Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Barnett and Claudia Freedman

Reading Alan Powers’ excellent book Art and Print: the Curwen Story (Tate Publishing, 2008) got me thinking about the exciting flurry of artists’ autolithographed books in Britain in the 1930 and 40s. The Curwen Press was at the heart of this, though there were other fine printers specialising in this area, such as the Baynard Press. But presses wanting to encourage lithography (and in the case of Curwen, pochoir as well) still needed publishing patrons to make it all happen. They needed connoisseur’s book clubs such as the Limited Edition Club, and most especially they needed Noel Carrington. Carrington, the brother of the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington, was enthused by the cheap lithographed children’s books published in Russia and France, and wanted to introduce the same kind of work to the British market. He did this with a three-pronged attack: as publisher of Country Life Books, as editor of the Puffin Picture Books series for Penguin, and as proprietor of Transatlantic Arts. I was lucky enough to know Noel Carrington in his later years, and now of course am full of questions I wish I had asked him…

Anyway, this subject is so huge it needs to be cut up into small chunks, so I shall today just write about two of the artists associated with Curwen and with Carrington, Barnett and Claudia Freedman.


Barnett Freedman
Lithograph for Lavengro

Barnett Freedman was born in Stepney, East London, to East European Jewish parents. Freedman studied under Paul Nash at the Royal College of Art, and it was Nash who introduced him to Harold Curwen of the Curwen Press, with whom Freedman had a long and fruitful association. Working with the artisans at Curwen (and also at their friendly rival, the Baynard Press), Freedman became one of the pioneers of colour autolithography in England. Barnett Freedman was also a successful commercial artist (producing posters for London Transport, for instance), and his love of lettering and typography is evident. Powers calls him “the undisputed master of the lithographic book jacket, poster or illustrated book between the wars”. Freedman was an official War Artist in WWII.


Barnett Freedman
Lithograph for Lavengro

I don’t have much of Barnett Freedman’s work, but I do possess what I think to be his finest book, the two volume Lavengro printed by Curwen for George Macy’s Limited Editions Club in 1936, for which Freedman created 16 gorgeously evocative colour lithographs. Alan Powers reproduces one of these (“One day it happened that, being on my rambles”), and notes that “Freedman’s plates for this book were his first to develop a full colour range”. Learning how to create the painterly quality for which his lithographs are celebrated caused Freedman considerable effort. In her book Artists at Curwen (Tate Gallery, 1977), Pat Gilmour quotes a letter from Barnett Freedman to “My dear Ruth”, the wife of Oliver Simon, Curwen’s chief typographer:


Barnett Freedman
Lithograph for Lavengro

“The misery occasioned by the enormous amount of work I have had to do for Lavengro – the getting up at six o’clock every morning for three months – the journey to Plaistow in crowded and overheated trains – the faces of wage slaves and breadwinners, their coughs and sneezes, their smells, their conversations and newspapers. The close approximations of their bodies to my own (this sometimes was not so bad)- the rush and roar of the works at North Street – the bickerings of the printers – the inexperience of the lithographic department making me often leave the works at eleven at night – all these things and many more are completely mitigated and relieved by your most kind and delightful letter.”


Barnett Freedman
Lithograph for Lavengro

Of Barnett Freedman’s Lavengro lithographs, Pat Gilmour writes, “The colour pages are very subtle, employing to great effect rose-pink, tan, gold, blue and green in charmingly lit landscapes and character sketches.”


Barnett Freedman
Lithograph for Lavengro

Barnett Freedman is quite rightly held in the highest regard by those who are interested in such things. But his wife Claudia is almost forgotten. She was born Claudia Guercio in Formby, Liverpool, of Anglo-Sicilian parentage. She studied at Liverpool School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Working initially under her maiden name, she took the name Claudia Freedman on her marriage to Barnett Freedman in 1930. Compared to her husband, Claudia Freedman's output was relatively small, but works such as the autolithographed book My Toy Cupboard (undated but published in the 1940s by Noel Carrington's Transatlantic Arts) show that she had a talent equal to his.


Claudia Freedman
Lithograph for My Toy Cupboard

Their son Vincent was born in 1934, and My Toy Cupboard, one of the gems of the brief flowering of British autolithograpy in the mid-twentieth century, is an eloquent testament of a mother's love (even including one of Vincent’s own pictures signed with his initials, VF). It was printed not at Curwen, but at C. J. Cousland and Sons in Edinburgh.


Claudia Freedman
Lithograph for My Toy Cupboard

Lavengro was published in a signed limited edition of 1,500 copies, and I imagine most of those copies are still sitting on a shelf somewhere. My Toy Cupboard was printed in an unnumbered, unsigned, cheap popular edition of goodness knows how many copies. I would be surprised if more than about 20 are still in existence.


Claudia Freedman
Lithograph for My Toy Cupboard

There’s one in the Opie Collection in the Bodleian Library, but that’s the only one I’ve so far traced in a public collection. It is a tiny book, 130 x 95 mm (roughly 5 x 33/4”), 16pp long, printed on flimsy (probably wartime) paper, and only about a millimeter thick.


Claudia Freedman
Lithograph for My Toy Cupboard

It’s a stunning little thing, probably literally worth its weight in gold.


Claudia Freedman
Lithograph for My Toy Cupboard

8 comments:

Jane said...

Thank you for introducing me to the Freedmans. Barnet's work here makes very effective use of contrasting light and shadow - there is an impression of depth in the images that must be difficult to do, as prints so often appear flatter than paintings. My first impression is that the effects are achieved through design - through strong planes and diagonals, rather than through color, per se. Very nice.

Roxana said...

oh, Neil, this is fabulous, My Toy Cupboard... so touching and lovely and precious...

Neil said...

I think you are right to emphasise the design element in Barnett Freedman's work, Jane. He was very much a graphic artist.

Neil said...

So glad you love My Toy Cupboard, Roxana.

sroden said...

the book cover is absolutely incredible! great stuff. thanks for posting these.

Neil said...

Thanks. The whole book is a true delight.

Kathryn Hannan (nee. Mackenzie) said...

Thanks for the information on Claudia Freedman. I just found a telegram in the archive collection I'm cataloguing, with her name on the bottom. When I googled her the link to your blog came up. It's great to find out more about her! Here's a link to my blog post on the telegram designed by Claudia.

Neil said...

I was fascinated by your post, Kathryn. A lot of the female artists of this period tried their hands at all kind of commercial design (I'm thinking of people like Marion Dorn, Erica Marx, and Margaret Calkin James), but I hadn't come across a telegram before! Thanks for the kind words and the link, too.