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Linocuts of the Grosvenor School at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Summer 2014

"Modern" Art from the 1920's and 1930's - a Must See Exhibition of Linocuts at St Barbe Lymington Summer 2014

 Introduction to the Grosvenor School of Modern Art

 The Grosvenor School of Modern Art was established at 33 Warwick Street, Pimlico in 1925. The new school encouraged students to   develop their own ideas about art, guided by respected lecturers. There were no set terms and  students could pick and choose any class that interested them. The only requirement was enthusiasm. One  tutor who matched that enthusiasm with inspirational classes was Claude Flight who taught linocutting at the school from 1926 until 1930. The quality of work produced by Flight and his students during this brief but intense period of creativity means that today the Grosvenor School is almost exclusively associated with linocut prints.st barbe linocuts exhibition lymington jul-aug 2014 CEP Tube Station low res

The linocut was still a new medium in the 1920s. The simplicity of    producing an image and the     cheapness of the material meant that it was also an ideal way to introduce students to print making. Flight’s lessons became popular not only with students, but with fellow   members of staff including lecturer Cyril Power and school secretary Sybil Andrews. Flight treated his students as fellow-artists, discussing their work and making suggestions rather than dictating. Nevertheless he had very particular views on the medium which clearly influenced his students and gave the Grosvenor School linocut its distinctive style. In his book Lino-Cuts: A handbook of linoleum-cut colour printing (1927), he said: “A lino-cut print should not look like an oil or water colour painting, it is a print from a soft  linoleum block and so should not be taken for a wood-cut, a wood    engraving, or an etching, it should take its individual place on a wall and be recognised as a lino-cut”.

The Linocut Method

Lino first appeared in the 1860s. Made from a mixture of cork and linseed oil set onto a canvas backing,  it was generally used as a flooring material. It was first used for printmaking at the beginning of the 20th century by German and Russian  artists including Vasily Kandinsky.

Linocut is a relief printing method: the artist cuts away the parts of the block they do not want to appear in the picture, applying ink to the   remaining surface. Lino’s softness made it much easier to cut into than wood. There was also no need for a printing press. The ink could be transferred by placing a piece of paper over the block and simply rubbing the paper against the block with the back of a spoon. In this way the artist could also control exactly how much pressure was applied to get lighter and darker shades.

Claude Flight encouraged his  students to make coloured prints using a different block for each    colour. He suggested using just three or four colours, although by printing one colour over another they could produce a wider range of tones. He argued that each block was important but that composition remained key: "unless the  picture is well designed in the first place, all the subsequent cutting and printing will be useless".

The Grosvenor Style

Flight wanted his students’ work to embody the self-consciously modern spirit of the 1920s. Since the linocut was a new medium they did not have centuries of established styles and techniques to hold them back. Before the First World War the Italian Futurists led by Marinetti had wanted their art to reflect the new world of technology, industry and speed. The Grosvenor School    aesthetic embraced Futurism’s visual intensity and its subject matter.

The heyday of the School’s linocuts also coincided with the rise of Art Deco, which married modern     patterns, inspired by Cubism, with the form and function of more   traditional applied arts. Flight also wanted the prints to be widely   appealing and affordable. The subject needed to be recognisable and   relevant to ordinary people and the prints should be small enough to hang in more modest homes. Even with the best intentions, the linocuts were not affordable to working class households, so Flight also advocated a lending system with prints made to standard frame sizes.

A Moment in Time

To bring the linocuts to a wider audience Claude Flight organised a series of annual exhibitions. The First Exhibition of British Lino-cuts was held at the Redfern Gallery, London in 1929. It proved a  great success critically and commercially: over one hundred works were sold with the British Museum and Victoria &   Albert Museum among the buyers. Flight also toured the Redfern     exhibitions to Australia, China and America.

Perhaps it was inevitable that art with such a distinctive, unifying style  and so closely allied with a particular     moment in time should have a short life-span. By the end of the 1930s the Grosvenor artists had scattered: Cyril Power moved to Surrey, Sybil Andrews settled in the New Forest, Lill Tschudi returned to Europe and the Australian artists Dorrit Black and Ethel Spowers had gone home. The moment had passed and work that had once been excitingly    modern now seemed dated and   irrelevant. Fashion, as always, had moved on. After a final exhibition in 1939, the Grosvenor linocuts faded into obscurity.st barbe linocuts exhibition lymington jul-aug 2014 Andrews Speedway low res

It was not until the 1970s that    interest was revived through a series of exhibitions and publications in the UK, Canada and Australia. Since then interest in the prints has   mushroomed and prices of original linocuts have spiralled upwards, in contrast to Flight’s utopian dream of affordable prints in every home. Yet he would surely have been delighted to see that artworks made to     capture the ‘modern’ world of the 1920s and 1930s have transcended the fashion of a moment to capture  critical recognition and public affection some eighty years later.

The Key Artists

Claude Flight (1881-1955)

Flight was already a well-established artist when he joined the Grosvenor School as a tutor in 1926. He     regularly travelled to France and was aware of new art movements on the continent, incorporating elements of Cubism and Futurism into his work. In common with the Art Deco movement Flight’s prints brought avant-garde ideas into the         mainstream of art and design. Flight also believed the linocut was      particularly suited to abstract ideas and he would often reduce a subject to simple shapes. Critics regularly complained that this made his    compositions difficult to decipher.

Cyril Power (1872-1951)

In 1922 Power left his wife, family and architectural practice to study art at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art along with Sybil Andrews. Two years later they joined the staff at the Grosvenor School, Power    lecturing on perspective and        architectural topics. From 1926 to 1930 they joined Claude Flight’s linocutting classes.

Power quickly assimilated the    Grosvenor style, stripping subjects down into the bold geometric shapes and patterns. He was drawn to the hustle and bustle of the   modern city. The Underground   provided a rich source of subjects for its architectural interest and the dynamism of speeding trains and hurrying commuters. In common with Andrews, Power found the energy of dancers, acrobats, rowers and runners could be captured in patterns of curves and swirls.

Sybil Andrews (1898-1992)

Andrews had taken an art correspondence course before studying at Heatherley’s. When Power joined the Grosvenor School in 1925, Andrews became the school secretary. The human figure is a recurring   feature of her work. Prints like Sledgehammers and The Winch reflect old fashioned manual labour, but the dynamic curves and swirling patterns give the figures a heroic quality.  Unusually, a number of Andrews’ linocuts drew on     agricultural subjects inspired by rural Suffolk. She also collaborated with Cyril Power on posters for London Underground under the pseudonym Andrew Power.

Andrews and Power separated in July 1938 and she moved to ‘Pipers’ a thatched cottage at Norley Wood near Lymington which Power had modernised the previous year.   During the war she worked at the British Power Boat Company at Hythe. There she met Walter    Morgan and they married in 1943. In 1947, looking for a better life, they emigrated to Canada, settling at Campbell River on Vancouver Island. There she continued to make prints and teach. Just before her death in 1992 she donated much of her work to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

Lill Tschudi (1911 - 2004)

Tschudi was born in the mountain village of Schwanden in Switzerland. As a young girl she saw an exhibition of linocuts by the wildlife artist  Norbertine Bresslern Roth and  decided she wanted to be a print maker. She joined the Grosvenor School after seeing an advertisement in The Studio magazine. Although she only studied there for six months from 1929 until Claude Flight left in May 1930, she became one of the Grosvenor’s star pupils. Her print Fixing the Wires, made in 1932 while she was still only 20, so impressed Flight that he included it in his book The Art and Craft of Lino Cutting and Printing (1934).

From 1931 to 1933 she continued her training in Paris, studying with  Cubist artist Andre Lhote, former-Futurist painter Gino Severini and Fernand Leger. Life in the French capital inspired linocuts such as  Sticking up Posters and Kiosk in Paris. She made over sixty prints during the 1930s and through Flight’s    exhibitions became better known in England than in Switzerland.

 

Exhibition can be viewed during St Barbe normal opening times Mon-Sat 10 am - 4 pm.

St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery website:  http://www.stbarbe-museum.org.uk/

 

Article published 31 July 2014 by Jane Porter for lymington.com, from information supplied by St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

 

 

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