Exhibitions: Modern European Woodcuts

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    Arts of Africa, Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden
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  • 3rd Floor
    Egyptian Art, European Paintings
  • 4th Floor
    Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
  • 5th Floor
    Luce Center for American Art

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Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

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    On View: Christ Child with Passion Symbols

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    Modern European Woodcuts

    Press Releases ?
    • December 12, 1935: The Brooklyn Museum will open two exhibitions on Friday, December 13 Modern European Woodcuts to run through January 12 and School Research Work to run through January 13. On account of the interest shown in the Exhibition of Humor in Art including thirty five portraits of celebrated circus clowns by Victor De Pauw, now on exhibition in the Gallery for Living Artists, this show which was scheduled to close on December 15 will continue through January 22 and will be followed by an exhibition of Dance in Art.

      *********

      Mr. Philip N. Youtz, Director of the Brooklyn Museum, emphasized the following points in his report to the Governing Committee at their meeting on December II.

      On November 9, Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of the Department of Prehistoric and Primitive Art, returned from a lecture tour in the Southwest arranged by the College Art Association. He was gratified to note that western museums and colleges are taking a marked interest in the educational methods employed at the Brooklyn Museum in relation to children's and teachers' classes. Also there was favorable comment on the new installations which present art as a common factor in human relations. The last of five lectures on the Civilization of the Mayas was delivered in the City Art Museum at St. Louis, Mo., on November 7. Since then other lectures include The Mayas, Contrasts in American Civilization, Primitive Hall of the Brooklyn Museum, what to see in Guatemala, Museum in the Field, and Comparison between Andean and Amazonian Civilizations.

      A report was made to the Carnegie Corporation covering funds granted for the Brooklyn Museum School Service. Work on this will be terminated in February, the last stages of the visual units will be complete by then as well as a pamphlet describing the project and covering its use in the schools.

      Six Peruvian textiles were lent to a special exhibition sponsor by Miss Anne Morgan which opened at the Fuller Building in New York on December 4. These were specially mounted for the occasion

      Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1931 - 1936. 10-12_1935, 122. View Original

    • December 14, 1935: For five hundred years printing from carvings in wood was used as a purely reproductive process. The intention was to make a picture that could be reproduced in quantity. Wood was used for this purpose before metal and naturally hundreds of years before either photography or photo-engraving had made such a process as woodblock printing wholly impractical end purely a fine art. It is characteristic of naive and religious art that it should cause the artist to suppress the materials with which he works as completely is possible --- witness the printing of both ancient and medieval sculpture --- in his effort to make something wholly different out of them. The naive printer, the pure painter, is never engaged in making a printing. He is creating the like-ness of the Madonna and Child for instance. The naive sculptor is not interested in a carved stone or metal casting. He is making a woman or a god or a hero. For five hundred years no artist tried to make a woodcut in any other way or for any other purpose than to make it print things that looked as much like drawings as possible.

      Then about forty years ago a French cartoonist, Felix Edouard Vallotton, went self-conscious, saw the artistic resources of the medium and began to make woodcuts that looked like woodcuts, just as the modern printers take care that their printings should look like something made of print and canvas, not like women or gods or heroes or anything else under the sun except printings. There ensued a period in which reproductive wood engraving first became unfashionable and then practically a lost art, while woodcut whittlers made woodcuts that expressed the wooden quality of r.. woodcut and precious little else. Incidentally the commercial lithographers learned from the woodcutters and developed the modern poster. Before Franz Marc was killed in the war, he strengthened woodcut design in his departure from pretty and representational decoration toward more rugged abstraction. A few of these whittlers in recent years have gone commercial and made book illustrations and advertising illustrations and picture books that look somewhat wooden, although many of these pictures are made on scratch board instead of on wood or are nothing in the world but ink drawings reproduced by photographic linocut. By this means the American public has learned to recognize easily the cheapest sort of wood¬cut quality.

      Now apparently the new technique of the wooden woodcut has become second nature to a number of continental European artists, so that they can be wholly interested in their view of life which is non-sentimental, unconventional, distinctly ill fed and bad mannered, bitter, disillusioned, cynical, tragic, pitying, not pretty, but very strong and very decorative. They can be utterly religious in the expression of their social feeling, and yet work in such a way that the character of the medium is always felt. Every print in the current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is at first glance unmistakably printed from craved wood and not the reproduction or imitation or representation of any other process.

      This appears to be a triumph of the modern ideal in art almost without parallel in the fine arts. Very few are the works in any other medium which at once express that medium and at the same time discourse on any contemporary subject in grown up manner that is worth serious consideration. apparently woodblock printing must be accepted in the same company with architecture as an instance of modernism which works.

      December 13th through January 12th

      Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1931 - 1936. 10-12_1935, 124. View Original

    • December 14, 1935: In the contemporary European Woodcuts exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum beginning Friday December 13th – the first comprehensive American showing of the this material – there is little that a conventional person will find polite, little that a warm well-fed person will understand, little that a sentimental person will think beautiful of even bearable.

      A pale emaciated man stares out between the prison bars he grasps – “The Prisoner,” by Christian Rohlfe, leader of the Expressionists. A prophet’s head is that of an old man slashed down and cut into wrinkles of despair with grief – “Prophet” by Emil Nolde. Bathers are not nymphs not pretty nudes, but naked and awkward and unlovely, human and pitiful—as Hermann Max Pechstein sees them. Stark bare sinewy little men drag fish and boats out of breaking sea, and are of one substance with waves, rocks, mountains and clouds – “De Fischer” by J. F. E. ten Klooster. An old man on a mountain top leans upward into the sky like a crag, slope down into the valley like a cliff and is as hard and weatherbeaten and fruitless as the rocks. This is “Mountain Top’ by Ernest Barlach. There is one intelligent face depicted, a lean colossal bearded face with grim understanding but no trace of faith of hope or consolation – “Portrait Schemes” by Ernest Ludwig Kircher.

      Almost all of these Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, etc., shrewd carvers and printers of woodblocks, have concentrated their attention upon human life. There is at least no pretty landscape, no picturesque architectural rendering, no innocuous still life, no sporting print. From a few prints the actual human form has been abstracted. One of those by Wassili Kandinsky looks life a diagram of the contents of a madman’s waste basket. One is an analysis of the movement of sea water that is like a seismographical chart of what ails the human stomach in a storm at sea. Josef Albers calls it “sea”. Only one, also by Albers, is an absolute pattern, scrolling lines and black and white masses, a completely balanced decoration utterly devoid of feeling. Just one inhuman triumph over though and feeling in the work of thirty-five artist.

      The rest of the prints are almost intolerable with feeling – chiefly tragic, mostly pitiful, occasionally contemptuous and derisive, as if in anger at the awkwardness, ugliness and failure of man as an animal. Such are a neurotic woman by Max Beckmann; a vacuous girl rolled into a ball like a kitten and designed with a heavy sweeping scroll outline, by Georg Schrimpf; a woman of the streets seated at a café table with a figurehead on the prow of a ship behind her as if at the back of her as if at the back of her thoughts, the figurehead being the white body of a girl, this by Franz Masereel. There is also a Moses by Gordon Craig which is like a sneer carved in granite. But there is chiefly pity in the wraithlike and wind beaten outlines of figures in a street by Moise Kisling, three men conversing huddled together and drenched with weariness by Christian Rohlfe, a small woman suckling a child, with a mad pattern of landscape stacked up vertically behind her, by Gerhard Marcks.

      A very few of these artists have apparently struggled to find the vestiges of human beauty in the most simple and primitive movements of human life, in the purely animal ritual of the bath, for instance a subject treated by Manolo, Maillol and Pechstain, in the types of savage islanders of Africans, as in the prints of Paul Gaugin, even in the literary paradise of such works as Virgil’s Eclogues, one of several illustrated volumes shown, and there Maillol presents the nearest approach to a naive classic beauty. For the most part these artistic, philosophers have found only the helpless, the awkward, the stupid in simplicity, the defeated, the mad. When they abandon physical beauty to show strife, failure and despair, they do convey a spiritual beauty which does not make lovely the physical form of life but does make for respect and admiration. The portrait of Charlie Chaplin by Karl Gotsch and the print called “Woman" by Emil Heckel dominate their neighbors with something of this strength.
      Either to the heartless cynic or to the triumphant modern philosopher there is large decorative beauty of general design in all this work, a creation in light and darkness out of dust and shadows. Rugged haggard faces and struggling figures carry the length of a room as stylish patterns. The technique of the contemporary woodblock is good for this.

      For five hundred years printing from carvings in wood was used as a purely reproductive process. The intention was to make a picture that could be reproduced in quantity, wood was used for this purpose before metal, and naturally hundreds of years before either photography or photo-engraving had made such a process as woodblock printing wholly practical and purely a fine art. It is characteristic of naive and religious art that it should cause the artist to suppress the materials with which he works as completely as possible -- witness the painting of both ancient and medieval sculpture -- in his effort to make something wholly different out of them. The naive painter, the pure painter, is never engaged in making a painting. He is creating the likeness of the Madonna and Child fox instance. The naive sculptor is not interested in a carved stone or a metal casting. He is making a woman or a god or a hero. For five hundred years no artist tried to make a woodcut in any other way or for any other purpose than to make it print things that looked as much like drawings as possible.

      When about forty years ago a French cartoonist, Felix Edouard Vallotton, went self-conscious, saw the artistic resources of the medium and began to make woodcuts that looked like woodcuts, just as the modern painters take care that their paintings should look like something made of paint and canvas, not like women or gods or heroes or anything else under the sun except paintings. There ensued a period in which reproductive wood engraving first became unfashionable and then practically a lost art, while woodcut whittlers made woodcuts that expressed the wooden qua11ty of a woodcut and precious little else. Incidentally the commercial lithographers learned from the wood whittlers and developed the modern poster. Before Franz Marc was killed in the war he strengthened woodcut design in his departure from pretty and representational decoration toward more rugged abstraction. A few of these whittlers in recent years have gone commercial and made book illustrations and advertising illustrations and picture books that look somewhat wooden, although many of these pictures are made on scratch board instead of on wood or are nothing in the world but ink drawings reproduced by photographic line cut. By this means the American public has learned to recognize easily the cheapest sort of woodcut quality.

      Now apparently the new technique of the wooden woodcut has become second nature to a number of continental European artists, so that they can be wholly interested in their view of life, which is non-sentimental, unconventional, distinctly ill fed and bad mannered, bitter, disillusioned, cynical, tragic, pitying, not pretty, but very strong and very decorative. They can be utterly religious in the expression of their social feeling and yet work in such a way that the character of the medium is always felt
      Every print in the current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is at first glance unmistakably printed from carved wood and not the reproduction or imitation or representation or any other process.

      This appears to be a triumph of the modern ideal in art almost without parallel in the fine arts. Very few are the works in any other medium which at once express that med1um and at the same time discourse on any contemporary subject in a grown up manner that is worth serious consideration. Apparently woodblock printing must be accepted in the same company with architecture as an instance of modernism which works.


      Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1931 - 1936. 10-12_1935, 125-7. View Original 1 . View Original 2 . View Original 3

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    Prints, Drawings and Photographs

    Over the years, the collections of the Brooklyn Museum have been organized and reorganized in different ways. Collections of the former Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs include works on paper that may fall into other categories: American Art, European Art, Asian Art, Contemporary Art, and Photography.
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