Saturday, 19 January 2013

Hélène Mass, an account of my investigations (I)

Hélène Mass (Maß)
born 1871 Posen (Poznan, Poland) - ?
German painter and printmaker

part I

This picture, of flowering chestnuts (blühende Kastaniën), which can be found in several locations (and in Modern Printmakers here*) for quite some time annoyed me, causing doubt, questions and controversy about who actually created it. It was contributed to Carl Thiemann, "closely resembling the style of Hélène Mass" and vice-versa. It is most certainly the same example used in all sites and in some examples remnants of printed lettering in the lower margin are still visible.
Somewhere, sometime, some-one has removed this information probably because it made no sense. A printmaker by the name of Hermann Maier just didn't exist. To this day, reading the signature of Hélène Maß, is troublesome and often is read as Helen Mayo or other variations, the double ss or ß in "Fraktur" (machinetype) or "Sütterlin" (written) old-Germanic scrypt difficult to read 100 years later and not only for non-Germans and Ebay sellers! It's why I happened to find mine (next posting). Compare how she treated the trees' shadows !
The editor of der Kunstwart/Kulturwart is also to blaim of course printing this phantasy name. And he did it again in 1919 and 1920 because there can hardly be any doubt these two Hildesheim prints are also by Hélène Maß. One of them even bares her monogram, the M over the H, in the block. Prints like these were probably created exclusively, maybe even commissioned by the Magazine which had 13.000 subscribers in its days of glory. 
This perticular magazine, meant to enhance the cultural education and knowledge of the German People, was in existence from 1887 to 1932. Ploughing through all volumes (explaining the pause in posting) took me days. Many contemporary artists of name and fame co-operated happily, probably also because of the advertising power of a good, widely read and spread magazine. Graphic Art in German translates Vervielfaltigende Kunst: multiplicable Art. The British equivalent: the Studio first published 1893. These magazines had a huge influence educating the people and cleverly creating " good taste" and an appetite in a new public and market in the Art Deco and Arts and Craft period.  
To make sensible decisions in the many offers (Ebay) it's evident some knowledge about the "Kunst-beilagen" of magazines like der Kunstwart, die Grafische Kunste (1879-1943), Jugend (1890's-1930) and PAN (1896-1900), and there were many more, will give you an advance in collecting prints when on a budget and safeguard you from disappointing acquisitions. Not every seller will tell you or, in the best case, may be just ignorant of what exactly he is selling and (asking/starting) prices vary immensely. From insanely overpriced to dead cheap. Recently I was able to add these Austrian parrots to my parrots on prints collection patiently awaiting an affordable offer from a realistic seller. Both are Kunstbeilage prints. Right Ludwig Jungnickel (1881-1965), left Angelo Jank (1868-1940) an iconic lithography by this animal painter 
But mind you, most of these "Beilage"-prints today are very sought after, highly collectable and printed from the original blocks or plates in the case of etchings. Like the multiple prints by Ludwig Jungnickel (blue parrots, roe-deer), Norbertine Bresslern Roth (1891-1978)(orange lobster), Walter Klemm (1883-1957) (cattle market, blue-tits below a.o.), Eugen Kirchner (1865-1938) (print above), the great painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) and the founding father of Modern Printmaking Emil Orlik (1870-1932) himself.
 Walter Klemm in Japanese-Orlik mode, a free print in 1914 !

Many of these prints I cannot remember ever coming across in a hand-pulled or hand-signed edition. Later added (fake) signatures spoiling the value considerably. 
Since I've found so many more nice and hardly ever seen pictures related to Hélène Maß and her times, facts about her and her contemporaries, the great German post-impressionist painters and the glorious city of Berlin its schools and many fine artists, I intend presenting them in following series of postings around Hélène Maß. Sharing and warming from the result of some winter armchair travel and research. 

Read further here about Hélène Maß and her prints:

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

All comments and added information is warmly welcomed.


  1. I am impressed by your thoroughness. I can imagine you leafing through page by page "der Kunstwart/Kulturwart" looking for images and information to support your thesis.
    Great post.
    I really like the way she handles the Flowering Horse-Chestnut trees, especially in the second of the two versions and the night scene of whatever building that might be.....I am grateful for the work you've put into this post and look forward to what you have to show next.
    P.S. The wood-grain becoming rain in the Klemm print and the amount of space just left to be "Sky" is really wonderful. I didn't know about this print and I like it.

    1. Thank you Andrew, I really appreciate comments and feedback. Finding these rather unknown works and sharing them I hope is adding more knowledge and understanding onto the world of printmaking and printmakers. I do my best adding only new and worthwhile information to the internet. Finding Klemm's Japanese print made my day too and there's more to come !

  2. We also have ourselves to blame for relying so heavily on images we find online.

    As I suggested in my latest post, the British had William Giles to keep them in line whereas many central European artists had publishers print off editions for them and also printed themselves. Hence the importance of 'Handdruck'. The difference in quality is considerable.

    As for the chestnuts, I was always a bit dubious about the Thiemann attribution and may well delete it now. It didn't add anything, anyway.

    1. Charles, I try to understand how these early MP's (born 1860-1880) came to such results in such a short time, around 1910. Schools, academies, masterclasses, magazines and expositions the way of spreading knowledge and inspiration in a world without TV, Internet and traveling exclusive and expensive. Many early (German) printmakers were women from well to do families.
      As to to the actual difference in quality: I believe in many (most, all ?) cases these "Beilage" prints (woodblock and etchings), aren't around in "Handdruck" or signed variety, so I'm not in a position to agree on that and still have to be convinced. I've read a warning concerning signed PAN "beige" prints as well as an account on the very high quality standards these prints were submitted to even in larger editions. Average PAN edition etchings fetching 100-300€ even in times of "crisis".
      A few years ago not a handful of prints by Mass were known and available for enjoyment and inspiration, today I count some 20 (will show in following postings). So a print attributed and added to her name even after 100 years is doing her justice and not a bad thing, is it ? And indeed: Thiemann will not miss it nor object. Thank you for taking the time stopping by and commenting.