Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bohemian Printmakers in Siberian Captivity Part 1: Ferdinand Michl

Ferdinand Michl (1877-1951) was born in Prague, the son of a German businessman and a Czech mother.  He studied at the Prague Academy under Maximilian Pirner and, later, Franz Thiele.  One of his closest friends at the Academy was the Czech painter and printmaker Tavik Simon.  A scholarship from the German-Bohemian society allowed Michl to study for six months under Johann Herterich at the Munich Academy in 1900.  In 1904, he traveled with Tavik Simon to Paris, where the pair set up a studio together on the Left Bank.

Guignol in den Champs-Elysées (1908) by Ferdinand Michl
Courtesy of Henning Fine Art
(vernis mou with aquatint)

Michl probably had some rudimentary training in etching at the Prague Academy, but surely supplemented that with invaluable technical advice that he picked up through his friendship with Simon.  His Parisian prints of this time period show him producing soft ground etchings, drypoints, and aquatints.  He earned a living providing illustrations for humorous magazines like Le Rire while developing public recognition through exhibitions of his work in the Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the Salon d'Automne, the Salon des Humoristes, and the Galerie Georges Petit.  Michl’s favorite museum in Paris was the Musée Guimet because of its holdings of Chinese and Japanese paintings and woodblock prints.

Vienna Opera House (c. 1910?) by Ferdinand Michl
(colored etching)

In 1906, Michl became a member of the Hagenbund, where he had exhibited for the first time two years earlier.  In 1909, he left Paris and spent the next five years living in Vienna.  In addition to painting and etching, it is known that Michl began making black-and-white woodcuts at least as early as 1913.

Ex libris for Richard Teschner (1913) by Ferdinand Michl
(woodblock print)

During the First World War, Michl served as a lieutenant in the k.u.k. Bohemian Infantry Regiment but, after six weeks spent in the field, he was captured by the Russian army in Przemysl, Poland in 1915.  He spent the remainder of the war in a series of P.O.W. camps, first in Kharkov in the Ukraine, then in Katav-Ivanovsk and later Steritamak in the Urals, and finally at least two and a half years in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

K.u.k.-Infantry at the Eastern Front

In Krasnoyarsk, Michl taught woodblock carving and etching in the P.O.W. camp between September 1916 and 1917.  For a brief time in the spring and summer of 1918, Michl and the Hungarian artist Arthur Jakobovits were even allowed to move out of the camp and into private apartments in the city, where they taught a course on engraving at the municipal school of drawing.  The pair also organized a graphics exhibition in Krasnoyarsk in June 1918.  Otherwise, Michl had to content himself with lesser crafts, such as making labels for power boxes, designing lampshades, and crafting ornamental frames. Michl's P.O.W. camp prints are exceedingly rare and I've been able to locate an image of only one of them:

Krasnoyarsk (c. 1917) by Ferdinand Michl
  Courtesy of the Archiv der Regionalgalerie Liberec
(woodblock print)

In 1919, the Krasnoyarsk P.O.W.s were eventually united with the Czech Legions, who were stranded in Siberia by the Bolshevik Government, and Michl was taken to Irkutsk.  In 1920, the repatriation of the Czech Legion began.  Beginning in March 1920, Michl spent two months in the port of Vladivostok, which had a large Japanese population in addition to Russians, Chinese, and Koreans.  Michl was so inspired by the melange of cultures there that he later referred to his time in Vladivostok as a “study visit.”  While in Vladivostok, he made a black and white woodblock print of a crab seller (later reprinted as a unnumbered and unsigned supplement to a 1924 issue of Die Graphischen Kunste).  Thereafter Michl sailed back to Europe, with a lengthy stopover in Singapore along the way.

Krabbenverkäufer (Crab Seller) (1920) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

After his return to Europe, Michl would continue to paint and make prints, including monotypes and colored woodblock prints.   

Japanese Women (c. 1920) by Ferdinand Michl
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Prague
(monotype)

Ein schöner Sommertag (A Beautiful Summer Day) (1922) by Ferdinand Michl
Published in Gesellschaft für vervielfältigende Kunst, Wien (1922)
Courtesy of Kunstantiquariat Rolf Brehmer
(colored woodblock print)

Koto-und Shamisenspielerin (Koto and Shamisen Players) (c. 1920s) by Ferdinand Michl
(colored etching)

In late 1923, Michl produced a portfolio (signed edition of 350) of six colored etchings illustrating poems by the Chinese poet, Li T’ai Po (700-762 A.D.) intended as tone poems set to Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). 

  
L: Plate 1 ("Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde");
R: Plate 2  ("Der Einsame im Herbst")
from Das Lied Von Der Erde by Ferdinand Michl
Courtesy of the Davidson Galleries
(colored etchings)

    
L: Plate 3 ("Von der Jugend");
R: Plate 4 ("Von der Schönheit")
from Das Lied Von Der Erde by Ferdinand Michl
Courtesy of the Davidson Galleries
(colored etchings)

 
L: Plate 5  ("Der Trunkene im Frühling");
R: Plate 6 ("Der Abschied")
from Das Lied Von Der Erde by Ferdinand Michl
Courtesy of the Davidson Galleries
(colored etchings)

In 1925 Michl issued another portfolio called Aus dem fernen Osten (From the Far East), published by Gesellschaft für vervielfältigende Kunst, Wien.  It consisting of six black and white woodblock prints that focused primarily on Vladivostok’s vibrant market life.  It was evidently issued in two editions, one being a deluxe edition with the prints pencil-signed by the artist.  These may have been commercial reissues of prints he had made in Vladivostok in 1920, or they may have been new prints based on sketches and recollections of his time spent there.  In 1928, Michl contributed two Siberian woodcuts for Der Plenny, a publication by a confederation of former Austrian P.O.W.s.  It is unclear to me at the present whether he created new woodcuts or simply reprinted some of his old designs.

Cover of the Aus dem fernen Osten portfolio (19254) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection

 
Left: Strasse am Bazar in Wladiwostok (Street at a Bazaar in Vladivostok)
Right: Marktszene (Market Scene)
From the Aus dem fernen Osten portfolio (1925) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection
(woodblock prints)

 
Left: Japanerinnen bei der Toilette (Japanese Women at the Washroom)
Right: Chineischer Stempleschneider (Chinese Stamp cutter)
From the Aus dem fernen Osten portfolio (1925) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection
(woodblock prints)

 
Left: Japanerinnen beim Tee (Japanese Women at Tea)
Right: Chineische Marktträger am Hafen von Wladiwostok
(Chinese Marketers at the port of Vladivostok)
From the Aus dem fernen Osten portfolio (1925) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection
(woodblock prints)

Michl evidently liked the Japanese Women at Tea design so much that he reworked it into a later etching:
Japanerinnen beim Tee (c. 1920s) by Ferdinand Michl
(colored etching)

Michl participated in the German section of the Association Metznerbund, in the German section of the Moderní Galerie in Prague, and in a Sudeten art exhibition in Nuremberg in 1931.  In 1936, he produced two Japanese subject monotypes Japanese and Japanese im Bad (Japanese in the Bathroom).  But the Great Depression and the Second World War took its toll and left Michl so impoverished that by 1948 he was receiving charity gifts of cooking fuel and street shoes from the Austrian Association of Professional Artists.

Pavillon am See (Pavilion at the Lake) (1925) by Ferdinand Michl
Personal Collection
(colored etching)

For more information on Czech artists in Siberian prisoner of war camps, I recommend "So erfuhr ich es am eigenen Leibe, dass Kunst nicht nur trösten kann (...), sondern befreien" by Lena Radauer, a chapter in Nach Sibirien! Deutschböhmische bildende Künstler im Ersten Weltkrieg: an der Ostfrontvund in sibirischer GefangenschaftbKatalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung, Oblastní galerie Liberec  (ed. Anna Habánová 2015).

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

New Yoshijiro Urushibara Catalog Raisonné

Collectors of British, French, and Japanese woodblock prints will be interested to learn of the recent publication of Yoshijiro Urushibara: A Japanese Printmaker In London - A Catalog Raisonné (Hotei Publishing 2017) by Hilary Chapman and Libby Horner.  As the title suggests, it is a catalog raisonné for this Japanese artist who spent most of his career living and working in London (and, to a lesser extent, Paris).  Urushibara's art name was Mokuchū (literally, "wood [boring] insect").


Before going further, I should disclose the fact that I brought certain print designs to the attention of the authors for inclusion in this catalog and helped proof an early draft of the catalog, and so I am not entirely objective.  Nonetheless, it will be apparent to anyone who has collected Urushibara's work that a catalog raisoneé is long overdue.  The authors were particularly fortunate that Urushibara's son, Ichiro Urushibara, was willing to share the details of his father's life, to provide access to the family archives, and to permit reproductions of his father's work.

 
Photograph of Yoshijiro Urushibara lifting the finished "Peonies 6" print from the block
Courtesy of David Bull
(from a catalogue published by W.J. Stacey, date unknown)

In addition to the catalog itself, the publication includes a biography of Urushibara by Libby Horner (the leading authority on Frank Brangwyn, Urushibara's most frequent and closest collaborator), a consideration of Urushibara's role in the development of color woodblock prints in the U.K. by noted art historian and print dealer Hilary Chapman, and a discussion of Urushibara's skill as a carver and printer by the artist Rebecca Salter.  Appendices provide summary biographies of Urushibara's artist-collaborators and other major personalities in Urushibara's life, a chronology of significant events in Urushibara's public and private lives, examples of his seals and signatures, indices of print titles, a list of museums possessing his work, a list of exhibitions where his work was shown, a bibliography, and a general index.

Poster design by Winifrid Harris Jones advertising demonstrations by
Urushibara in woodblock carving and printing (c. 1930s?)
Personal Collection
(gouache)

The photographs of the prints in the catalog of are very high quality, generally with only one to three images per page and, with a handful of exceptions, all are in color.  When multiple images appear on the same page, it is usually because the additional images illustrate color variants, watercolor studies, preparatory drawings, or keyblock prints for the same design.  To the extent such information exists, each catalog entry provides, inter alia,  the title, date, image size, edition size, and seal information for the print, information about related works or extant studies for the work, the names of museums that possess copies, an indication where the print is illustrated or discussed in the literature, and any known exhibition history.

 
The Fishmarket in Bruges (Market Place Bruges) (c. 1919) (cf. UB11)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(proof with hand-coloring)

The catalog itself is logically divided into two parts.  First, it list roughly 100 autographic works, that is, original print designs by Urushibara himself.   This is further broken down into the subcategories of florals, creatures, and other subjects (mostly landscapes).
 
Roses 1 (Vase with Roses) (pre-1928) (cf. F37) by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(keyblock print)

Second, it lists over 130 of Urushibara's collaborative works.  These prints range from straightforward reproductions of the works of other artists (then-living or dead), to works printed by Urushibara that were designed and/or carved by other artists, to prints designed in close collaboration with other artists such that, even if based on another artist's painting or drawing, they were nonetheless re-worked into print designs that constituted original works of art in their own right.  Approximately two-thirds of these collaborative works were with Frank Brangwyn.  Other artists include Bô Yin Rȃ, Jules Chadel, George Clausen, John Sell Cotman, Katsushika Hokusai, Prosper-Alphonse Isaac, Iwai Takahito, Gu Kaizhi, Kurihara Chūji, Kuwagata Keisai (Kitao Masayoshi), Yoshio Markino (whose collaboration with Urushibara I have previously discussed elsewhere in this blog), James McBey, A. Servant, Taito, Tchao Tch'ang, Mitton Wolksy, and Andrew Kay Womrath.

Outskirts of a Flemish Town At Night (cf. UB74)
Designed by Charles Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(hand-colored keyblock print)

A few (usually minor) print images are regrettably missing from the catalogue, usually because a copy of catalogued print design could not be located or because available images were deemed inadequate for reproduction by the publisher.  I'd like to rectify some of those admissions by including some supplemental images below using the Chapman-Horner catalogue numbering system.

F21  Lilies 2 (Lilies with Vase) by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Courtesy of www.1stdibs.com
(colored woodblock print)

C20  Owl on Branch (Owl) (c. 1922) by Yoshijiro Urushibara
(colored woodblock print)

[C25]  Two cats (likely post-WWII) by Yoshijiro Urushibara
(colored woodblock print)

Note: This print is not in the Chapman-Horner catalog, so I have assigned it the next available number in the "Creatures" section.

 
L: OS18(2)  Landscape with fungi in the foreground by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)
 R: OS18(5)  Woman wearing a patterned shawl, with a man in front of a house
by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

UB1  Gaspar Sweetwaters (1911) (shown only in monochrome in catalog)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

UB21  Amelia Levetus, Ex Libris (Moonlit Scene) (1921) (shown only in monochrome in catalog)
 Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

UB62  Barking Mill (c. 1923) (shown only in lithographic form in catalog)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

 
 UB60a  Test print, apparently created for but not used in 
Leaves From The Sketchbooks of Frank Brangwyn (c. 1940)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(woodblock print in sepia)

 
UB72  Mist at Lauragais (shown printed in black and grey outlines only in catalog)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock prints, both with some additional hand-coloring)

Note: These appear to be proofs and the final print may never have been released in color.

UB76  Rabbits without Grass (1938 or earlier)
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
(woodblock print printed in black, white, and gray)

OA17 Invitation - Frog by Prosper-Alphonse Isaac and Yoshijiro Urushibara
(colored woodblock print)
 
 OA19  Les Amis De L'Art Japonais, 17 February 1914 (Snowy Waterway)
Designed and carved by Yoshijiro Urushibara; printed by Prosper-Alphonse Issac
 Courtesy of Ader Nordmann
(colored woodblock print)

Note:  The seal on this print appears on another print design that the Bibliothèque Nationale de France attributes to Urushibara.  It is not, however, a recognized seal for Urushibara.

OA41  Kannon (after an unknown artist)
Carved by Prosper-Alphonse Isaac; printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library
(monochrome woodblock print)

OA44 [Venice at Night], #1/50 by Andrew Kay Womrath and Yoshijiro Urushibara (unsigned)
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

Note:  Although the catalog raisonné indicates that the edition for the day version of this design, OA43 Canal Scene (aka "Venice by Day"), is not recorded, it also exists in a numbered edition of 50.

OA45 [Lakeside by Moonlight], #44/50
by Andrew Kay Womrath and Yoshijiro Urushibara
(colored woodblock print)

OA46 [Fishing Boat] by Andrew Kay Womrath and Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

If anyone has images of the following Urushibara woodblock prints, please let me know and I will add them to this article:

F43 Tulips 2 (No box)
OS6 Femme au Tub
OS9 La Toilette
OA5 Aubergine (with Jules Chadel)

It should be noted that the book only catalogues Urushibara's woodblock prints and does not cover other types of his prints.  For example, one or more of Urushibara's Stonehenge prints were allegedly issued in lithographic form.  Urushibara is also known to have produced at least one etching:

[Flowers in Vase with Jar] (1920s?) by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(etching)

Finally, in my prior post about Dinner Invitation Prints for the Société des Amis de l'Art Japonais, I discussed several prints with which Urushibara was involved, including this 1913 print which the catalog raisonné includes in its "Other Subject" section of Urushibara's autographic works:

OS10 Les Amis De L'Art Japonais (Junk) (Boat in a Snowy Landscape) (1913)
Carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
(color woodblock print)

This print was made to be purchased with contributions following a dinner attended by members of Les Amis de l'Art Japonais.  The eagle eye of Katherine Martin, Director of the Scholten Japanese Art in New York City, however, has identified this Urushibara print as being a recarved version of an earlier print by Takahashi Shôtei.  Marc Khan, who runs a website devoted to Shôtei, believes this to be the very first Shôtei print published by Watanabe Shôzaburô.

Boat in Snow on River (1907) by Takahashi Shôtei
Courtesy of Scholten Japanese Prints
(color woodblock print)

Why Urushibara decided to carve his own version of what was then an essentially contemporaneous Japanese woodblock print, as opposed to some classic ukiyo-e design, for Les Amis de l'Art Japonais members is unknown.  Urushibara's copy is slightly longer, but with a little less sky above and a little more water below the boat.  In light of this new information, while the OS10 print is one that should be included in the catalog, it more properly belongs in the "Urushibara and Other Artists" subsection of  Urushibara's collaborative works.

Church of St. Nicholas, Dixmuden (pre-1918) (cf. UB67) 
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(keyblock print)

 
Church of St. Nicholas, Dixmuden (pre-1918) (cf. UB67) 
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(woodblock print printed in monochrome)

 
Church of St. Nicholas, Dixmuden (pre-1918) (UB67) 
Designed by Frank Brangwyn; carved and printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

The prints, paintings, and proofs that I have used to illustrate this article are, for the most part, very minor works within the Urushibara canon and do not necessarily show off either his artistry or his technical skill to the best advantage.  Urushibara's best work, such as "Loving Couple at the Jan Van Eyckplein, Bruges" or "Venice, Golden Morning" (both with Frank Brangwyn), "London, Embankment" (with Yoshio Markino), or his own prints of Venice and Stonehenge are as strong and as evocative as any British woodblock prints produced in England in the teens and twenties.  If I have one major gripe about Chapman and Horner's catalogue, it is that, by raising Urushibara's profile among print collections, it undoubtedly will both increase the public's demand for Urushibara's work and the concomitant prices for his prints.  But isn't that always the case?

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