Monday, August 15, 2011

Animal grace: Norbertine Bresslern Roth

Norbertine Bresslern-Roth was born Norbertine Roth in Graz, Austria, in 1891, Bresslern-Roth was one of the pre-eminent linocut artists of the twentieth century, and one of the first to truly explore the possibilities of the medium. Her work had a profound influence on later linocut artists such as Lill Tschudi, while her own choice of subjects (chiefly animals and birds) and compositional style were influenced by the art of L. H. Jungnickel. Charles at Modern Printmakers has an excellent post on Bresslern-Roth, in which he is slightly dismissive of her as essentially an imitator of Ludwig Jungnickel, and while I think it is true that she derived a great deal from him, I do believe her work has its own strengths. Pre-eminent among these is her ability to capture a sense of motion and energy in a static image. "Kampf", her energetic depiction of a fight-to-the-death between a lobster and an octopus is a striking case in point.

Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Kampf
Linocut, 1923

Bresslern-Roth studied under Alfred von Schrötter at the Graz Academy, then under Ferdinand Schmutzer at the Vienna Academy, and finally at Hans Hajek's school for animal painting in Dachau. Norbertine Bresslern-Roth then returned to Graz, where she lived for the rest of her life. Although she had exhibited with the Vienna Secession from 1912, Norbertine Bresslern-Roth essentially stood aside from the artistic currents of her time. A trip to North Africa in 1928 profoundly influenced her subsequent subject matter and colouring. Her linocuts are very richly inked, and the colours positively glisten from the page. My other prints by, or after, Bresslern-Roth are a series of these linocuts reproduced as lithographic facsimiles. In these, the colours, while true, have a dusty feel in comparison to  the glowing quality of the original linocuts. But they are still powerful and attractive, and I add some to this post to give a more balanced view of her output than "Kampf" alone. The lithographs were made for the book Linolschnitte von Norbertine Bresslern-Roth by Alphons Poller (1926). Bresslern-Roth evidently authorized them, but how closely she was involved beyond that is not clear. Quite probably she would have approved the proofs.

Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Baviane
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926

Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Feuersalamander
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Fischer
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Flucht
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Galago
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Reiher
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Überfall
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Ura
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Urishirsche
Lithograph after a linocut, 1926


Although she lived until 1978, Norbertine Bresslern-Roth's era was the 1920s and 30s. In 1930, for instance, she was selected as the subject of the seventh monograph in the series Masters of the Colour Print edited by Malcolm C. Salaman and published by The Studio. As well as Salaman's rather gushing text, this had eight tipped-in colour plates (screened four-colour reproductions). This was probably the high point of her international fame, though her art has come back into focus recently through the close attention paid to it in the blogs Modern Printmakers and Art and the Aesthete.

8 comments:

dolorosa said...

Wonderful post, many thanks x

Jane Librizzi said...

Between dismissive and gushing, I vote for gushing. I find animal images in the Art Deco style, however unrealistic, convincingly stylized. The artist's arrangements of the animals together is intriguing, well done. In "Galago" the little creature curled in on itself is quite touching. Thank you.

Neil said...

Thanks so much, Dolorosa. Your blog The Cabinet of the Solar Plexus is always full of interest.

Neil said...

Jane - yes, the composition of these images is very striking. I did say "slightly dismissive". I know Charles admires Bresslern-Roth, but he had an interesting point to make about her debt to Jungnickel. The image of the Ura (whatever parrot-like bird a Ura is, I'm not sure) is very like Jungnickel - but when she sets her animals moving, I think she inhabits her own artistic space. The galago, by the way, is what we call a bush baby.

Haji baba said...

The truth of the matter is, Neil, I was absorbed in tracing rarely-seen images by Jungnickel at the time but the more triumphant I became, the more some readers praised von Bresslern Roth. So I reached for the hatchet. This post of yours is far less partisan and much more balanced and leaves me suitably humble. I knew nothing about the lithographs. You are quite right to deduce my post betrays genuine admiration for her work but really I felt poor Jungnickel hadn't received his due. This post of yours adds real knowledge to the discussion.

Charles

Neil said...

Charles - much of what I know of Bresslern-Roth I learned from you and Clive - and I quite understand that when one tenses one artist's strength against another's, one of the two has to be judged the stronger. I'm so pleased you liked this post. The lithographs are lovely, but they are about half size of the linocuts, and as I said I'm not sure what the extent of Bresslern-Roth's involvement was.

Chloregy.com Analysts said...
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Neil said...

Sorry, I don't know where to find dates for your three prints.