Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mabel Royds: Anatomy of the "Musicians" Print

 Portrait of Mabel Royds (1911) by Ernest Lumsden
Courtesy of the Owner

Mabel Allington Royds (1874-1941) is certainly overdue for a critical monograph to be written about her life and work.  I leave that job to some enterprising British print scholar with far more knowledge about Royds than I happen to have.  Rather than providing readers with an overview of her artistic career or focusing merely on her Indian and Tibetan subjects (which, to this collector, is the portion of her oeuvre that I find the most interesting), I thought I'd instead concentrate on a single Royds print for what it teaches us about her compositional process. To that end, I've selected her "Musicians" print because it is representative of her Indian woodblock prints in general and because the amount of extant notebook material available relating to this design.  It is also one of her better known designs, having been featured in Malcolm Salaman's 1927 book "The Woodcut of To-Day at Home and Abroad."

Musicians (c. 1926) by Mabel Royds as shown in 
"The Woodcut of To-Day at Home and Abroad" (1927) by Malcolm Salaman

Not all of Mabel Royds' preparatory work survives or, at least, is currently accounted for.  None, as far as I know, is dated, making it difficult to know for sure which drawings were made while she and her painter-etcher husband, Ernest Lumsden, were in India and which were made years later back in Edinburgh in preparation for the carving of her blocks.  (Royds was in India between December 1913 and Spring 1914 on the tail end of an extended honeymoon, and returned for an extended stay between 1915 and 1917.)  One may assume that her drawings on the darker, thinner and more brittle paper represents her oldest drawings, but that is only an educated guess on my part.  Likewise, it's difficult to say when her gouache studies were made.  My best guess is that they were done in Edinburgh, but before the more finished drawings were executed.

Study for the Musicians print
Courtesy of John Shillito
(pencil drawing with watercolor)

The above drawing appears to be one of Royd's earliest, in part because of the quick strokes used to delineate the figure but also because the musician is facing slightly left, as opposed to the figure facing slightly right in the final print.  The foxing due to the acidity in the paper also suggest it was taken from one of Royds' Indian sketchbooks.

Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

Given the color of the paper (which is browner in real life than this image would suggest) and the roughness of the composition, this drawing of the two central musicians is also probably from one of Royds' Indian sketchbooks.  Her two subsequent studies of the two musicians are drawn on much whiter paper and are much more detailed, particularly where the faces and feet are concerned.  Having studied life-drawing at the Slade School of Art, presumably under Henry Tonks, Royds's figures are realistically rendered.  She uses shading not only to impart volume to the figures but also to depict shadows generated from their bodies in the sunlight.
 
 Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

 Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

A similar progression can be seen with the drawings of the woman carrying the baby.   The first is roughly sketched on darker paper, again likely from one of her Indian sketchbooks.  (The inset in the upper right corner looks like it might be an early conception for the Sword Grinders design.)  The second, on whiter paper, provides most of the essential details that will be found in the final print, although the baby's face remains unfinished.   Note, however, that we see the baby's entire head in the drawing, which is cropped in final print.

Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

 
Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing)

The first of following gouache studies is interesting because it shows Royds from the beginning planning an entire series of Indian prints, rather than approaching them one at a time.  In addition the two musicians studies at the top and middle right, we also see a studies for the Water Carriers print in the upper left, the Sword (or Knife) Grinders print in the middle left, and the Donkey Boy print in the lower left.  (There is no direct print corollary for the design in the bottom right, although it shares some general similarities with her Shrine or Market print.)  We know that Royds' Musicians print was completed before the Spring of 1926 because it was included in the Seventh International Print Makers Exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum Exposition Park that ran between March 2nd and April 4th, 1926.  But since Salaman first wrote about her Sword Grinders print in "Modern Woodcuts and Lithographs by British and French Artists" in 1919, this composite piece shows that she would have had the Musicians print in mind a number of years before the blocks for that print would have been actually cut.  While the patterned shirt of rightmost musician in the middle right never made it into the final print, it was retained in the blouse of the woman with the bundle on her head.

Studies for the various prints including the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing with gouache)

The second gouache study is actual print size, probably done to get a sense of how big the figures should be in the final print.  The woman holding the baby has been added to the background, but Royds has yet to add the other two figures in the right background or to remove the two figures in the back left that had appeared in one of the earlier small gouache studies.

 Study for the Musicians print
Personal Collection
(pencil drawing with gouache)

I've known for some time that Royds was a colorist and that numerous color variants exist for many of her prints.  Her Musicians print is no exception.  However, having examined every copy of the Musicians print on-line that I could locate, I've found that it can be quite difficult to determine what is actually a color variant and what is simply inaccurate color duplication by a scanner or by a digital camera.  I've even seen images of the very same physical copy look entirely different simply because they were photographed or scanned by different individuals under different lighting conditions.  The use of a flash can wash out color, and it may not be easy to determine whether a given print is simply age-faded or printed with paler pigments.  Without an actual in-person inspection, a determination of a variant state based entirely upon color alone can be a very unreliable and risky proposition.  That said, my research has led me to conclude that at least three basic states of Royds' Musician print exist along with two substates, separate and apart from how many color variants may exist for any given state.

Musicians (State 1A) (c. 1925?) by Mabel Royds
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

Musicians (State 1A) (color variant) (c. 1925?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of Gerrish Fine Art
(woodblock print)

 Musicians (State 1B) (c. 1925?) by Mabel Royds
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

As can be seen, the distinguishing feature of the A state over the B state is Royds' use of light and shadow.  To be sure, shadows are present in the B state, but largely as projections from the figures.   In the A state, however, the musicians are entirely covered by shade.  Whether generated by a tree, a tent, or moving cloud is unclear, but it clearly differentiates the placement of the musicians from the other figures in the design.  Royds is hardly the first printmaker to depict shade and shadow in a woodblock print.  Certainly she stands on the back of Charles W. Bartlett and the Watanabe craftsmen who designed and made such prints as "Madura. 1916., "Peshawar.," or "Silk Merchants. India."  But I can't think of an earlier printmaker who so aggressively contrasts sunlight with shade in a woodblock print.  The result may not be entirely successful, but it's a bold, adventurous attempt all the same.

Royds' treatment is particularly audacious in the context of a figurative scene, rather than a landscape, something that clearly distinguishes the majority of her prints from Bartlett's.   While Bartlett sometimes realistically depicted people in his etchings (and he was a first rate portrait painter), they remain largely anonymous and purely decorative figures in his woodblock prints, existing solely to provide a dash of color or a sense of life or movement to prevent the scene from appearing overly static.  Royds herself designed several pure Indian landscape prints, but the Indian or Tibetan people, if present in her designs, were usually the focus of her prints.  Some commentators read into Royds' work an inherent criticism of British Imperialism.  I have no idea what her political views were at the time on the question of Indian independence, but I don't view her print designs as being political propaganda disguised as art.  But it is clear that she was a humanist, and her figures are always rendered sympathetically and with dignity.

First State vs. Later State

While I've been familiar with Royds' Musicians print for years, it was only a couple of months ago that I discovered something that I had failed to appreciate before and which I've never seen remarked upon anywhere in the literature.  All the later states of this print design have the leftmost of the two musicians looking down, while in the earliest state the leftmost musician is looking out toward the viewer and slightly to the right.  Royds also changes the musician's tunic and turban, as well as the the shape of his instruments (including the number of its pegs). Other subtle changes, such as the folds in the man's pants, can be found.  This means that Royds necessarily had to recarve and/or plug her original keyblock at some point in time. Given the relative scarcity of the first state, I have to believe that she was somewhat dissatisfied with the first state and changed it relatively early on.  The above three copies are the only ones I have ever seen of the first state, and all came indirectly from the Royds' estate.  They may, in fact, be printer's proofs, and the first state may never have been commercially issued.  Nonetheless, it  shows that she had conceived of her A and B states right from the beginning, rather than being some later-conceived permutation as some of her color variants clearly were.


Musicians (State 2A) (c. 1925-1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of  John Shillito
(woodblock print)

 Musicians (State 2B) (c. 1925-1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of John Shillito
(woodblock print)

This discovery sent me on a detailed comparison of the lines in all of her Musicians print copies.  By looking for line breaks due to wear in her blocks over time, or the absence of certain lines altogether, one can see that see that at least two other distinct print editions exist.   In the second or intermediate state where the downward looking left musician was first introduced, there is still the line in the foreground between the two musicians.  State 2A is, however, the only state I've seen with the left musician wearing something other than a blue tunic.  One also notices a line break in the pants above the left musician's knee near the tip of the bow in State 2B that is present in all later states but which is absent from State 2A.  This clearly suggests that State 2B was printed after State 2A.  In addition, the seated girl in State 2B is wearing pants printed with a polka dot design, a pattern that Royds seems to have used in all later printings.  Because Royds is not merely changing the color of her pants but their design, an entirely new block would have had to have been cut to produce this effect.  (Alternatively, Royds could have carved the dots directly onto the original block used to print the pants, in which case she would have lost the ability to ever print the solid pants version again.)  It's possible that a variant of State 2A exists with polka-dotted pants, but I have not as yet located one.  On the other hand, there is a substantially continuous black border on State 2B but is largely discontinuous in State 2A, which would seem to contradict my theory that State 2A precedes State 2B.  Either way, these intermediate states appear to be relatively rare, as these are the only two copies I've found so far.

  Musicians (State 3) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of Joyce Williams Antique Prints & Maps
(woodblock print)

   Musicians (State 3 - variant?) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Personal Collection
(woodblock print) 

   Musicians (State 3 - variant?) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of the Goldmark Gallery
(woodblock print)
  
   Musicians (State 3 - variant?) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of the Modern Printmakers Blog, http://haji-b.blogspot.com
(woodblock print) 

   Musicians (State 3 - variant?) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of Abbott and Holder Ltd.
(woodblock print) 

  Musicians (State 3 - variant?) (c. 1926?) by Mabel Royds
Courtesy of the British Museum
(woodblock print) 

By state 3, it becomes extremely difficult to tell what may or may not be a variant color state without personal inspection of the prints.  One also can't be completely sure if there is further wear in the blocks accounting for lines to be indistinctly printed, or if they were the result of uneven baren force being applied or insufficient inking of the blocks.  The Joyce Williams copy appears to be the earliest printed of all of these copies, because there is a slight trace of a portion of the line in the foreground between the two musicians.  But the border clearly seen in State 2B above is gone, except in some areas near the corners.  Now the contrast between the dark foreground and the ground where the woman carrying the baby is standing is more palpable, as if there was a light source emanating directly from the area around her feet.  The musicians are bathed in shadows ranging from a greenish grey-white to a pale green that essentially blurs any distinction between the A and B states.  It's a mater of taste whether this is an improvement over the blue shadow of the earlier states.   It's certainly more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes but, at the same time, a sense of how brutally hot Indian sun must have felt like is somewhat diminished in the process.  

While I'm not going to note all perceptible differences in the above State 3 from print to print, I'll list a few obvious ones (some of which apply to the earlier states as well): skin pigments that appear to range from dark brown to a maroon or purplish-brown; arm and neck bracelets that may or may not be colored; the checked blouse on the woman with a bundle on her head that ranges in color from olive to peach; and her skirt that ranges in shade from dark to light.  Both the Joyce Williams copy and my personal copy of State 3 show the ribbed structure of the aquamarine door, including what appear to be round door handles (or knockers).  Thereafter the ribs and door handles are either indistinct or missing altogether.  (They are also missing on my copy of State 1A, so this is not something unique to State 3.)

If any conclusion can be drawn from the above, it is that Royds seemed to be constantly experimenting, not only with color, but also with the interplay between light and shadow as captured and reproduced in the printing process. We may never know if the third state reflects her final, finished concept for the design, or if it was merely just another alternative state to her.  Given that all three states are signed, I can only assume that each met with her approval in some way.  One also wonders if Royds was a music lover or if it was simply the exoticism of Asian musicians that appealed to her.   Besides the Musicians print, musicians also feature in her prints of the Devil Dance Heralds, the Lamas' Harvest, and, by implication, The Snake Charmer, although no pungi is actually depicted in that design.

My thanks to John Shillito for sharing his knowledge about Mabel Royds' work and for being a helpful sounding board during the writing of this post.  If a reader has a version of the Musicians print that seems to contradict what I've outlined above, or which suggests another state altogether, please let me know.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Galerie Hochdruck Japonisme Exhibition

Galerie Hochdruck in Vienna is having a "Druckgrafik des Japonismus" exhibition running from November 28th to February 27, 2016.  An online version of their exhibition can be found at http://www.galeriehochdruck.com/Ausstellungen/Japonismus/japonismus_catalogue.html and is worth checking out.

Segler auf Hiddensee 2 [Sailors on Hiddensee 2] (c. 1915) by Siegfried Berndt
(woodblock print)

The exhibition concentrates on prints by Mittle-European artists, many of whom of new to me, but it also includes a selection of classical Japanese ukiyo-e prints and some prints by several contemporary print artists.  Few if any of the pre-WWII print artists besides Emil Orlik ever actually traveled to Japan, so the prints are largely ones which are merely "inspired" by Japanese composition and motifs.  The various artists represented include Erich Buchwald-Zinnwald, Lucien Pissarro, Leonhard Fanto, Maximilian Kurzweil, Carl Moll, Walther Klemm, Nobertine Bresslern-Roth, and Hugo Henneberg, among others.


Vier Jahreszeiten: Herbst
[Four Seasons:Winter] (1909)
by Hedwig Jarke
 (woodblock print)
Badefreuden [Bathing] (1903)
by Hans Neumann
(woodblock print)

I particularly like this WWI print by Dirk Hidde Nijland:

Duikboot en mijn [U-Boat and Mines] (1917) by Dirk Hidde Nijland
(woodblock print)

The owner of the gallery told me that objects in the exhibition will change over time as certain prints are sold and new ones are acquired, so it might be worthwhile to check back from time to time.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Charles W. Bartlett and the Taj Mahal

Some artists have favorite subjects that reappear over and over in their work.  Think Georgia O'Keefe and flowers, Kuniyoshi (or Foujita) and cats, Brangwyn and bridges (or windmills), etc.  For Charles William Bartlett (1860-1940), a seminal image in his work would be the Taj Mahal.

Self-Portrait (September 1933)
Personal Collection
(watercolor)

In December 1913, Bartlett and his second wife, Catherine ("Kate"), left England for a trip around the world.  By January 1914, the pair was in Kandy, Ceylon and, by February 3rd, they were in Madura, India.  Bartlett and his wife would spend more than a year and a half traveling throughout India and Pakistan until the early fall of 1915, when they finally left the subcontinent for Japan.  Bartlett filled a number of sketchbooks and generated a sizable number of watercolors documenting various scenes of Madura, Pondicherry, Benares, Allahabad, Jaunpur, Agra, Srinagar, Peshawar, Amritsar, Muttra, Udaipur, and the Dal Lake in Kashmir, among other locales.  The Bartletts visited Agra twice, first in March 1914, and again sometime in 1915.

Taj-Mahal (1915)
Courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art
(watercolor over graphite)

Through Kate Bartlett's friend, the artist Elizabeth Keith, Charles Bartlett was introduced in Tokyo to the young woodblock print publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō, who was looking to expand his fledgling shin hanga print business.  (Other authorities state that the introduction came via Friedrich Capelari or through Watanabe's friend Hattori Kibei.)  After publishing a dozen prints designed by Capelari and a one-off with Hashiguchi Goyō, Watanabe was still having difficulty convincing Japanese artists to work with his craftsmen.  It therefore should not be surprising that Watanabe saw the potential for Bartlett's Indian watercolors to be turned into new prints that would have both artistic merit and commercial appeal to his Western clientele, and he immediately took steps to add Bartlett to his stable of artists.  Work seems to have begun in January 1916, and there are records of sales of two print designs as early as mid-February 1916.

Sketchbook study for 1st Series. India. portfolio cover (c. late 1915 - early 1916)
Photo from a sketchbook now residing at the Honolulu Museum of Art
(ink drawing)

Cover for the 1st Series. India. portfolio (1916)
Courtesy of hanga.com
(woodblock print)

Bartlett's collaboration with Watanabe began with a series of six India landscape prints which, in addition to being sold individually, were also issued as a group in their own portfolio.  There are sales records of portfolios being sold by the end of March 1916, so all the print designs must have been completed and produced by that date.  The portfolio cover itself was adorned with its own woodblock print of the Taj Mahal.  The printing run of the Indian portfolio prints was supposed to have been limited to 100 impressions, but that probably did not extend to color variants issued outside of the portfolio.  (As a point of comparison it is known that 250 copies were initially made of the "Udaipur. 1916, II" (aka "Water Palace, Udaipur") design just a few months later.)  However, the extreme rarity of the cover prints for the India series portfolio (as well as those for the subsequent Japan series portfolio issued later that year) suggests that the number of complete portfolios issued was quite small.  No doubt a significant number of the portfolio covers were lost as a consequence of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 that destroyed Watanabe's shop.  The highest numbered portfolio copy I've encountered so far in the literature is number 32.


Agra. 1916 (1916)
Courtesy of Scholten Japanese Art
(woodblock print)

Besides the portfolio cover, one of the initial six India Series prints was a Taj Mahal nocturne called "Agra. 1916."  The original mat window for the print is inscribed with the following remark based on a comment found in Bartlett's sketchbook: "The domes and minarets of the Taj-Mahal stand out clear in the moonlight.  A caravan of camels passes."  This print sold very well right out of the gate, as there is a record of 70 additional copies of it and two other designs from the India series being printed in early 1917.


Taj Mahal. 1916 (1916)
Courtesy of Paramour Fine Arts
(woodblock print)

By the end of September 1916, Watanabe had published two more Bartlett Taj Mahal designs in a somewhat larger format.  One is a dawn view from the north bank of the Yamuna river called "Taj Mahal. 1916".  The original mat for this print is inscribed "The Tomb of an Emperor's wife. / The calm of an Indian dawn."

Taj Mahal, Early Morning (c. 1914-1915)
Personal Collection
(watercolor)

Taj-Mahal. Agra. 1916. (1916)
Courtesy of The Art of Japan
(woodblock print)

The other is a view from the Paradise Gardens called "Taj-Mahal. Agra. 1916" (although it is sometimes referred to as "Taj-Mahal by Moonlight").  Interestingly, the original watercolor upon which it is based is called "Taj Mahal, Early Morning."  Bartlett's sketchbook contains the following poetical description: "Pearl of the Orient sculptured and wrought / Gem finely cut from an Emperor's thought / Casket enshrining a world of fair dreams / Set in the light of the moon's silver beams."  This particular print design evidently sold so well that there were no copies left to be included in Watanabe's famous June 1921 exhibition and sale.  I think it safe to say that some of Hiroshi Yoshida's later India prints owe a great deal to the success of Bartlett's India prints.

Taj-Mahal - Night (1931) by Hiroshi Yoshida
Courtesy of The Art of Japan
(woodblock print)

The Bartletts would spend much of the rest of 1916 traveling through China and Korea before setting sail for Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu in January 1917.  The pair liked the climate and the people so much that they repeatedly extended their stay, eventually deciding to take up permanent residence in Manoa.  Although the Bartletts would return to Japan and China in 1919 for a brief visit, and spent most of 1921 in Japan, China, and Java, the bulk of Bartlett's remaining woodblock prints were designed in Hawaii and mailed to Watanabe.  Watanabe, in turn, would mail him back keyblock prints and trial prints for Bartlett's review and annotation.  In the period prior to the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, Bartlett's prints would include three additional Taj Mahal designs.  (Color variants of many of Bartlett's woodblock prints and even some etchings exist, but I'm saving that discussion for another time.)

Taj-Mahal from the Desert (c. 1914-1915)
Courtesy of Christies.com
(pen and watercolor)

Taj-Mahal from the Desert (c. 1919)
Courtesy of Artelino.com
(woodblock print)

Taj at Sunset (c. 1914-1915)
Personal Collection
(watercolor)

Taj-Mahal. Sunset. (c. 1919)
(woodblock print)

Bartlett's sketchbook contains the following comment: "The red sandstone wall with its corner towers throws into relief the pearly quality of this unique memorial."

 
 Sketchbook study for "Taj-Mahal. Twilight" (c. 1914-1915)
Photo from a sketchbook now residing at the Honolulu Museum of Art
(pencil drawing)

Taj-Mahal. Twilight. (c. 1920)
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

Interestingly, the above impression of Taj-Mahal, Twilight is the very one that Bartlett used to satisfy the U.S. copyright registration deposit requirement, and it bears a Library of Congress stamp on the back.  Bartlett's sketchbook contains the following comment: "The moon is full.  The dome and minarets catch the last rays of the setting sun."

Gateway to Agra (c. 1923)
Courtesy of Robyn Buntin of Honolulu
(etching, drypoint hand-colored with watercolor)

Starting around 1923, Bartlett would returned to etching, a medium in which he hadn't worked since leaving England a decade earlier.  These etchings would provide relief from Bartlett's work on larger canvases, which took longer and longer to complete, particularly as Bartlett's eyesight began to deteriorate.  It also provided a quicker way of generating print stock as opposed to the rather slow mail order process with Watanabe.  Like his earlier Dutch etchings, most of these later etchings appear to based on Bartlett's paintings.  Five of these etchings feature the Taj Mahal and/or architectural structures on its grounds.

Taj-Mahal from the East. (c. 1923-1927)
Courtesy of Castle Fine Arts
(etching, drypoint hand-colored with watercolor)

Taj Mahal by Moonlight (1923)
Courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art
(oil on canvas)

Taj Mahal, Agra (aka Pearl of the Orient) [large version] (c. 1923-1925)
Personal Collection
(etching, engraving, drypoint printed in blue ink hand-colored with watercolor)

Taj Mahal, Agra (aka Pearl of the Orient) [small version] (c. 1923-1925)
Personal Collection
(etching)


Taj Mahal, Agra (aka Pearl of the Orient) [small version] (c. 1923-1925)
(etching, hand-colored with watercolor)

Taj Mahal, Agra (1915)
Courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art
(watercolor)
Taj Mahal (1927)
Personal Collection
(etching, drypoint hand-colored with watercolor)

Whether accidental or intentional, Bartlett's last completed woodblock print design also featured the Taj Mahal in the distance.  In the original impressionistic painting, the Taj Mahal is barely discernible through the morning mist.  Bartlett, however, would have revised this work when designing the print, both in size and in composition, and there is a record in Bartlett's papers of having sent such a watercolor to Watanabe in January 1925.  (Presumably, this watercolor currently resides in the Watanabe family vault.)  For the print, the observation angle through the Golden Pavilion's columns has been greatly simplified and the number of people has been reduced to a lone figure in red gazing at the Taj Mahal on the other side of the riverbank.

Taj-Mahal From The Golden Pavilion (c. 1914-1915)
Personal Collection
(pastel with watercolor)

The Taj-Mahal from the Fort. Agra. (c. 1926)
Courtesy of hanga.com
(woodblock print)

While it is tempting to imagine the figure in red as a surrogate for Bartlett himself saying a final goodbye to the Taj Mahal, Bartlett produced one last etching on the subject in 1927 (as shown above), and he would again return to this subject in 1936 for one of his last major oil paintings.

Taj Mahal in Moonlight (1936)
Personal Collection
(oil on canvas)

Why did Bartlett return again and again to the Taj Mahal in his work?  Behind the semi-poetical inscriptions in his notebooks, Bartlett himself doesn't seem to have left behind any written discussion on the subject.  One can only speculate as to the various factors that may have played a part.  To a British subject like Bartlett, colonial India, the "jewel in the crown," would certainly been a source of nationalist pride, and there is hardly a more emblematic symbol of India than the Taj Mahal.  Nor could Bartlett have been oblivious to the patently commercial nature of the image.  Certainly Watanabe recognized this in producing so many of Bartlett's woodblock prints featuring the Taj Mahal.  Then there's the obvious parallel between Bartlett, whose first wife died in childbirth, and the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum to house the tomb of his favorite of three wives, Mumtaz Mahal, who also died in childbirth.

Fruit Sellers Under The Banyan Tree, India (1931)
Personal Collection
(oil on canvas)

None of those reasons can be discounted, particularly the latter.  (Somewhat understandably, the Taj Mahal was not a particular favorite of Kate Bartlett.)  But I think there was a fourth factor as well.  The Indian sun brought about a change in Bartlett's painting style.  After years spent painting grey-skied Dutch landscapes and somber peasant scenes, Bartlett's India paintings have a new found power and energy as he opens himself up to the possibilities presented by such intense sunlight.  He moves from an unromantic, naturalistic style to one that is increasingly impressionistic and romantic.  Instead of drab farmers, the natives are depicted in brightly colored robes.  The interplay between sun and shadow becomes key both in his paintings and in his prints, as does the changeable nature of light at various times of day.  This is true, of course, for almost any of his Indian paintings, not necessarily just those involving the Taj Mahal.  However, the reflective nature of the white marble of the walls and dome of the tomb provided Bartlett with a particularly unique subject to capture from various vantage points as the lighting conditions varied.  His later oil paintings are rendered in an thick impasto style using mineral pigments that practically shimmer and glow.  Bartlett also started to scrape the paint on his canvases to impart a palpable tactility and a three-dimensionality to his subjects.

Amritsar (c. 1940) (unfinished at the time of Bartlett's death)
Personal Collection
(oil on canvas)

I leave the readers with two final Bartlett images of the Mormon Temple in Laie, Oahu.  This was the first temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints built outside of the continental United States.  It was still under construction at the time that the Bartletts arrived in Hawaii, and was not completed under November 1919.  As such, it certainly would have been a topic of conversation among the locals at the time, and it quickly became a magnet for tourists.  For Bartlett, however, I believe it was more than just another exotic building to paint.  It became, in effect, a stand-in for his beloved Taj Mahal, with its tree-lined series of reflective pools, gardens, and a white facade that is illuminated at night.


Sketchbook study for Mormon Temple, Laie, Oahu (c. 1919)
Photo from a sketchbook now residing at the Honolulu Museum of Art
(pencil drawing)

 Mormon Temple, Laie, Oahu (c. 1919) 
Personal Collection
(watercolor with pastel)

Bartlett's ledgers contain the names of several other Taj Mahal paintings and sketches beyond those depicted in this post.  Four additional Agra watercolors or drawings reside at the Honolulu Museum of Art, but unfortunately they are not available for viewing on its website.  The other owners of the remaining Taj Mahal paintings are not known at this time, at least not to me.  Please feel free to contact me if you happen to have images to share of other works by Bartlett that feature the Taj Mahal.

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