Friday, 4 September 2015

Eve and the serpent: 1896

Eve and the Serpent 

A copy of the original print

This print (in 1896 called a chromo-xylograph) is regarded the first modern woodblock print created in England. The original, I really have no idea how many or how few prints were pulled from the original blocks nor about their where a-bouts, I've found only one copy of it in the internet. 

It was created in 1896 by John Dickson-Batten (1860-1932) and Frank Morley-Fletcher (1866-1949) in a joint effort. Some of the struggle creating it, technical details concerning the method of printing and registering, was revealed by JDB himself in the Studio Magazine in 1896 with this article and the issue also held a "photo-mechanical reproduction" of the print. (Click pictures to embiggen and read: interesting stuff !) 

Taken the Magazines reputation it must have been the best available high quality technical method of reproduction and quite an achievement.

Copy of the Studio print 

I have also no idea how rare this Studio photo-mechanical edition is. How many copies may have survived time ? But I did find this offer in America, wondering about the selling price (?) 

Read more and all about Dickson-Batten and Morley-Fletcher in Charles' Modern Printmakers Blog. He is after all the expert on British printmakers. There's nothing I could wish to add there, but:  

I found these two lovely contemporary computerized designs (said to be) based on illustrations by Dickson Batten for "Celtic Ferry Tales" (1892) but so far I have not been able to find the original illustrations. The book on the shelf (right) seems to have  the name Remark on its back. I wonder which book this was. 

And I found this charming Mermaid printed (with a kind of "Japanese wash" background)  as  a bookplate by Dickson-Batten. I hadn't seen it before. 
(As Charles stated in the comments it was actually created by his brother) 

Batten and Fletcher followed in the footsteps of Auguste Lepère (1849-1918) and Henri Rivière (1864-1851) who just a few years before were the first to try at the Japanese way of printmaking. Here's Lepère with a very Japanese print of his convalescent wife on the Brittany coast. It is 1892 ! 

and here in 1898 in a more traditional way of (European, claire-obscure) printmaking with "Eve Repentant" after the statue of August Rodin. She was published as a print in the Studio in 1898. Its method of reproduction was not given as "photo-mechanical" but as "woodcut in two blocks by A. Lepère after the staue of A. Rodin". Signed in the block lower right: the real thing ?

Studio supplement prints are very sought after and highly collectable prints. The   earliest ones said to be extremely rare. I, however, have no idea concerning their market value of true scarcity but it a lovely print it is. Maybe an expert reader can enlighten me (us).  


All pictures borrowed freely from the Internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use only.  

Visit my renewed Galerie Ondine with nice pre-owned art.

Weekly upload of many nice prints. 
(Both Studio Eve's are available, 
see there for suggestions and conditions) 



  1. I claim no expertise, but my limited experience suggests that there are two prices for such a thing. One is the cost of the old Studio magazine issue, which enjoyed a decent circulation and so secondhand issues tend not to be too difficult to find or particularly expensive when you do. (That may not be quite as true for an issue this early, though I can't say for sure.) The other is the cost for such a print removed from the issue and marketed toward an art collector market, in which case the price tends to be considerably higher because of the dealer's markup.

    As a point of comparison would be Emil Orlik's famous woodblock triptych of a Japanese painter, carver, and printer (shown on the header to my Eastern Impressions blog). A kombinationsdruck printed from a lithographic copy of the woodcuts was included in a 1902 issue of Die Graphischen Künste, and I've seen dealers offer it for sale by itself in the range of US$500-800. (The issue includes two unsigned Orlik woodcuts, one unsigned Orlik etching, and an original Orlik lithograph, so the full issue iswell worth seeking out. Just be sure the prints haven't already been removed from the issue.)

    1. Thank you Darrel, for your comment and insight.

    2. Darrel is right. It is best to search out the February, 1896, issue and check everything is in place. I vaguely remember seeing that Studio image for sale but I don't know where or how much.

    3. I've enclosed a picture that shows one offered in America at $595. Realistic or idiotic ? I have no idea, seems exaggerated to me. I happen to have a copy too which decided me to write this posting.

    4. Although this post has been on for quite a while: the price tag by the France based seller is absolutely rediculous, natch. He is also trying to sell a leaf from "Dekorative Vorbilder" for 395 USD. Just trying to trap a sucker.
      I had not seen one of these (Batten/Eve) lithographs/repros for sale since recently on German ebay. It changed hands for 15 Euros plus handling which is in the range of other artwork taken from "The Studio", I guess.


  2. The two figures and the books are found on page 237 of 'Celtic Fairy Tales'. The spines of the books have inscriptions like 'Notes', 'Remarks' and 'Parallels' with underneath JJ ie the publisher Joseph Jacobs.

    Batten and Fletcher knew nothing about Lepere's work. At first Fletcher tried a technique very similar to George Baxter's using a combination of wood and metal plates that was nothing like the Japanese technique. It was only when Fletcher was shown a publication from the Smithsonian and received help from a Japanese print dealer that they were able to print 'Eve' - it was the printing that was the problem.

    As for the mermaid, it was cut by Batten's brother, Frederick, in 1894 and did not use the Japanese technique because Batten didn't know what that was - and nobody knows how he did it because he never said. It was Fletcher who became fascinated by the Japanese method and Batten didn't make a print of his own till he studied under Fletcher at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London in 1896/97!

    1. Thank you Charles, if some-one knew more about this print or printmakers it would be you. Do you have any idea about a realistic value of the photomechanical Studio print ?

  3. Perhaps I can add that the date for 'Eve and the serpent' is 1895 and not 1896. You will see that Batten's letter to The Studio is dated 'Christmas, 1895' because they took a first successful impression in the November. February, 1896, was the date of the illustration in The Studio. So far as I know it was never exhibited and never published, events that usually provide a first date. As Batten said, it was 'an experiment'.

    Useful article all the same.

    1. I take that as the greatest compliment on my humble stream of consciousness, coming from you. Do you happen to know if an original print of this experiment was preserved and collected somewhere ?

    2. Batten gave a proof impression taken on 14th November, 1895, to the British Museum but for some reason they have no image up. I think it may well be in the V&A, too. I will check my notes but the V&A have very few colour woodcuts online - if any.

    3. Thank you, much appreciated. The Studio print is possibly as close as one can get ?

    4. No, there is a difference. I assume most of the images online are the colour woodcut but I haven't done a tally of them or anything.

    5. I've added the origin of the here presented examples to the pictures in the article. The blacks in the deep background differ and also does the sharpness. Possibly due to the photographic impossibilities of 1896 ? It is nevertheless a state (1896) of the art and best possible copy.
      I think most images online are the Studio print. But thanks for your thoughts: I hope you will proof me wrong some day.