Friday, February 17, 2012

Etchings of Emil Rudolf Weiss

Emil Rudolf Weiss (1875-1942) was one of those multi-talented people whose very versatility has been a hindrance to their lasting fame. He's most remembered now as a typographer - a designer both of books and of typefaces - and this aspect of his work is to be celebrated in a lavish book by Gerald Cinamon to be published by the Incline Press. Weiss was a poet, a designer of wallpapers and fabrics and furniture and stained glass and ceramics and goodness knows what else, as well as a painter and a printmaker. It's in that last capacity that I want to write about him, as I have just come into possession of one, and I suspect two, of his etchings.

Emil Rudolf Weiss, Ein Paar Blumen
Etching, 1896

The first etching, Ein Paar Blumen, is definitely by Emil Rudolf Weiss. It is signed with his initials and monogram in the plate, and it is in the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) style of which he was one of the chief proponents. This very strikingly composed colour etching was published in 1897 in the fourth album issued by the Karlsruher Radirvereins (the Karlsruhe Etching Club), and also in the Leipzig art revue Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, which is the source of my print. The artist is credited by the Zeitschrift as R. Weiss.

F. [E.?] R. Weiss, Die Stadt
Etching, 1898

My second etching, Die Stadt was published in the Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst the following year, 1898, and is credited to F. R. Weiss, Karlsruhe. The editor of the revue, Prof. Dr. Carl von Lützow, died in 1897, and the editorship was taken over by Richard Graul and Ulrich Thieme. Evidently the new editors were not familiar with Weiss (who after all was only a young man at this point), and mistakenly believed his first initial was F not E. There can hardly have been two etchers with almost the same name working in Karlsruhe at the same time, both supplying etchings to the same publication. Additionally, I can find no record at all of an etcher called F. R. Weiss - and the etching published under that name is so confident and powerful that I can't believe its author would not be recorded. The only thing that gives me pause is that the style of this second etching, a distant view of the city of Karlsruhe, is so different from the first. It's poised on a cusp between Impressionism and Expressionism, with a bit more of the latter in the way the brooding cityscape, smoke-swirled sky, and the choppy waters of the Rhine in the foreground are infused with a wild inner turmoil. Interestingly while the revue gives this print the sober title Die Stadt, a note records that the artist referred to it as Erlebnisse, which means Experiences. I'd be very grateful if anyone with more detailed knowledge of the art of Emil Rudolf Weiss could give me a view as to whether I am correct in attributing this second etching to him.

Additional information:
My gratitude goes to Graham Moss of Incline Press and Jerry Cinamon, author of the forthcoming book Weiss: The Typography of an Artist, for important additional information. Graham has a copy of a catalogue compiled by Weiss's agent Fritz Gurlitt of items for sale in 1921, covering etchings, lithographs, and wood engravings made between 1896 and 1920. Item 1531 in this is an 1898 etching entitled Die Stadt. Although the catalogue is unillustrated, the coincidence of title and date is such that I think we take it that my etching Die Stadt is indeed by E. R. Weiss, and that the initial F. is a simple mistake on the part of Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst. The earlier etching, Ein Paar Blumen, is listed simply as Blumen, dated 1896, catalogue number 1528. Jerry tells me this etching is illustrated in Barbara Stark's 1994 book Emil Rudolf Weiss 1875-1942: Monographie und Katalog seines Werkes, again dated 1896.


Jane Librizzi said...

Your comment about titles reminds me of something that is vexing. Often after seeing a picture I find out that the title is attributed by someone other than the maker. Who that other person was or when it happened is often obscure. I'm curious if that presents a problem for other people. Nice to see these delicate early spring blossoms, whatever they are called.

Neil said...

Jane - I'm as guilty as anyone else about titles - if on my website I listed every single untitled print as Untitled or Composition, it would not only be very boring for everyone else, but impossible for me to work out which print was which. So I am willing to provide simple descriptive titles for prints which are otherwise unadorned. The trouble is, visual artists don't think in terms of titles. My wife is an artist, and she is completely uninterested in describing her work in words. So the truth is most titles have been provided by someone else - a dealer, an editor, a gallery owner, a cataloguer, a spouse.

Jane Librizzi said...

What you say about artists not being that concerned about titles makes sense. Being educated to write makes people more concerned about what headline someone might put on their work. I read that Vilhelm Hammershoi gave titles to few of his works, which probably explains titles like "Strandgade 30, 1901."