Wednesday, June 3, 2020

462. The 1898 Exhibition of Wood-Engraving

A few weeks ago I was approached by an Italian scholar, Francesco Parisi, who enquired about the 'First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving', held at the Dutch Gallery in London in 1898. 

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898)
Parisi (born 1972) teaches at the Academy of Macerata, the Accademia di Belle Art di Macerata in the Marche region, and prepares a course on Ricketts and wood-engraving at the end of the nineteenth century. His publications include an essay on Austin Osman Spare and a monograph about Japonism, Giapponismo.

For this new course, he needs images of the catalogue of the 1898 exhibition. A digital version is not yet available, which is why I am happy to comply with his request. In return, he promises to keep us informed about his research on Ricketts - there are not that many Italian Ricketts scholars!

'Original' wood-engraving refers to works that were executed by the artist himself (and not by a studio or professional wood-cutter). The show was opened on 3 December 1898. For a review, see my blog no. 426. Exhibition Catalogue Design 1898.

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page ii]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page iii]
The short introduction in the catalogue (page ii-iii) refers to predecessors such as William Blake, but the exhibition concentrates on wood-engravings from the last ten years, with works by T.S. Moore, Ricketts, Shannon, Alphonse Legros, Lucien Pissarro, J.F. Millet, William Nicholson and Reginald Savage.

In opening the first exhibition of original engraving it may not be out of place to point out that early in the nineteenth century the used of the graver superseded that of the engraving knife, and that this change happened in the hands of an Englishman. Ever since it has been in England that we find the greatest number of original wood engravers, and, on the whole, the keenest sense of the resources of the medium. The names of Blake, his pupil Calvert, and Bewick have become household words. The woodcuts collected here have been done during the last ten years - a period given up almost wholly to processes - and have for the most part been already shown in the art centres of Holland and Germany. The popular impression that the noble wood-cuts of Germany were engraved by their designers is now a belief of the past, and during almost two centuries of activity two admirable artists only can be certainly associated with a series of original wood-cuts, namely Altdorfer the German and Livens the Dutchman. This is the more strange since Dürer recommended all artists to engrave their own work. In recent times, Jean François Millet made some experiments with his brother. The set of Vale Publications here exhibited illustrate the use of wood engraving in the decoration of books. In England only has this subject been given serious attention; and in this case the engravings are without exception original.

We may assume that Ricketts himself is the author of these introductory words - his arbitrary spelling of names such as the one of Lievens can betray him, and the leaps in time and geography also characterise his style.

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page iv]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page v]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page vi]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page vii]
The last page was blank and served as a back cover. The catalogue was published at a time that wood-engraving was considered too laborious for a commercial practice. Ricketts's claims are critically reviewed by Joanna Selbourne in her book British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940 (1998). She prefers the work of Pissarro and Moore and asserts that Ricketts understood nothing of the medium: 'neither he nor Morris understood the true nature of wood or its creative potential'.