Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Plato's Cave: The Art of Ferdinand Springer

I haven't written much on this blog about engravers, perhaps because I started a rather over-ambitious post about engraving in general that still languishes in my unfinished files. So today I'll just talk about one of my favourite twentieth-century engravers, Ferdinand Springer. Not only do I admire the formal precision and grace of his work, I feel an affinity with his choice of subjects, which tend to the philosophical and metaphysical. Late in his career he produced editions of the Tao Te Ching and the Bardo Thodol, and the two earlier sets of prints I have by Springer are for similar subjects - a 1947 edition of Paul Valéry's Socratic dialogue Eupalinos ou l'Architecte and a 1948 edition of Plato's Mythe de la Caverne.

Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte IV
Engraving, 1947



Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte VI
Engraving, 1947


The line engravings for Eupalinos are a masterclass in how to handle an engraver's burin. Although the end result may look similar, and both are intaglio processes, engraving and etching are very different. Etching is much more like drawing. With the etching needle, the artist can quickly sketch a subject, and the hard work of incising it into the metal plate is all done by the acid, which bites the line into the metal. Engraving, on the other hand, is an intensely physical activity. The engraver drives the burin away from his body, literally ploughing through the metal to gouge out lines. These lines will all be straight, like those of a plough, unless the engraver manoeuvres the plate around with his other hand.


Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte VII
Engraving, 1947


Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte VIII
Engraving, 1947


Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte X
Engraving, 1947


Ferdinand Springer studied engraving at Atelier 17 under Stanley William Hayter in the 1930s. The sheer physicality of engraving absorbed him. He remembered proudly how Le Corbusier said to him, "You trace the furrows like a peasant with his plough" - though of his generation only Roger Vieillard used a burin with such grace.

Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte XI
Engraving, 1947


Ferdinand Springer, Eupalinos ou l'Architecte XIII
Engraving, 1947


340 copies were published of Eupalinos, with the engravings printed by Paul Haasen on vélin pur fil à la forme des papeteries du Marais; there were also 28 suites on Annam and 28 on Malacca.

Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne I
Engraving with aquatint, 1948

Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne II
Engraving with aquatint, 1948

Springer's prints for the myth of Plato's Cave use a mixed technique, combining line engraving with aquatint. 146 copies were published, with the engravings printed on vélin pur fil du Marais by Raymond Haasen, plus 6 suites on Japon and 26 on Arches.

Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne III
Engraving with aquatint, 1948


Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne IV
Engraving with aquatint, 1948


Painter, sculptor, engraver. Ferdinand Springer was born in Berlin, but moved to Paris at the age of 20, where he studied at the Académie Ranson under Roger Bissière. In his later years, the art of Ferdinand Springer was purely abstract, distinguished by its elegance of line and the way it explores what he called the secret antagonism between the line and colour. In his earlier phase, his engravings are influenced by Surrealism.

Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne V
Engraving with aquatint, 1948


Ferdinand Springer, Mythe de la Caverne VI
Engraving with aquatint, 1948


Ferdinand Springer was interned in the French concentration camp at Tuileries des Milles in 1939 alongside Ernst, Bellmer, and Wols. Freed in 1940 he joined Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Sonia Delaunay and Albert Magnelli in Grasse where they formed the Grasse Group. Springer succeeded in emigrating to Switzerland in 1942; in 1945 he returned to France. Ferdinand Springer subsquently became a French citizen. His work is in over 40 museums worldwide. He died in Grasse in 1998.

7 comments:

Gerrie said...

Although Springer isn't exactly my cup of tea it's nice to see you('re) back with such a well documented and illustrated posting Neill. Very interesting.

Neil said...

Thanks, Gerrie. I can see these wouldn't be your cup of tea. I do very much like and admire Springer, both technically and because I enjoy the combination of the intellectual, the spiritual, and the aesthetic in his work. I'm glad to be back too, if only sporadically.

Jane Librizzi said...

I'm taken with Springer's engravings rather than the mixed media. It's that sense of the strong lines made by the burin. In a very different style, the same thing struck about Winslow Homer's engravings. The image of the architect holding the classical columns made me smile and then made me think of Raoul Dufy.

Neil said...

Jane, I too prefer the line engravings, though I can see that for the subject matter of Plato's cave Springer felt he needed tone as well as line. I'm sorry I don't have any of his late abstract colour work to show that aspect of his art. There aren't many artists who are able adequately to convey abstract ideas in their work, and I think Springer does succeed in both of these sets in embodying philosophical thought.

Jane Librizzi said...

I think that makes him a Symbolist! Because that is what Fernand Khnopff and Gustave Moreau thought they were doing.

Atelier Conti said...

Thank you for the mini engraving lesson and introduction to yet another printmaker I've never heard of. My ignorance is truly profound! I like the engravings, although the images with aquatint are my favorites. Engraving is certainly not for the faint of heart or the lazy.

acornmoon said...

Thank you for the introduction to Springer and his craft.