Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Around Antwerpen School of Print Making (II)

Edward Pellens
Belgian wood engraver, printmaker, illustrator, stamp designer, ex libris and bookcover designer.
Teacher and professor at he Royal Academy of Antwerp 

In Antwerp Edward Pellens ran a xylographic studio (atelier) in the Royal Academy voor Schone Kunsten and in 1906 was appointed head of this Instition after the decease of his predecessor (aged 86 !), wood engraver Edward Vermorcken (1820-1906). He was to remain in function for over 25 years until 1933. Antwerpen Royal Academy was founded in 1664. After Rome, Paris and Florence the oldest Academy in the Old World. In 1886 it was extended with the National Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten, a postdoc where promising students stayed for a number of years sometimes even (the most talented) with a scholarship (stipendium) from the Belgian State.

E.Pellens,  woodcut
SS Mercator in Antwerp harbour
Many, most if not all serious XXth century wood engraving and cutting printmakers and graphic illustrators (outside Brittain) of name were trained in the Atelier Pellens.  Pellens becoming the father of XXth century wood-using printmakers. Most probably Pellens had been a student of Vermorcken thus continuing a long line of classical and traditional training and artistic influences.
Edouard Vermorcken: wood engraving, St. Johns Cathedral, den Bosch 
Pellens was the pivotal figure in the changing of traditional wood engraving (illustrational art) into modern print making in Belgium. His influence probably stretching from Paris to Amsterdam. In Paris at the time worked August Lepère (1849-1918), (*see below) , the starting point and Godfather of all Modern Printmakers, world famous even during his life and way ahead of his time. Pellens, after his appointment, spreading the Modern Printmaking gospel into the Low-Lands and England.
E. Pellens, postage stamp: wood engravings
Most of the later important printmakers of the XXth century  were technically trained in his studio. Frans Masereel, Henri van Straten, Joris van der Minne, Josef Cantré, John Buckland-Wright and many, many others. 

Among them also: Emil Verpilleux and Henri Wils. These two printmakers were the starting point of this (web) investigation. The most brilliant of Modern Printmakers and in 1913 already very much Halelujahed for his atmospheric color woodblock prints Emil Verpilleux (1888-1964) and the least known of them: modest Henri Wils (1892-1967). They could (will) have met, been in the same class room with Master Pellens.

Both will have their own posting following. Verpilleux, going his own unique colorful way as early as 1910 and Wils stepping stylish in the footsteps of his teacher E. Pellens never to create anything else but decorational, sellable topographic prints of Dutch cities. But also bare in mind the circumstances: he fled WW1, managed as an artist through the Big Depression and met and lived through yet another war.
I’m convinced Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) and Yoshihiro Urushibara (1889-1953) did make their acquaintance with Pellens, as did a mysterious, not mentioned by name certain "Canadian printmaker". Maybe Emil Orlik (1860-1911) payed a visit when in Belgium. But I couldn’t find any written account or proof. Urushibara arrived in London in 1910 and made several trips to the mainland. In his Bruges prints there are elements of surprise and similarities.
It is very annoying, although mentioned in biographies of dozens of modern printmakers there’s hardly any work by Edward  Pellens to be found on the www. A series of postcards for the Red Star Line (Antwerp-New York) giving some idea of his skills. But I had to dig deep finding them. 
As a classical wood engraver Pellens will have undoubtedly passed on his knowledge and will have trained basic and classic engraving and more modern cutting,  and combining, techniques onto all of his students. 

The opening picture of "SS Mercator", however proving he was quite capable of creating an “atmospheric” and Modern Print too. Using minimal color and just three blocks. What a difference with the other print in the classic engraving technique also showing “SS Mercator” in Antwerp harbour. These prints dating after 1932, because she was build and launched (in England) that year. It's hard to believe they are made by the same artist.

Besides the woodcuts for the postcard series (of which I have never seen a bigger or original print) Pellens designed chocolate posters (were have I seen these color combinations used in the background ?), ex-libris, postage stamps, and sheet music covers (above).  
 Edward Pellens: Antwerp and the Schelde river

Auguste Lepère: Paris and the Seine river
His view of Antwerpen maybe based on a great, heroic, chilling and atmospheric 1890 print by August Lepère, “Paris sous la neige, vue du haut du Saint Gervais” (Paris, in snow as seen from the hights of the church Saint Gervais on the banks of the Seine)
It is in the more topographical style of Pellens and choosing also a monochrome approach using just 3 or 4 blocks, Antwerp born Henri Wils continued. 
Henri Wils, Zuidblaak, Rotterdam
Seaking refuge, with 100.000's of others in 1914 when Antwerp was overrun by German troups, being interned in the neutral Netherlands, married and making a living from his printmaking skills, taught by Pellens, and his enterprise in Rotterdam. 

In this context under preparation and to follow soon:
Auguste Lepère, Godfather of Modern Printmakers.
Emile Verpilleux, King of Modern Printmakers, a student at Studio Pellens.
Henri Wils, just another printmaker from Studio Pellens.


  1. I have to say I am doubtful about your comments on Urushibara. He was already a highly skilled woodblock maker when he arrived in Europe - that's why they sent him - and had learned to combine engraving and cutting in Japan. But the similarities between British and other European wood-engravers before about 1914 are interesting. They didn't really begin to diverge untill Noel Rooke took over at the Central School about 1910 and British engravers began to look at their own traditions again.


  2. I meant to say that supposedly U. has payed a visit, or visits to studio Pellens. As a quest or tutor not as a student. Brangwyn having strong connections with Belgium ofcourse. I have no idea how (which route) they travelled from LOndon those days but Antwerpen would be no detour. I would like to compare the importancy of Antwerpen and Paris schools but I can only find (some) facts about Antwerpen. There's so much more I would like to know. Thanks for the wise words and support.

  3. Urushibara's work in in Europe was at first demonstration of the Japanese technique, so visiting Antwerp would make sense. He certainly worked with French artists in the way he did with Brangwyn.


  4. Would I like to know the names of the artists... and see what they did with it. In France and possibly in Belgium. I know some British, and Walter J. Philips. But he started doing it (printmaking in the Urushibara technique after 1917 (so I read). Please fill me in before epsidode III. Gerrie

  5. If I knew any more, I might be posting myself. You can't find this kind of information online unless you're very lucky. You have to got to printed sources, records etc in a scholarly way No one knows what the picture is.


  6. It is surprising that the subject(grafic schools) never been subject of a thesis or otherwise scolarly investigation. It's indeed just the bits and pieces excavated from the www that's making up the picture. And a few people commenting with a greater insight.

  7. Not really true. People have done research and published books, articles, introductions, catalogues etc on lesser known graphic artists but they are not available online. Alot of the best information is still printed and any commentary that relies only on internet sources will be at best superficial.


  8. You are absolutely right Charles and I'm quite aware. I also agree with you: the only trustworthy and verifiable information is of the written and published sort. But I wish I had acces or even some knowledge of these (text)books. Where to find them I mean. I am quite aware my blogging efforts are merely a condensation of my mental travels, thoughts and learning proces. Superficially tying some superficial information. Not more. Thanks !

  9. You just have to buy these things when and where you see them and it can take years to build up a good library of catalogues etc. Visiting museums and galleries is a must. Either you buy the catalogue there and then or you pick up old ones of interest. It's either that or libraries. I just buy anything relevant on British printmaking that I see - and that isn't much. There is also Bookfinder as you know but old printed material is becoming pricey.

    Having said that I've just researched someone today online and within an hour I had turned up more reliable information than any of the dealers had. I found their sources and new ones. But you can't rely on that. You know what I mean.

    Me? I am visiting the British Library on 4th February.

  10. Yes that's exactly the point. I'll make a reference to your remarks in part III and try even more avoiding any scholarly resemblance or pretentions. Thanks.

  11. Hello
    Goede site.
    Grote fan van E. Pellens
    ik beschik enkele prachtige ex librissen van hem
    en zijn leerling Jos Hendrickx

  12. Dank je Guy, ik zou ze graag zien. Email onder contact

  13. Beste Gerrie,

    Bij toeval kom ik op je blog na het google-en van mijn overgrootvader Pellens Eduardus. De familie en ikzelf bezitten een deel van zijn werk en ook foto's van hem in zijn atelier. Ik ben zelf een absolute cultuur-barbaar, maar ik ben wel zinnens mijn te weinig gekende voorvader op de kaart te zetten. Ik dacht in eerste instantie aan een vermelding op Wikipedia en later eventueel een vernissage en zelfs aansturen op een straatnaam in Antwerpen. Maar zoals ik al zei ben ik absoluut onbekend in dat wereldje en heb ik bovendien erg weinig tijd. Mocht jij ideeën hebben of whatsoever hoor ik dat graag. Met vriendelijke groet.
    Peter (Severyns)

  14. Beste Peter Wie had dat kunnen denken ? Contacteer mij a.u.b. op want op commentaren kan ik niet anders dan hier reageren en je email adres is onzichtbaar.