Friday, November 20, 2015

Al Hirschfeld: Kabuki Portraits

Albert ("Al") Hirschfeld (1903-2003) may not be a name familiar to many fine print or Japanese art collectors, unless they happen to be regular readers of the New York Times or theatre devotees.  Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hirschfeld's family later moved to New York City, where Hirschfeld attended vocational school, took classes at the National Academy of Design, and played on a semi-pro baseball team with Lou Gehrig.  (In 1926, Hirschfeld also took a class in etching taught by Eugene Fitsch at the Arts Students League of New York.)  An apprenticeship requirement for graduation from his vocational school led to a gofer position at Goldwyn studios in 1920, which brought him the attention of Howard Dietz, Goldwyn's (and later M-G-M's) publicity and advertising director and a soon-to-be Broadway lyricist.  Hirschfeld began to receive regular assignments illustrating film advertisements in newspapers and magazines at Goldwyn and later Universal studios.  By 1923, Hirschfeld was the art director for publicity at Selznick Pictures, until it went bankrupt in 1924.  In October 1925 he left for Paris, where over the next six months or so he studied painting, drawing, and sculpture and traveled to such places as Spain, North Africa, and Sicily.


Al Hirschfeld (1955), photographed by Carl Van Vechten

Upon Hirschfeld's return to the United States, the famous Broadway press agent Richard Maney showed one of Hirschfeld's drawings to an editor at the New York Herald Tribune, which resulted in him getting commissions from that newspaper.  For the next twenty years, he would cover theatrical productions for the Herald Tribune, providing caricatures of the plays' stars that usually appeared on the Sunday before the play was to open.  Starting in 1928, Hirschfeld would also provide similar duties for The New York Times, an association that would ultimately last 75 years.

The King and I with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner
in The New York Times (March 25, 1951) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

Hirschfeld also regularly designed movie posters and publicity artwork for M-G-M studio releases from 1927 until 1952, and produced countless illustrations of movie and television actors, singers, politicians, and other celebrities for a variety of publications over the years ranging from Life Magazine to TV Guide.  Most Americans over the age of 40 have likely encountered Hirschfeld's work in some venue, even if they were unaware of the artist's name.  Hirschfeld's style is distinctive and immediately recognizable.  He is, simply, the greatest caricaturist of the Twentieth Century, perhaps of any century.

Another Fine Mess (1930) by Al Hirschfeld
(poster)

Lucille Ball on the cover of TV Guide (November 2, 1957) by Al Hirschfeld
(gouache)

As a kid, I grew up in the sixties and seventies with Hirschfeld's drawings on the front page of the New York Times' Sunday Arts and Leisure section and on album covers for certain Broadway musicals.  About a dozen years ago, while starting my second decade of collecting Japanese art, I learned that Hirschfeld had made a number of Kabuki and Noh theatre portraits, which were commercially issued as signed lithographs.  It is about this little known aspect of his career that I would like to highlight in this post.

 My Fair Lady cast album cover (1956) by Al Hirschfeld

One of the turning points in Hirschfeld's life was a trip to Bali in 1932.  As discussed in David Leopold's recent book "The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age" (Alfred A. Knopf 2015), "[t]h Balinese sun seems to bleach out all color, leaving everything in pure line.  The people became line drawings walking around."  Hirschfeld thought it was "no accident that rich, lush painting flourishes in the fog of Europe, while graphic arts—from Egypt across Persia to India and all the way to the Pacific Island—is influenced by the sun . . . it was in Bali that my attraction to drawing blossomed into an enduring love affair with line."  Hirschfeld had discovered Japanese woodblock prints in the 1920s, probably during his trip to Paris, if not before, and his Bali experience gave him a much better understanding of Japanese woodblock prints.  "I am much more influenced by the drawings of Harunobu, Utamaro, and Hokusai than I am by the painters of the West."  Now Balinese sculpture, painting, and drawing became another major influence.  The other major consequence of Hirschfeld's Bali trip was his decision to abandon landscapes and thereafter only paint or draw portraits.
The Grand Kabuki with Nakamura Kansaburo XVII, Nakamura Utaemon VI,
and Onoe Shoroku II in The New York Times (May 29, 1960) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

Hirschfeld's first exposure to Kabuki theatre is not clear, but it is known that he saw  and drew a scene from a production of Koi-No-Yozakura ("Romance in Cherry Blossom Lane") that was mounted by the Japanese Theatre Association at the Booth Theatre in New York City for two weeks in 1930.  Led by the actor-manager Tokujiro Tsutsui, the troupe performed revised versions of Kabuki masterworks beefed up with additional scenes of swordplay, Tsutsui's specialty.  It is also known that Hirschfeld saw the Grand Kabuki when it came to New York City in 1960, although it is certainly possible that he had seen other classical kabuki plays at some earlier point.  He would again document another kabuki performance by the Grand Kabuki in 1969.

 
Ichikawa Ebizo IV (Danjuro V) as Takemura Sadanoshin 
in "Koi Nyobo Somewake Tazuna" (May 1794) by Toshusai Sharaku
(woodblock print)

In 1975, Hirschfeld went to Sardi's where he ran into his friend, the composer Harold Rome, who introduced him to the head of Newsweek in Japan.  [Little known fact:  Harold Rome's adopted son Joshua is a woodblock print artist who spent 25 years living near Kyoto.]  Two weeks after being asked by the Newsweek editor if he'd like to go to Japan, Hirschfeld received a letter from a Japanese foundation offering him an all-expense paid trip to Japan to do drawings of Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku puppet theatre.  "Coming to Japan and seeing traditional theater is full circle for me" because "[m]y work is greatly influenced by the Japanese woodblock printers [sic: print artists], Sharaku and Utamaro, who in turn were influenced by Kabuki.  Now I am here finally drawing the theatrical forms which have had great influences on my work."  He would later say that he was "closer to Japanese art than most Japanese" because most contemporary Japanese artists "are influenced by the New York school, while I have been influenced by Hokusai and Utamaro."

Iwai Hanshirôo IV as Shigenoi in 'Koinyôbô Somewake Tazuna" (1794)
by Toshusai Sharaku
(woodblock print)

Upon his return to the States, Hirschfeld composed a series of black and white drawings of everything from a geisha girl to sumo wrestlers.  In 1976, he designed a suite of 12 lithographs printed by George J. Goodstadt, Inc., commonly referred to as the Kabuki series, based on his original gouaches.  (Hirschfeld was no stranger to lithography, having made his own stone lithographs in his studio from the late 1920s to the early 1940s.)  The edition size for the Kabuki series was 275, with an additional deluxe edition of 25 printed on Japon Nacre paper.  As David Leopold has noted, Hirschfeld used an abundance of color in these prints, suggesting the flat colors of the woodblock prints that he admired so much.  I've reproduced the entire Kabuki series below; in many cases I have contrasted Hirschfeld's work with those of either contemporary or classical ukiyo-e woodblock print artists.

Sukeroku (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
Personal Collection
(lithograph)

Ichikawa Omezo as Hanagawado no Sukeroku (1806) by Utagawa Toyokuni I
(woodblock print)

Kochiyama (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
Personal Collection
(lithograph)

Nakamura Shikan VII as Kuzunoha in "Kuzunoha" (July 1986),
from the series Bust Portraits V, "Six Busts of Female Role Specialists" by Tsuruya Kokei
 Courtesy of http://tsuruya-koukei.com
(woodblock print)

Bunraku (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)
 
 Fuji (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

Wisteria Maiden (Fuji musume) and Demon Chanting the Name of the Buddha
(Oni no nenbutsu), from the series "Souvenir Paintings from Ôtsu miyage" (c. 1802-1803)
by Kitagawa Utamaro
(woodblock print) 
   
 Hanjo (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

Study for the print Hanjo (March 1925) from the series
"One Hundred No Dramas (Nôgaku hyakuban)" by Tsukioka Kogyo
Personal Collection
(ink with watercolor)

Kanonko (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)


Bando Tamasaburo in "Musume Dojoji" (September 1995) by Paul Binnie
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)
 
Musume (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

 Yoshizawa Enjirô as a Shirabyôshi Dancer, with Matsumoto Kôshirô V and
Sawamura Gennosuke as Priests (1807) by Utagawa Toyokuni I
(woodblock print)

Renjishi (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

 Red and White Shishi Dancers (1983) by Mori Yoshitoshi
Courtesy of the Ronin Gallery
(stencil print)

 
 Kyo (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

Shibaraku (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

 Genroku Mie (The Genroku Pose in Shibaraku) (1994) by Paul Binnie
Personal Collection
(stencil print)

 Sumano (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

Sugawara (1976), from the Kabuki Series by Al Hirschfeld
(lithograph)

Arashi Kichisaburô III as Matsuômaru (R), Jitsukawa Enzaburô I as Umeômaru (C),
and Bandô Hikosaburô V as Sakuramaru (L), in Act 3 of "Sugawara Tenarai Kagami"
(1859) by Utagawa Yoshitaki
(woodblock print)

1976 was coincidentally the year that Stephen Sondheim's and John Weidman's musical "Pacific Overtures," which dealt with the opening of Japan to the West, premiered on Broadway.  Hirschfeld drew members of the cast for the Sunday New York Times the week after the show opened.

Pacific Overtures in The New York Times (January 18, 1976) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

Hirschfeld would again draw members of the Grand Kabuki when they returned to New York City in 1977, 1979, 1982, and 1985.

Tomijuro Nakamura V of the Grand Kabuki 
in The New York Times (February 16, 1979) by Al Hirschfeld
 (ink drawing)

The Grand Kabuki with Nakamura Kanzaburo, Nakamura Utaemon, Ichikawa Ebizo,
and Nakamura Tomijuro in The New York Times (June 27, 1982) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

The Grand Kabuki with Ichikawa Danjuro XII, Kataoka Takao, Onoe Tatsunosuke I, Bando Tamasaburo, and Onoe Shoroku II in The New York Times (July 7, 1985) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

In preparing this post, I noticed a few things about Hirschfeld's Kabuki series that I had not fully appreciated before.  First, a large number of the designs depict famous kabuki dance roles. No doubt this is in part because the moments captured are highly theatrical.  But it is also probably because throughout his professional life Hirschfeld seemed to particularly enjoy drawing dancers, whether they were appearing in Broadway musicals or in ballet companies.  Dance was also the subject that lured Hirschfeld back to lithography in 1970 after nearly a thirty-year absence when he printed his Rhythm series of dance portraits.

John Lithgow in M. Butterfly in The New York Times (May 27, 1988) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

Second, Hirschfeld's theatre drawings for the New York Times tend to be first and foremost about the particular actors showcased in the play/movie/show and only secondarily (if at all) about the specific roles that they are playing.  For example, Hirschfeld's drawing of John Lithgow in the play M. Butterfly could be Lithgow in almost any role.  Hirschfeld's Kabuki series, however, are primarily (perhaps entirely) about the characters, not the performers portraying those characters.  Of course, the very nature of classical Japanese theatre with its stylized makeup, wigs, and costumes inherently leads to somewhat formalized, rather than highly individualized, characterizations.  Indeed, in the case of certain Noh theatre plays, the use of masks hides the actor's face altogether from the audience, as in the "Hanjo" print.

Kabuki Head Study (1975) by Al Hirschfeld
(watercolor)

Moreover, although the prints may have been inspired by actual performances that Hirschfeld saw in Japan, no specific actor is ever identified.  Maybe certain Japanese actors might be readily identifiable to serious students of Kabuki, but they bring no flash of recognition to a Kabuki neophyte such as myself.  Again, I think the key lies with Hirschfeld's Rhythm series, where the focus was on the dance style depicted, not on any particular dancer performing the steps.  Here, Hirschfeld's focus is on the archetypal Kabuki and Noh roles, probably because he knew that his Western clientele likely wouldn't recognize the Japanese actors anyway or be motivated to purchased the prints because of the specific actor depicted.  Instead, their beauty and charm is seeing these Japanese stock roles filtered through Hirschfeld's eyes.
B.D. Wong in M. Butterfly in The New York Times (September 16, 1988) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

If there is one woodblock printmaker alive today who embodies a synthesis of Sharaku and Hirschfeld, that would be Tsuruya Kokei.  Kokei did not begin to make kabuki woodprint prints until 1978, which would have been after Hirschfeld visited Japan.  (He stopped making kabuki prints altogether in 2000, although he has recently started to make yaso-e (gather together) prints.)  It's doubtful that Kokei has ever seen Hirschfeld's Kabuki series, although it's possible that he may have encountered one of Hirschfeld's other drawings at some point in his life.  But, like Hirschfeld, Kokei uses line in an economical fashion to produce extremely vivid and highly recognizable caricatures of contemporary Japanese kabuki stage actors in the woodblock print medium.


 Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Hanakawado Sukeroku in "Sukeroku" (June 1985), 
from the series "A Selection of Six Aragoto Characters - 
the Name-taking Ceremony of Ichikawa Danjuro XII" by Tsuruya Kokei
 Courtesy of http://tsuruya-koukei.com
(woodblock print)

Onoe Baiko VII as Masaoka in "Sendai Hagi" (October 1990) by Tsuruya Kokei
Courtesy of http://tsuruya-koukei.com
(woodblock print)

It is well-known to fans of Hirschfeld's work that virtually all of his drawings made after the birth in 1945 of his daughter, Nina, contain at least one "NINA" buried somewhere in the drawing.  However, it does not appear that he incorporated any NINAs in his Kabuki series guoaches and lithographs.  Certainly I've never been able to find any in my copies of "Sukeroku" and "Kochiyama."  And believe me, I've tried.

Self-Portrait at 98 (June 21, 2001) by Al Hirschfeld
(ink drawing)

My thanks to David Leopold for sharing his knowledge about Hirschfeld's life and to the Al Hirschfeld Foundation for graciously allowing me to reproduce Al Hirschfeld's work in this post.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lowell Stanley Bobleter: A Mystery in Minnesota

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across an untitled print by accident on eBay that depicted a procession of Chinese men before a temple.  It was made by Lowell Stanley Bobleter (1902-1973), a Minnesotan print maker I had never heard of.  A quick search on eBay immediately turned up a second Bobleter drypoint of a Korean man.  These, it seemed, were the by-products of a man who had traveled to the Far East at some point.  Further on-line research revealed that Bobleter was a relatively prolific print maker with over 215 etchings and drypoints to his name.  Were there other Asian prints to be had by Bobleter?  What was his story?

The Coke Plant (January 1931) by Lowell Bobleter
Minnesota Historical Society Collection
(drypoint etching)

What I learned explained the reason for Bobleter's obscurity: he was a victim of really bad timing.  Although he has been recently "rediscovered" in certain circles as a Minnesota print artist, Bobleter largely remains a relatively unknown artist to most print collectors.  This is a man who, upon taking up etching, almost immediately became one of the most highly praised regional American print makers of his day.  The only problem was that Bobleter's first print was produced in 1930 at a time when the world was entering the Great Depression.  If the middle class had any disposable income to speak of during the 1930s, few spent their money on prints and it was the rare print maker indeed who was able to support himself or herself solely from the sales of etchings or drypoints.  By the time that the Depression was over, the etching revival was all but dead.

How About the Mortgage? (August 1935) by Lowell Bobleter
Minnesota Historical Society Collection
(drypoint etching)

Although born in New Ulm, Minnesota, Bobleter grew up in St. Paul where, by age 17, he was working as a clerk in a coke refinery.  From 1923 to 1925, he studied drawing at the St. Paul School of Fine Arts in his off-hours, and subsequently studied etching with the St. Paul artist George E. Resler.  Resler stopped making etchings in 1930 and Bobleter acquired Resler's press.  Bobleter's earliest works were largely academic exercises used to master the technique of etching.  By July 1930, however, he had sufficiently mastered the rudiments of drypoint and had abandoned etching altogether.  His notable prints at this time depicted local urban subjects such as the St. Paul riverfront and the coke plant where he worked.  As the Depression worsened, Bobleter would occasionally design WPA-like sociological/political prints showing closed factories, abandoned farmers, and people unsure about how they will be able to pay their mortgages.  By the end of the decade, he would also depict a number of Colorado ghost towns.

Idle (May 1939) by Lowell Bobleter
Minnesota Historical Society Collection
(drypoint etching)

At the same time, Bobleter also began to depict more rural landscapes depicting rolling hills, isolated farmhouses, and bleak Minnesotan winters.  As noted Bobleter scholar Julie L'Enfant notes in her monograph Patterns of Silence: The Prints of Lowell S. Bobleter in Minnesota History (Summer 2015), Bobleter "was inspired by Japanese prints to break away from illusionism (the use of linear perspective and chiaroscuro to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface) and move toward a more independent vision" where "[t]rees, hills, and river are depicted with strong outlines and sparingly placed tonal areas in a modern, flat style."

 Approaching Storm (July 1933) by Lowell Bobleter
Minnesota Historical Society Collection
(drypoint etching)

As I indicated, critical success came early to Bobleter.  For example, his print "Old Foundry" won the First Print Prize at the Minnesota State Fair in 1931.  Later that year, his print "Coal Tipples" was named one of the Fifty Prints of the Year by the American Society of Etchers.  "Silence" won first prize at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1936, was also listed in Fine Prints of the Year.  Bobleter's prints appeared in the Print Collectors Quarterly, and was featured in their Fine Prints, a booklet listing "thirty-seven of the most important American print makers," including John Taylor Arms, Wanda Gág, Armin Landeck, Martin Lewis, and Stow Wengenroth.

Silence (March 1936) by Lowell Bobleter
(drypoint etching)

By the early 1940s, Bobleter's primary attention and interest had shifted from printmaking to painting.  Many of the prints he did make during this period were commissioned work or blatantly commercial endeavors such as greeting card designs mass produced on steel or chrome-faced plates.  However, Bobleter's most important and lasting contribution to Minnesota's cultural life was as an educator.  While still working as a clerk/accountant, he served as the director of the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art from 1940 to 1942, and was an instructor at the fine arts program at Hamline University from 1942 to 1948.  In 1948, he purchased the Mills Academy of Art in downtown St. Paul and renamed it the School of Associated Arts (later known as the College of Visual Arts), where he was the school's president and taught art history until his death in 1973.

Lowell Bobleter (c. 1967)

No catalog raisonné currently exists for Bobleter's prints, but with Julie L'Enfant's help I was able to obtain a copy of a handwritten inventory of Bobleter prints compiled by the late Robert L. Crump based on records that Bobleter kept between 1930 and 1942.  This revealed that the Chinese temple scene was called "Come All Ye Faithful" and that it was printed in December 1935.  It was part of a projected edition of 25, although only 12 prints appeared to have made, 9 of which were used as Christmas cards.  (My copy appears to be one of the remaining three other copies.)


 Come All Ye Faithful (December 1935) by Lowell Bobleter
Personal Collection
(drypoint etching)

Julie L'Enfant informs me that Bobleter never traveled to Europe, let alone to Asia.  Consequently, this scene would appear to be entirely the product of Bobleter's imagination, something that seems obvious in retrospect.  The print's title is certainly in keeping with it having been primarily intended as a Christmas card for friends and family, although no doubt some degree of irony was also involved, given the non-Christian scene portrayed.  Moreover, the rather free manner in which the Chinese men are depicted would be entirely consistent with it not being based on personal observation.

Bobleter's other Asian print is called "The Korean," and was first printed in November 1933.  The stated edition was to have been 35.  If I'm interpreting Crump's notations correctly, only 25 copies were made, albeit ones printed in small batches on four separate occasions.  It is also quite tiny, measuring only 1½" x 2¼", roughly half the size of "Come All Ye Faithful."

  The Korean (November 1933) by Lowell Bobleter
Personal Collection
(drypoint etching)

But here's the mystery.  Why did Bobleter make the drypoint portrait of the Korean man?  Was it someone who visited St. Paul?  Was it a commissioned piece?  The extremely small size of the print might suggest that it was designed as an ex libris print, although it is lacking the usual indicia such as the book owner's name or initials.  One also would have expected that the full edition would have been printed if it had been commissioned.  For the life of me, I can't fathom why, on some day in November 1933 an artist who's never been to Korea would get out of his bed in St. Paul, Minnesota and, out of a myriad of possible subjects, decide to make a drypoint of a Korean scholar.

From the Land of the Morning Calm (1921) by Elizabeth Keith
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(woodblock print)

In the case of Elizabeth Keith, it is known that she spent considerable time in and wrote at length about Korea.  Her print "From the Land of the Morning Calm," like many of her woodblock print portraits, is as much a cultural anthropology study as it is a work of artistic expression.  Paul Jacoulet likewise spent time in Korea and designed several Korean figure prints (often reusing the same models to depict different characters).  Kawase Hasui's sole print of a Yangban (Ryôhan) published by Watanabe Shozaburô was specially commissioned by the San Francisco print dealer T.Z. Shiota and was based on a photograph that Shiota provided to Hasui.  But what possessed Bobleter to tackle the same subject?  Something must have drawn him to the subject, but what?

M. Keen et M. Lee, Séoul, Corée (1951) by Paul Jacoulet
Courtesy of Hanga.com
(woodblock print)


Yangban (Ryôhan) (1936) by Kawase Hasui
Courtesy of Irwin Lavenberg
(woodblock print)

None of the other titles in the Crump inventory list suggest any other Chinese or Korean subjects, though it must be admitted that many of Bobleter's titles are hopelessly generic (e.g., "Sunrise," "Trees," "Rock," etc.).   There is, however, one other title, "The Old Sage," of possible interest.  The ethnicity of the man portrayed in this drypoint is not entirely clear, but looks to me like he might be Indian or Pakistani.  But who the actual model was (if there was a model), or what drew Bobleter to this particular subject likewise remains unknown at this time.

 The Old Sage (April 1937) by Lowell Bobleter
Courtesy of Julie L'Enfant
(drypoint etching)

My thanks to Julie L'Enfant for sharing her knowledge about Lowell Bobleter and his work.

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