Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tavik Simon's World Tour: The Woodcuts

On August 30, 1926, the Czech painter-etcher Tavík František Šimon (1877-1942) left his home in Prague for Cherbourg, by way of Paris, to sail to New York City for what would be the first leg of a six-month trip around the world.  His trip to America was underwritten, at least in part, by the Cleveland advertising executive, historian, and civic leader William Ganson Rose.  Rose met Simon in Paris in 1923 and became an avid collector and promoter of Simon's work.  After visiting Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, Šimon sailed to San Francisco from New York City via Havana and the Panama Canal.  Thereafter, Šimon traveled to Honolulu, Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, Moii, Shanghai, Formosa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang, Ceylon, and Aden, through the Suez Canal, along Greece, Italy, and Corsica, before ending up in Marseilles on February 27, 1927.

Self Portrait (1902) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(oil)

Šimon's sketchbooks from that trip would provide fodder for four years' worth of paintings and prints depicting the sights and people he encountered during the course of his travels.  There are far too many such works to be discussed in a single post, but I'd like to focus on the relatively small number of woodcuts that Šimon made in the wake of that trip.
 
Tavík F. Šimon and his sister-in-law, Ruzena Kratina,
aboard ship during Šimon's 1927-1928 trip around the world
Courtesy of tfsimon.com 

Born in Bohemia with the name František Jan Šimon, Šimon entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 1894.  After completing his art studies and compulsory military service, two scholarship prizes for his oil paintings allowed him to travel to Italy, France, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  The lack of any advanced education in graphic art techniques in Prague led Šimon in 1904 to set up a studio in Paris, where he somehow learned to master the techniques of etching, drypoint, vernis mou (soft ground), aquatint, mezzotint, monotypes, woodblock printing, and lithography.  To differentiate himself from other artists of the time named Simon, he adopted his mother's maiden name Tavík as his first name.

  Different Techniques of Woodcut, published in the book Dřevoryt (1927) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(woodcut)

Paris remained Šimon's home base until the outbreak of WWI forced him and his wife to relocate to Prague.  He would regularly exhibit his paintings and prints during this pre-war period at the Salon d'Automne, the Salon des Beaux-Arts, the Salon de la Société de la Grafure originale en Couleurs, and the Exposition de la Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français.  He would have his first solo exhibition in the United States as early as 1910.  In 1917,  Šimon was one of the original founders of the Association of Czech Graphic Artists "Hollar."  Over the course of his career, Šimon would depict scenes from diverse locations in Europe and North Africa such as Venice, Tangier, Spain, Holland, and Brittany, but the bulk of his work for which Šimon's popularity and reputation is based are his colored etchings and aquatints of Paris, Prague, and New York City, some of the finest color prints of the 20th Century.

 Mi-Carême, Paris (1907) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color etching, edition of 150)

Charles Bridge and Hradčany (1910) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color vernis mou and aquatint)

Brooklyn Bridge, New York (1927) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color etching, edition of 200; 125 by Kennedy & Co., New York)

In the Twenties and Thirties, Šimon would write three books on printmaking, Přiručka umêlce-grafika (Handbook of Artist-Etcher) in 1921, Dřevoryt, druhá přiručka umĕlce-grafika (Woodcutting, Handbook of Artist-Wood Engraver) in 1927, and Manuálek sbêratele grafiky (Handbook of Graphic Art), co-written in 1934 with J.C. Vondrouš.  He was appointed a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 1928, a position he would hold until the Academy was disbanded by the Nazis in November 1939.  The subsequent communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, however, caused a substantial portion of Šimon's work to become unavailable and largely forgotten after his death until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

 Original preparatory drawing for an illustration in  Dřevoryt (1927)
Personal collection
(graphite on paper)

 Original preparatory drawing for an illustration in  Dřevoryt (1927)
Personal collection
(graphite on paper)

 Original preparatory drawing for an illustration in  Dřevoryt (1927)
Personal collection
(graphite on paper)

We know that a major reason for Šimon's trip around the world was a desire to visit Japan.  Yet, unlike say, Emil Orlik or Helen Hyde, Šimon did not go there to learn Japanese woodblock printing, having learned the rudiments decades earlier.  Rather, it was an interest in Japanese art in general and a desire to see Japanese culture firsthand that took him to Japan.  Certainly as a young artist living in Paris during the Edwardian era, he could not help but to have been exposed to Japanese prints and Japonisme, although actual evidence of such exposure is scant.  He visited Whistler exhibitions in both Paris and London in 1903 and 1905, respectively.  He attended a performance of the Japanese actress Sadayakko and her troupe in 1908, which he sketched and subsequently depicted in two oil paintings that year.  (See my earlier post Sadayakko Through Artists' Eyes - Part 3.)  One of his colored etchings from 1911 shows a Parisian boulevard lit by Japanese lanterns.

Evening Festival, Paris (1911) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color etching, edition of 50)

Šimon's earliest woodcuts date to 1905, and his first color woodcut dates to 1907.  In 1909, Šimon would made a color woodblock portrait of his wife, Vilma, printed in the Japanese manner.  Šimon's foray into Japanese-style printmaking, however, would be very brief.  Thereafter, he tended to favor two or three tone woodcuts that were printed with a press.  Indeed, with one possible exception, this applies all of Šimon's woodcuts arising out of his 1926-1927 trip around the world.

After the Performance (1905) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(woodcut)

Convalescence (1907) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color woodcut)

Portrait of My Wife Vilma (1909) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color woodcut, edition of 5)

Although Šimon made a number of black and white and color etchings of Japanese scenes, he made but a single woodblock print of a Japanese man based on his drawing and oil painting of the same subject: 

 
 Stojící Japonec (Standing Japanese) (c. 1927-1929) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of www.antikmasek.cz
(brush drawing)

 Japanese in Kimono (c. 1927-1929) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(oil on canvas) 

 
Japanese in Tokyo (1929) by T.F. Šimon
Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(color woodcut)

Much to Šimon's surprise, it was the natives of Ceylon, not Japan, who inspired his most evocative paintings and etchings of his trip to Asia.  While, in my opinion, his handful of Ceylonese woodcuts are not as compelling as his paintings and etchings, they tend to be large format prints  (30 cm x 20 cm or greater) and are generally representative of Šimon's post-war woodcuts.

 Preparatory sketch for Sunset, Ceylon (c. Jan.-Feb. 1927) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(graphite on paper)

Sunset, Ceylon (1929) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(colored woodcut, #28/59)

Indian Beggars, Ceylon (aka "The Hindus Beggars") (1929) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(colored woodcut, #25/57)

Preparatory sketch for Sinhalese, Ceylon (c. Jan.-Feb. 1927) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(graphite on paper)

Sinhalese, Ceylon (1929) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(colored woodcut, #112 of an unknown edition)

Šimon would also adapt one of his Ceylonese woodcuts for use on the cover of several issues of Hollar, as well as for one of his own ex libris etchings.

Preparatory sketch for woodcut (c. 1927-1929) by T.F. Šimon
Personal Collection
(graphite and ink on paper)

 
 Untitled (1929)
 Courtesy of tfsimon.com
(woodcut)

 Cover of Hollar,Vol.VI (1929)
Personal Collection
  
Ex libris (1932) by T.F. Šimon
 from Ex Libris, Popisný seznam 1910-1932 (complied and published by Vaclav Rytir)
Personal Collection
(etching)

Years after his trip, Šimon would also create woodcuts to illustrate two books, one about Honolulu and the other a collection of poems by Rudyard Kipling.

 Untitled frontispiece (1932) by T.F. Šimon
for the book Honolulu by Rudolf Medek
Personal Collection
(woodcut)


Untitled frontispiece (1935) by T.F. Šimon
for the book Písně muzů (Songs of Men) by Rudyard Kipling
Personal Collection
(woodcut, edition of 1000 on Zanders paper, edition of 200 on
Pannekoek paper, and edition of 50 on Hodomura paper)

 Mulatto and Soldier (1935) by T.F. Šimon
design used (in black and white) on the title page of
Písně muzů (Songs of Men) by Rudyard Kipling
Personal Collection
(color lithograph or pochoir)

For more information on the life and work of Tavík Šimon, I whole-heartedly recommend Catharine Bentinck's unparallel website on this artist, which includes a revised and updated on-line bilingual version of Arthur Novak's 1937 catalog raisonné of the graphic works of Šimon.  A beautifully illustrated hardback version of the catalog raisonné with a biographical sketch was published by Ms. Bentinck in 2015 and is available for purchase through her website.  

    The Engraver (1918) by T.F. Šimon
also published in Kronika grafického díla T.F. Šimona by Arthur Novak (Hollar 1937)
Personal Collection
(woodcut)

For more information about Tavík Šimon's trip around the world, one should read Listy z Cesty kolem Světa [Letters from a Voyage Around the World] (J. Otto, Prague 1928), a compilation of notes and letters to family and friends that Šimon wrote which is illustrated with reproductions of sketches he made during his trip.  This book was translated for the first time into English in 2014 by David Pearson, and can be purchased at his website.

 Cover illustration (1934) for Manuálek - sbêratele grafiky
(Handbook of Graphic Art)
by T.F. Šimon
also published in Kronika grafického díla T.F. Šimona by Arthur Novak (Hollar 1937)
Personal collection
(woodcut)

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