figures may well have been somewhat informed by Nordfeldt’s 1906 prints of “The Village Green, Twilight,” “The Tree,” and “Mist, The Anglers,” but that is certainly not a bad thing.

 Cherry Trees (c. 1908-1910)

If I had encountered Crawford’s “Cherry Trees” unsigned in a dealer’s bin, my immediate reaction would have been that it was an early work by some late Meiji or early Taisho era sosaku hanga artist like Tsuruta Goro.  (By way of comparison, Tsuruta’s 1917 print “Fishing” is shown below.)  “Cherry Trees” is simultaneously both modern and crude, romantic without being cloyingly sweet.  It obviously lacks the carving and printing finesse of the master artisans employed by the shin hanga publishing houses, but it is not without charm.  While her rather static “Old Canal, Kioto” print is devoid of figures, it is hard to imagine her “Cherry Trees” print without the inclusion of the two women in the park.

Fishing (1917) by Tsuruta Goro

Steven Thomas -- the source of the images of the four Crawford woodblock prints depicted above -- informs me that another woodblock print by Crawford exists of an unspecified mountain landscape.  It’s doubtful that she produced many more designs, so we can only wonder how she might have developed as a woodblock print artist if she had continued to work in that genre.  A tantalizing suggestion might be found in this 1940s silk screen print by Crawford called “Homeward Bound,” which reminds me of certain woodblock prints by William S. Rice and Frances Gearhart.  

 Homeward Bound (c. 1940s)

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fritz Steinert

From 1904 until his retirement in 1930, Emil Orlik was the head of the department for graphic art and book illustration at the Academy of the Museum of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) in Berlin. There he taught countless students over the years in the fundamentals of woodblock carving and printing, etching, and lithography, many of whom would became notable graphic artists in their own right.   However, unlike Orlik, few of his students ever travelled to the Far East and even fewer seem to have depicted Asian subject matter in their prints.   A notable exception, however, was the little-known German artist Fritz Steinert (1891-1981).

Self-Portrait (1968)
(oil painting)

I have only two Steinert woodblock prints in my collection (one acquired in 2017) and I knew virtually nothing about this artist beyond a couple of landscape paintings that I had seen come up for auction when I started to draft this post in 2015.  However, thanks to the efforts of the Austrian scholar Peter Pantzer, I recently learned about a memoir that Steinert published shortly before his death under the title “Zwishen Kunst und Kommiß.”  In the course of tracking a copy of that memoir down, I also found a small, undated monograph by E. Benner entitled “Fritz Steinert Bilder Zeichnungen.”  (All the black and white woodblock prints featured in this entry are from these two sources.)

Per Peter Pantzer, Steinert, at age 16, was accepted to the art school attached to the Museum of Applied Arts in 1907.   There he met Emil Orlik, who became a major influence on his early work, became exposed to Japanese prints, and developed an affection for the Far East.  At age 20, like other German young men at that time, Steinert had to complete compulsory military service.  He elected to join the Marine Corps and, in 1911, opted for deployment in the German colony Tsingtao in China.  (Orlik made his second trip to China in 1912, but I have not found any evidence that the two met up with each other there.)
 Kuli in Tsingtau (c. 1911-1913)
(woodblock print)

At least two woodblock prints by Steinert depicting Chinese scenes are known to exist, “Kuli in Tasingtau” and “Mandschoujunge.”  The former is rather crude and undistinguished, but the portrait of the Chinese boy is surprisingly powerful, all the more so perhaps because of its economy of line.  It is reminiscent of Orlik’s color woodblock print portraits of a decade earlier.  Steinert appears to have adopted Orlik's convention of dating the print according to when it was sold or given away, rather than made.  Although my copy is dated 1970, a version dated 1913 is known to exist.

Mandschoujung (1913)
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

After about two years in Tsingtao, Steinert’s compulsory service was up and he decided to sail to Japan in 1913 on a freighter called the “Daibutsu maru.”  The details of Steinert’s stay in Japan are sketchy.  He spent time at least Kobe and Kyoto, where he went to visited temples, geisha houses, and theatres and saw hundreds of woodblock prints and paintings by important Japanese artists.  He made at least two woodblock prints while in Japan.  One, “Kyoto,” is a rather prosaic depiction of a Japanese torii, probably made shortly upon his arrival.

Kyoto (1913)
(woodblock print)

But Steinert’s other print is a surprise -- a multicolor woodblock bust portrait of a geisha seen from behind that is head and shoulders above his Torii print (no pun intended).

Japanerin (1913)
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

My copy of the geisha print is inscribed “Japanerin” in pencil at the lower left of the sheet (not shown), but it is unclear if this title was written by Steinert or by a subsequent dealer or collector.  Since Steinert was in Japan at the time, a natural question would be if he had any assistance in carving or printing this design, as Orlik did with his own woodblock prints made in Japan.  Given the small image size (14.8 cm x 10.3 cm), the color bleed outside the margin, some unprinted areas around the outline of the hair and collar, and break in the margin line in the upper left, I think we can safely assume that this print was entirely Steinert’s handiwork.  (The wildly uneven baren work on the Mandschoujung print also suggests that it was self-printed.)

Steinert’s memoir contains the following passage (which I have inartfully translated from the original German into English) that could very well be discussing the actual model for this print:  In order to draw the extremely picturesque costume of the Japanese, I got through the mediation of my hoteliers a petite Geisha rented from a geisha house for 10 yen, who then stood patiently and modeled for me.  Noteworthy was the hairstyle of this Japanese woman which was very elaborately decorated with silver and heavy glossy paper jewelry and which took a long time to style. Since the Japanese woman has her head lying on a headrest at night, this structure is protected.”

Advertising Poster (1911) by Kitano Tsunetomi
Personal Collection

Steinert’s decision to forgo depicting the woman’s face may have been partly a matter of expediency, but it nonetheless seems apparent that he wanted to focus the viewer’s attention on the woman’s hairstyle.   Readers should also know that the Japanese regarded a woman’s neck to be an erogenous zone, and that showing the geisha’s red undergarment peeking out through the collar of her kimono would be considered mildly titillating.  It is also possible that Steinert was inspired by similar perspectives of  Japanese women depicted by Japanese artists, such as in this contemporaneous crayon lithograph advertising poster designed in 1911 by one of my favorite Japanese artists, the Osaka bijin-ga painter and woodblock print designer Kitano Tsunetomi (1880-1947).

Japanese Mother and Child (c. 1913)
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

It is not exactly clear how long Steinert stayed in Japan -- probably until he ran out of money -- and it appears he returned to Germany via Russia by the end of 1913.  He briefly resumed his studies with Orlik in Berlin, studies that were soon to be interrupted by  the outbreak of the First World War.  Had he stayed in the Marine Corps in Tsingtao, he undoubtedly would have spent the duration of the war in a P.O.W. camp in Japan.  After the war, Steinert became an art teacher until he ran afoul of the Nazi regime and lost his position.  He also served in the Second World War, after which he moved to Bavaria, where he lived until the end of his life.  He appears to have continued to make expressionist black and white woodblock prints off and on throughout his career, and also he also dabbled in lithography.  Retirement, however, allowed him to concentrate on oil painting, especially portraits and plein air landscapes.

Spring Flowers in Glass Vase (1975)
Courtesy of Graves International Art

Maria in Vietnam
Courtesy of Graves International Art
(woodblock print)

Selbstbildnis mit Tod (c. 1970s?)
Courtesy of Graves International Art
(woodblock print)

If any reader is aware of other woodblock prints by Steinert featuring Asian subject matter (or has any of the above black and white designs for sale), please let me know. 

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Emil Orlik and Japan -- New 2015 Exhibition

Beginning August 23rd and continuing until November 22, 2015, there will be an Orlik exhibition at the Museum Schloss Moyland called "Emil Orlik und Japan: Aus dem Land der aufgehenden Sonne (Emil Orlik and Japan: From the Land of the Rising Sun)."  The exhibition will present virtually all of Orlik's Japanese graphics (woodblock prints, etchings, and lithographs), plus a selection of his related notebook sketches and paintings.  This is the third major Orlik exhibition in Germany in as many years, following similar themed shows in Hamburg and Regensburg.

Hand-painted Postcard (1900) by Emil Orlik
Personal Collection

The exhibition in Schloss Moyland will be based primarily on the Orlik collection of Peter Voss-Andreae, as was the show in Hamburg in 2013.  However, it will include 23 pieces from my own Orlik collection, including preparatory drawings and paintings for some of Orlik's prints, some rare etchings, and a number of hand-illustrated postcards.  I've also loaned two woodblock prints and corresponding preparatory drawings by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912) to illustrate the state of woodblock printing at the time of Orlik's first trip to Japan in 1900, plus a 1903 book print by Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921), believed to be the first instance of a Japanese artist employing the ex libris concept that Orlik introduced to the Japanese.

 Hand-painted Postcard (1900) by Emil Orlik
Personal Collection

"Dämmerung" (1901), oil on board by Emil Orlik
Personal Collection

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