Thursday, December 30, 2010

A new moon

Despite its harvest theme, I think this ravishing colour etching by Arthur Illies a suitable image for the turn of the year. It was published by the Jugendstil art revue Pan in 1896. Its title, Mondaufgang, means Moonrise, though this print also seems to be known as Ripe Cornfield, Evening, under which title it is one of the treasures of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University. A gallery assistant at the Barber, Sarah Brown, writes eloquently about it here. As she writes, "The variety of colour throughout this image is immense, as gold, sienna and turquoise bring the mass of corn to life." This is landscape imbued with that spiritual potentiality that Gerard Manley Hopkins called "inscape".

Arthur Illies, Mondaufgang
Etching, 1896

The painter and printmaker Arthur Karl Wilhelm Illies was born in Hamburg in 1870, and died in Lüneberg in 1952. Illies studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Art, after which he returned to Hamburg, under the patronage of the director of the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Alfred Lichtwark. In the 1890s Illies worked in a Symbolist mode allied to Jugendstil. Arthur Illies was an innovative printmaker who, tired of the limitations of conventional colour etching, developed his own methods to bring a painterly richness of hue and tone to his etchings. He did this through multiple bitings of the etching plate in layers of aquatint, and also invented a method of printing colour etchings from a single plate by combining high and low pressure on the press.

I assumed from what I had read of Illies' printing methods, and from the subtle colour gradations of the etching itself, that Mondaufgang was printed "à la poupée", with the colours hand-applied to the plate and all printed at once, rather than one colour at a time. But I have since found the excellent site of the Arthur und Georgie Illies Familien-Stiftung (the Illies Foundation in Lüneburg), and it seems that in 1896 Illies was still using the more traditional au repérage method, with a separate plate for each colour. In the case of Mondaufgang, four plates were used. Illies printed the edition himself, an ambitious undertaking in the case of an etching for Pan, which had a print-run of 1300 ordinary copies on wove paper, plus some de luxe copies on Japan; the Illies website gives the total edition as 1600 copies. Alfred Lichtwark, who was on the editorial board of Pan, allowed Arthur Illies to set up a printing workshop in the former reading room of the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Even with assistants (probably eager young art students), it took Illies fourteen working days to print the edition, according to his diary. It was no doubt because of the complexity and ambition of his colouring that Illies preferred to print his own etchings on his own hand press.

On Mondaufgang the artist is credited as Artur Illies, but as reference books and the Illies website spell his forename Arthur, I assume that is the correct spelling. A mystery surrounds the title of the etching, which again is printed on every copy, as the Illies website gives it as Ährenfeld, Cornfield, rather than as Mondaufgang.

I will summarise here a few biographical details gleaned from the biography by Oliver Fok on the Illies website. From 1895-1908 Illies taught at the Women's Art School run by Valesca Röver. In 1908 he was appointed to run the life class at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg, where he was made Professor in 1926. In 1933 he retired to Lüneburg, where the city provided him with a studio in an old department store. In WWI Illies was a War Artist on the Eastern Front in Russia. As a Nazi supporter, he was able to continue exhibiting through the Nazi era and WWII. In 1945 he and his second wife Georgie were evicted from their home, and retreated to the department store studio. Illies married twice. In 1900 he married Minna Schwerdtfeger, who died the following year giving birth to their daughter Helga. In 1905 he married Georgie Rabeler, who had been his student at the Röver Malschule für Damen, with whom he had four children, Kurt, Herta, Harald, and Anke.

Oliver Fok estimates the total artistic output of Arthur Illies at 2,600 paintings, 1,200 drawings, and a large body of graphic work. Even in this extraordinarily productive life, the creation, printing, and publication of Mondaufgang, or Ährenfeld, must have been a highlight.

11 comments:

Diana Gutiérrez Toledano said...

That's amazingly beautiful and delicate...

Maison Conti said...

This is just exquisite! Thank you so much for introducing me to this accomplished printmaker...I've never heard of him!

Jane Librizzi said...

It is beautiful. I would never have guessed a Jugendstil connection.

Neil said...

Thanks, Diana - the composition is not unlike your photo!
Maison Conti - I can't say I had heard of Illies before this. I suspect he fell off the artistic map because of his disconcertingly enthusiastic support for National Socialism. It's amazing to me that someone with the sensitivity to create this etching could ever have embraced such a negative creed.
Jane - Illies also painted in a Divisionist style, which I think would interest you.
Everyone - I have completely revised the main text of this post today, because I have discovered a lot more about Illies from the Illies Foundation website, which had somehow eluded my earlier Google searches.

Gerrie said...

Great posting, good reading and very informative and what a stunning delicate print. So very modern too. 1600 of them around giving some hope to ...... I only knew of some work by his cousin Otto so this is most welcomend information.
Happy new Year !

Neil said...

Thanks, Gerrie. Otto Illies was born in Japan, though I don't know if there is any more Japanese influence in his work than one would expect through the normal channels of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. As you say, 1600 copies gives hope, though copies of Pan have become incredibly scarce. Of course a lot went to institutions in the first place.

Jane Librizzi said...

That's often the way things happen to me. I think I'm done and then something to good to miss pops up from nowhere. There's another image by Illies with that same moon - over water.

Roxana said...

i simply adore this one... the soft colours, the gentleness of the sawing grass...
i have a photo which somehow looks similar

here



though of course the magic of the moon is missing :-)

Neil said...

Roxana - I knew you would love this one, because you are so sensitive to the vibrations of the unspoken world. Your photo is beautiful too, though as you say, without the moon. My most loved person asked me today what was my favourite word, and I answered immediately, "Moon." Happy New Year, I hope it brings you many blessings.

Paddy Hanrahan said...

I occasionally come to your site via searching Google, but have now bookmarked as I always enjoy your comments, and learn from them.
I wonder if Artur/Arthur is like Georg/George Grosz. Also happy New year to you and thank you for the Christmas message and image.I think a book could result from this site.
Paddy Hanrahan

Neil said...

Thanks, Paddy. I'm sure your right about the Arthur/Artur thing - well, I have learned to live with many variations of my name - but I always like to think I've got the spelling the person in question would approve of. I have an idea for a book based not on this blog but on my journey of understanding about prints and print collecting - we'll see if any publisher leaps at the idea.