Sunday, November 27, 2016

Second Generation Seilers: Anita and (Maybe) Rudolf

In my last post, I discussed the life and career of the painter-etcher Willy Seiler.  He and his wife Maritte had a daughter, Anita Anna Marie Seiler (1933 - ?), who also producing etchings in the same vein as her father.  It has been rumored that she may have been responsible for the hand-coloring on some of her father's colored etchings.

Photo of Anita Seiler from Pacific Stars & Stripes (Sept. 16, 1955)
Courtesy of Merrill Holmes

The known facts about Anita Seiler's life are few.  According to school records, she was born on July 22, 1933.  A September 16, 1955 Pacific Stars & Stripes profile of Anita Seiler reported that she born in Kobe and that she had lived her entire life to date in Japan except for an around-the-world tour when she was five.  Some Internet sleuthing courtesy of Merrill Holmes, however, has turned up passenger lists showing that the Seiler family left Japan in November 1933 for Dresden by way of California.  Presumably Anita and her mother returned to Japan before Anita was old enough to recall her first trip abroad.  Since Willy Seiler is believed not to have returned to Japan until 1937, it is possible that his family traveled to Japan ahead of him, or that Seiler returned earlier than had been reported.

During WWII, Anita was enrolled in the Deutsche Schule in Omori, Japan.

 
Anita Seiler (bottom center) at the Deutsche Schule (Nov. 1940)

Anita Seiler (top center) at the Deutsche Schule (c. 1940)

Little Mother (c. late 1940s to early 1950s) by Willy Seiler
(hand-colored etching)

There are rumors on the Internet that the model for Willy Seiler's etching "Little Mother" was his daughter.  If the daughter in question was Anita, then it would have had to have been based on an original drawing or photograph that Willy Seiler had made or taken years earlier in time.  There are also rumors that Willy Seiler had a Eurasian daughter born out of wedlock.  If true, then the girl in the "Little Mother" etching could be Anita's half-sister.

First Snow by Anita Seiler
(colored woodblock print)

Anita Seiler is said to have mastered Japanese and German, and later French and English.   According to the Pacific Star & Stripes profile, she started to make woodblock prints in 1953, but preferred to paint.  She favored landscapes, such as Mt. Fuji, in her Western-style paintings, but also painted portraits and special subjects for her predominantly North-American patrons.  While I cannot discount the possibility that Anita Seiler made a few woodblock prints (and I certainly have not examined all of her prints in person), I'm only aware of one such woodblock print.  Perhaps not coincidentally, "First Snow" is also Anita Seiler's only known woodblock print bearing her chop within the print image.  It's likely that the Pacific Stars & Stripes reporter simply confused her colored etchings with colored woodblock prints, particularly since there was no reference to any of her many etchings in the article.  She did, however, make a colored etching of a wood carver.

Wood Carver by Anita Seiler
Personal Collection
(colored etching)

Anita's etchings are stylistically similar to many of her father's etchings, although the paper used tends to be different.  Some are so similar, in fact, that they are frequently erroneously attributed to her father by dealers and auctioneers.  To further complicate things, there are also etchings bearing the signature "R. Seiler" that are also erroneously attributed to Willy Seiler.  One noted Willy Seiler collector told me that he had heard tell of a "Rudolf" or "Rudolph" Seiler, but I have been unable to locate any information to substantiate the existence of such a person.   Whether he was Anita's brother, uncle, son, or some other relation is a complete mystery to me at this point.  Merrill Holmes has noted that a U.S. Naval officer named Rudolf Seiler was stationed in Japan in the 1950s, so it is possible that he could also be the artist in question.

 Willy Seiler's Signature

 Anita Seiler's Signature

R. (Rudolph?) Seiler's Signature

Listed below are the Anita Seiler etchings known to me at this point in time.  Presumably, like her father, her etchings were issued in both black-and-white (or sepia) and hand-colored versions.  A few of the etchings bear plate number and edition size on the back of the prints, though some do not and I lack information about what may or may not appear on the backs of most of these prints.  The signatures on many of the prints are unclear from the images available, but those which seemingly show a "R. Seiler" or  those which reportedly bear a "R. Seiler" signature are specifically noted below.  Otherwise, the assumption remains for the time being that the remaining etchings were by Anita Seiler and not by the mysterious "R. Seiler."

Arranging Flowers
Edition of 25
(etching)

 
 Chinese Rickshaw Coolie by R. Seiler
Plate #2; edition of 30
(etching)
 Drying Sheaves of Rice
(colored etching)

Farmer Babies Await Their Mother (ascribed to R. Seiler)
Plate #6, edition of 25
(etching)

Farmers Feasting in Fields
(colored etching)

First Snow
(colored woodblock print)

 
Fisher Resting
Plate #11, edition of 25?
(colored etching)

Fresh Fish
(colored etching)

Geisha
Courtesy of the Koller Collection
(colored etching) 

    
Girls' Day (aka Girls' Festival) by R. Seiler?
Plate #18, edition of 30 (right)
(etching/colored etching)

Heavy Load
(colored etching)

Irrigating Rice Fields
(colored etching)

Japanese Rice Farmers At Work
(etching)

Katsura Riku, Kyoto
(colored etching) 

Kentai Bridge at Iwakuni
(colored etching)

    
Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto
L: Courtesy of Gallery Hiroshima
(etching/colored etching)

Korean Youngsters by R. Seiler?
(colored etching)

Lake Hakone
(colored etching)

Mama-San Peddling Flowers
(colored etching)

     
Miyajima
L: Courtesy of Gallery Hiroshima 
R: Courtesy of Artelino.com
(etching/colored etching)

[Mother and Child in the Snow]
(colored woodblock print)

Mother and Children
Plate #8, edition of 25
(etching)

Pearl Divers Carrying Their Catch
(colored etching)

Peasant Girl
Edition of 25
(colored etching)

    
Peddler Woman
Personal Collection (right)
(etching/colored etching)

    
Planting Rice
(etching/colored etching)

     
Priest With Flute (ascribed to R. Seiler)
(etching/colored etching)

Public Bath
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(colored etching)

Rice Farmer
(etching)
Rice Harvest
(colored etching)

Short Rest
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(colored etching)

    
Wood Carver
Personal Collection (right)
(etching/colored etching)

6 Postcards (which are likely reduced versions of some of the above designs)
(etchings)

It is unclear what happened to Anita Seiler after her father returned to Europe in the mid-to-late 1960s.   Did she accompany him to Germany?   Did she remain in Japan?   Did she ever marry and have children?  It is not inconceivable that she is still alive today somewhere.  I've heard rumors that she might be living in Florida, but I have not found any evidence to substantiate such a claim.  Friends or relations who can fill in the details of her life story (or of those of the putative R. Seiler) are encouraged to contact me.  Likewise, I would be grateful for images of any missing print designs.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Welcome to Karuizawa: The Etchings of Willy Seiler

Willy Otto Oskar Seiler (1903-1997?) was one of the most popular foreign printmakers in post-WWII Japan.  His target audience was American tourists and, in particular, G.I.’s stationed in occupied Japan.

Willy Seiler (1941)

Most of the basic facts about Seiler’s life and career come from articles in Pacific Stars and Stripes and similar publications or from Seiler’s own promotional materials and, no doubt, are somewhat exaggerated.  Seiler was born in Oberloessnitz, near Dresden, Germany in 1903.  He received his first schooling in art in Dresden and in Munich, followed by a two year period of study in Paris.  Thereafter he worked as an artist and as a restorer of old paintings (also his father’s profession) until about 1928, at which point he left Germany and began to travel the world.

[Road to Karuizawa] by Willy Seiler
(oil painting)

Road to Karuizawa (plate #49A) by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(hand-colored etching)

By the 1950s, he had supposedly visited approximately 50 countries, some of them several times.  His paintings were said to have been “exhibited in Rome and Paris, in Jerusalem and Teheran, San Francisco and Mexico . . . enthusiastically received and acclaimed by Maharajahs in India and by princes and high officials in many other countries.”   According to Seiler himself, his work was owned by such luminaries as Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, Willy Brandt, Conrad Hilton, Robert MacNamara, John Foster Dulles, Theodor Heuss, Danny Kaye, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  (As impressive as this might sound, at least some of these people  owned his work because Seiler gave them his etchings as gifts.)

Pearl Divers by Willy Seiler
(oil painting)

Pearl Divers (plate #5A) by Willy Seiler
(hand-colored etching)

Seiler first visited Japan in 1933 at the invitation of the Japanese Industry Club on his way to the United States and South America.  He would return to Japan four years later, making it his base of operations until sometime in the mid-to-late 1960s.  In 1937, he founded an art school in Tokyo until it closed in 1945.   Seiler also visited the Central China front as war painter for the Japanese government at some point during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Map of Karuizawa
Courtesy of Petrie-Rogers Asian Fine Arts & Antiques

Seiler, like most foreign residents, was forcibly evacuated from Tokyo in the spring of 1945 and was resettled in Karuizawa, where he opened up a studio.  Karuizawa, a post resort town, was also one of the locations where the occupying forces were stationed after WWII.  Seiler would instruct U.S. Army personnel in oil painting, life drawing, and sketching at the Tokyo Army Educational Center in the late 1940s.  By the 1950s, Seiler had reopened the “Willy Seiler Academy of Fine Arts” in Tokyo in partnership with the conductor and composer Manfred Gurlitts.  One of Seiler’s neighbors in Karuizawa was the French artist and woodblock print designer Paul Jacoulet, who also occasionally lectured at the Tokyo Army Educational Center.

 
fri Japanese Girl and Boy dolls by Willy Seiler

In addition to oil painting and etching, Seiler also created “Seiler dolls,” cloth dolls similar to those produced in China by Ada Lum.  They depict field workers, apprentice geisha, schoolboys, etc. in authentic native Japanese or Korean dress.

Heartbroken by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Petrie-Rogers Asian Fine Arts & Antiques
(oil painting)

Heartbroken (plate #8A) by Willy Seiler
(hand-colored etching)

While Seiler’s oil paintings turn up occasionally, beginning in late 1940s he began to make the soft ground copperplate etchings for which he is best remembered today.  The majority of these etchings, which were sold at various military base post exchanges in the Far East, feature sympathetic portraits of peasant farmers and fisherman at work, children at play, and women chatting or shopping.  Seiler also made landscape etchings, but he eschewed the usual depictions of temples and castles, focusing instead on the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside.  He also did a series of nudes, intended no doubt to decorate the barracks of lonely servicemen.

Cormorant Fishing (plate #11) by Willy Seiler
(etching)

General MacArthur [#2] (plate #38A) by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Petrie-Rogers Asian Fine Arts & Antiques
(hand-colored etching)

Although the vast majority of Seiler’s etchings feature Japanese people or landscapes, a handful feature Chinese subjects.  He also released a “Korean edition” of twelve etchings (not counting his portrait of Dr. Syngman Rhee).  Particularly popular were three bust portraits of General Douglas MacArthur which were made while on assignment for Pacific Stars and Stripes.

Japanese Rice Farmer (plate #15A) by Willy Seiler
(etching)

Back of Japanese Rice Farmer (plate #15) by Willy Seiler
(etching)

Seiler issued his print designs in two distinct editions.  The main edition would be printed in black or sepia ink, whereas the other one would be a smaller edition hand-colored with watercolor.  (Color variants of the colored states are known to exist.)   The size of the edition (labeled “pieces” ) generally would be printed on the back of etching.  The back of the etching would also list a “plate number.”  Some dealers have confused this with the print number within the stated edition.  Seiler, however, did not individually number his prints.  Rather, this plate number operated as a code or catalog number for the print design.  Thus, plate number “15” is unique to all the “Japanese Rice Farmer” etchings, rather than suggesting that the print is #15/180.  The print itself originally would have been originally issued in a folder that also bore the number “15.”  It is not uncommon, however, to find a particular etching mistakenly stored in folder for a completely different design.   The use of the “A” suffix after the plate number (e.g., “15A”) indicates that the etching was hand-colored.

Original folder for Rice Threshing (plate #17) by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(folder and etching)

All of Seiler’s etchings bearing a plate number below 100 are in a standard size of 12.5” x 15.25” (or 15.25” x 12.5”).  Seiler’s etchings which are smaller are generally not numbered and their edition size is unknown at present, but extent folders for such prints are labeled with plate numbers above 100.  Many of these smaller etchings were issued as holiday greeting cards or as calendar prints.  Seiler also produced a series of postcard sets featuring reduced versions of his commercial etchings.

[Trees by Riverbank] (c. 1953) by Willy Seiler
Personal Collection
(calendar etching)

Little is currently known about Seiler’s private life.  Merrill Holmes has uncovered a passenger list from November 1933 indicating that he had a wife named Maritte, from Dresden, whose occupation was listed as a landscape artist.  (In contrast, Seiler's occupation at that time was listed as a portrait artist.)  His wife gave birth to a daughter, Anita, in Japan in 1933.  There is another Seiler named Rudolph, who exact relationship (if any) to Seiler is not known at this time.  Both Anita and Rudolph produced color etchings of their own.  Willy Seiler was a pet fancier (three dogs and a cat) and a fan of movies.  He also played bridge and raised chickens.

Olympic Seal (1964) by Willy Seiler

Seiler was still in Japan as late as 1964, as he designed seals for the Tokyo Olympics.  At some point in the 1960s, however, Seiler returned to Europe.   He spent some time in Berlin, ultimately publishing a book in 1981 that promoted the peaceful  unification of East and West Germany.  A Zurich newspaper reported the death of a Willy Seiler in 1997, who may or may not have been the Seiler discussed in this post.  If he was, then it is possible that he was living in or near Zurich at the time of his death.

Willy Seiler (c. 1950s)

Shrewd Bartering (plate #67A) by Willy Seiler
(hand-colored etching)

Fisherman (plate #64A) by Willy Seiler
(hand-colored etching)

Since Willy Seiler’s output of monochromatic and colored etchings exceeded 200 prints, it is too large to be included in this post.  But seeing as there is no comprehensive listing of Seiler’s prints in the literature or on the Internet, I have decided to host a catalog inventory of his prints elsewhere, which can be accessed through the following links:

Rice Planting (plate #55) by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(etching)

This catalog is still very much a work in progress, and I welcome additional information or images, especially for plate #10 (Farmer and Mount Fuji) and #71 (Old Indian), either colored or uncolored.

Fisherwomen Dragging Net by Willy Seiler
Courtesy of Floating World Auctions
(oil painting)

Fisherwomen Dragging Net (plate #4) by Willy Seiler
(etching)

My sincere thanks to Waynor and Laurie Petrie Rogers who, in addition to providing me with numerous images of Seiler prints found in their collection, also graciously shared the information that they had amassed over the years about Seiler’s life and work.  Without such material, the working inventory that I had compiled would have been woefully incomplete, and this post would have been perfunctory at best.  Thanks also to Merrill Holmes who provided several additional salient details.

Willy Seiler in Karuizawa (c. 1950s-early 1960s)
Courtesy of Petrie-Rogers Asian Fine Arts & Antiques

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