Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Studio Schmutzer (3/3)

Discussing the use of photographs in early 19th century art let’s have a look and compare some very different works by very different artists. Like these examples of etchings by Anders Zorn 1860-1920 which are so obviously created with the aid of photographic negatives. 
However, I haven’t come across any mentioning not even by critic and connoiseur Malcolm Salaman (1855-1940) who dedicated an album to Zorn in his Modern Masters of Etching in 1925. All he is enthusiastically writing about is the fine line technique and the healthy(..) appearance of the Nordic young women but nowhere is he hinting at the use of photography. 
But they are unmistakenly extremely close to the original photographs. Fine  artisticly executed tracings would be a more appropriate description. Same goes for many of his portraits. But I failed finding any references in literature. Maybe I just have'nt read enough. In the case of Schmutzer many photo's are available, but not so with Zorn. This painting and etching below: all I could find was the admiration for Zorn's realistic rendering of water and the natural postures, the idylle of mother and child. Which are all quite true of course.
Probably the photo's will never be found. In Zorn’s days they wouldn’t be considered Great Art but voyeur or "risque". That is to say to be enjoyed in a gentlemen’s smoking room. Besides very famous they made Zorn, a Swedish icon, also filthy rich. My look towards his otherwise great Art however has changed. I can’t help finding them less appealing and original and wished I hadn’t had such a suspiscious mind. Just not as freely created as they suggest to be ?
On the opposite side of the spectrum is William Hyde. A completely different appraoch but also called photogravure. Looking closely, the use of a photographical source is eminent. But Hyde’s photogravures look like photogravures, Schmutzers’ photogravures look like etchings, while Zorn’s photogravures breath photograph. Hyde is somewhat enigmatic. There are no biographical facts recorded anywhere (to my knowledge) and because other then the illustrations for this one book he is completely unknown and obscured. His London views however are unequaled.   
A photogravure by Leonard Missone (1870-1948) the photographer who really could paint with his camera and saw the gloomy beauty of bad weather and was at his best in twilight and most of all: in rain. 
A great Hamburg harbour scene by German photographer Kurt Hielscher  (1881-1948) excecuted like an etching. Compare this water's surface to Emile Verpilleux Thames (link) print, and I'm convinced he also used photography for his print

From his portraits of famous clergymen by Emile Verpilleux (1888-1964). Obviously created with the help of photographs I’ve excavated. They are relatively unknown, an amalgam of 19th century silhouette portrait, photograph and wood engraving techniques. And another example of creativity and exploring different mediums and technical possibilities.    
 Portrait photograph and woodblock of preacher Agnes Maud Royden (1876-1956) by Emile Verpilleux
Portraits of Peter van der Braken by Dutch Henri Berssenbrugge (1873-1959) and a head study by Joseph T. Keiley (1869-1914) show how many different approaches can be observed. 

Many artist in different countries became involved in these photography based  techniques, pioneering and experimenting some of them obtaining stunning results. In these examples the many differences in approach and technique are obvious. But in all of them is echoeing their 19th century training.
L:  photogravure Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) 
R: etching by Jan Poortenaar (1886-1958)
Photogravure by French painter and photographer Robert Demachy (1854-1936)
 L: Joseph Dudley-Johnston (1868-1955) 
R: Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966)
The list of great examples is ofcourse endless. So I'ld better close this posting the way I started.  Great buttocks: painting/study by Felix Valloton (1865-1925) who had either a steady eye and a patient, unnamed, model and/or a camera at hand. And the photogravure by Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946) showing the glorious  icons of Ellen Koeniger. Sadly I have no further biographical data other then these great athletes were immortalised in 1916. 
There’s a great Website dedicated to photogravure, explaining technical aspects and a free and great database:  


  1. For what it's worth, my view is that neither the Schmutzer nor Zorn etchings can be called photogravures, though I do agree that photographs have played a key part in the creative process (photographs taken by the artist, it should be noted). I suspect that both probably had access to a piece of kit like a Grant Projector (I have no idea when the Grant Projector was invented, when we had one in the 1980s it looked ancient, but no doubt the Grant was a development of some earlier piece of equipment), which projects an image onto glass, where it can be traced (or freely drawn over). The artist's hand and eye are the crucial things; technical aids are just that, aids.

  2. Thanks Neil, sure, they could have used this device a pantograph in some stage. It would be the easiest way transferring the outlines. Problem is the techniques they used aren't mentioned or explained. Hardly anywhere. Also the frozen in time aspect of the subjects in Zorn's etchings is new and never seen before. Like wise is the photographic precision in portrait art. But I seems nobody was ever "critical" or investigative about it, at least I haven't found it. In these works the result of shutter and lens are dictating after the photographer's hands and eyes composing and choosing subject. And then he goes to work again. All very premeditated, although Zorn's nudes to me look very much like snapshots. And I couldn't find an uniform definition of photogravure.
    Thanks again !

  3. If one ever visits Zorn's house in Mora, Sweden you will find that his skill at capturing in painting, in wood carving as a young boy, and in etching are the works of his eyes and his hands...not that of a camera. A camera captures a moment in time. Zorn captures a moment for eternity. A genius one does not have to "shutter" about. Enjoy the genius, and try and find your own.
    Richard O. Byrne - Staunton, Virginia

  4. Hello Richard, thank you very much for your comment. All comments are very welcomed. Without visiting Sweden I'm convinced about Zorns talents and skills. As I wrote. And full of admiration too about his paintings. I even am fortunate to have, with great joy and pride one of his etchings. You sound a big fan of Zorn too, just like me, but maybe a little bit blinded by His Greatnes. I mean: "moments for eternity". When I visit the house, I'll bet you, I'll find some great cameras of the period. He could certainly afford (and use) them very well. Thank you very much for commenting, I wish readers did it more, and it's genuinly appreciated. But for just a moment put the sunglasses down and then have a look at his etchings again. Really great etchings, but be honest: snapshot poses. Unless he had shutter eyesight.