Thursday, September 26, 2013

The artist as fire-eater: Willibald Wolf Rudinoff

After my last post about the resourceful Philip Gilbert Hamerton, who took his carefully-prepared etching plates with him on a canoeing trip, I thought I should follow up with the the wonderfully-named Willibald Wolf Rudinoff, a circus performer and nightclub singer who carted his self--designed etching press with him across the world. Rudinoff (sometimes listed as Willi, Willy, or Wilhelm Rudinoff and also under the surname Morgenstern, or Morgenstern-Rudinoff) was born in Angermünde, Germany on 4 August 1866. Rudinoff came from an Eastern European Jewish family (either Polish or Russian, the sources differ, but from somewhere in the Pale of Settlement); his father was a cantor, who was fleeing persecution. Rudinoff's education was spread across Russia, Germany, and France, and as an adult he cultivated a "citizen of the world" mentality. Willibald Wolf Rudinoff also worked as Willy Morgenstern. Apparently his passport was in the name Morgenstern, and this seems to have been his real name. Six foot two, with a commanding face and physique, he assumed the name Rudinoff as a stage name, travelling across Europe as a circus performer. In this capacity Rudinoff is recorded as a fire-eater, creator of shadow silhouettes, and also as a singer with a fine tenor voice, which he also used to imitate the cries of animals.

Willibald Wolf Rudinoff, An der Elbe
Etching, 1901

In 1891 Rudinoff became close friends with the dramatist Frank Wedekind, who was attracted by Rudinoff's mastery of pantomime. Sometime around 1900 Rudinoff made the switch from circus artist to fine artist. Rudinoff is known to have studied art for some months at the Munich Academy, and also at the Académie Julian in Paris. However, he continued performing as a singer in cabarets and nightclubs across the world. In June 1903, for instance, he was performing at the Tivoli in Sydney, and a reporter from the Sydney Mail recorded that, "He has become one of the most sought-after and highest salaried attractions on the variety stage, and his engagements all over the world have made the world his sketching ground." As a consequence, Rudinoff was active as an artist across Western and Northern Europe. The Sydney Mail reporter documents the contents of his lodgings: "From the traditional artistic litter his etching press - made after his own design - is easily identifiable. This in itself constitutes a nice little item for weekly carriage, weighing as it does four hundredweight, and when you add to this stacks of canvases, reams of water-colour paper, iron-bound chests of oils, brushes, crayons, pastes, acids, and baths for etching, violin, guitar, copper plates, and a collection of etchings that would grace the walls of any picture gallery, you may form some slight idea of Rudinoff's enthusiasm."

Willibald Wolf Rudinoff, Dot Hardy (Porträtstudie)
Etching, 1902

My first etching by Rudinoff is a post-Impressionist boating scene on the river Elbe in Germany, My second was created in Sheffield, and seems to depict a fellow music-hall or cabaret artist, Dot Hardy. Sadly, Google searches for Dot or Dorothy Hardy have not yielded any information about this lively-looking young woman. Willibald Wolf Rudinoff is remembered primarily as an etcher, but was also a master watercolorist. Rudinoff produced scenes of music halls and circuses, landscapes, coastal scenes, and figure studies in an artistic career that deserves more attention than it has received. In 1902 he showed 70 works at the Grafton Galleries, London; about the same time, the Munich National Gallery acquired a complete set of his etchings to date for their print room. The last dated piece of his art that I have found is from 1929. His date of death is not known.


Jane Librizzi said...

Neil, these are lovely works and what a lovely story Rudinoff's life makes. He appears to have had such generous creative impulses. His image of Dot Hardy is so engaging - worlds away from a sensibility like Toulouse Lautrec's, for instance. Thank you.

Neil said...

Yes, the Dot Hardy etching is very intimate and convivial, isn't it? I still haven't found out anything about her. I did find an image on the internet of another etching of a fellow performer, made in Glasgow in the same year, 1902, depicting a quite well-known music-hall artiste, "Happy" Fanny Fields, whose song "The Suffragette" includes the spoken lines, "The point is, girls, stand up for your rights. If you can't stand up, sit down, but don't let them catch you bending."