Sunday, January 24, 2010

a man for all seasons: 1903



It is not the first, nor the second time that the work of Mr. T. Van Hoytema has been illustrated in THE STUDIO; yet one is surprised to find that the individuality and fantasy of the designer is not, so far,
as widely recognized in England as it deserves.

His work is too personal to be brought into any well-defined group and criticised accordingly. In spite of its shortcomings —or rather to speak more accurately, and at the same time more politely—in spite of its self-imposed limitations, within the little field Mr. Van Hoytema has chosen he is easily first.

For in his work there is a curious quality—that distinction which may be unobservant of academic scholarship, as in the case of Blake, or coupled with rare knowledge, as in the case of Mr. C. H. Shannon, and yet in both these unrelated examples entirely outside the ordinary standards. Mr. Van Hoytema's owls are always delightful, and his sketches of parrots, storks and turkeys show no less ingenious humour.

Nor is this quality achieved by humanising his feathered models; the touch of caricature he infuses is not in that direction. It is rather what you might expect if a bird developed powers of drawing, and started a series of portraits a la Rothenstein, in a limited edition issued by some winged equivalent of Mr. John Lane or Mr. Grant Richards.

Those who remember The Ugly Duckling (D. Nutt), or The Happy Owls (Henry & Co.), need not be told how cleverly Mr. Van Hoytema uses the resources of lithography in colours to express his ideas. Of course they suffer by translation to black and white, but at the same time much remains to prove his very facile handling and wayward fantasy.

They are un-English ; but that is no crime, for Mr. Van Hoytema is not a Briton. Much as one may prefer English ideals for England, it is still obvious that any other country which appreciates them does best when it assimilates, not imitates.

Because these birds are entirely unlike any of our own artists' impressions of fowls of the air, and are equally unlike birds as a Japanese would record them, they assume a distinct value ; because they add to the art of the world something not previously existing. It is a pleasure to make them known to a wider audience in England.

The two earlier books were obviously lithographed, and unless memory is at fault, in some previous announcement it was stated that the artist drew them himself upon the stone. If this be true, it is possible that his technical mastery is responsible for the only quality open to criticism, which is a fondness for superimposed cross-hatching and tints.

The charm of Mr. Walter Crane's mosaic of flat colours in his early toy-books, or of the graduated wash of Mr. J. D. Batten, and Mr. Morley Fletcher's colourprints, both satisfy one more entirely. In each the limitations of woodcut printing are evident, and the ordered result is more simple, yet more enjoyable.

But this is no doubt partly due to the scarcity of coloured lithography done by the artist himself, the millions of chromo-lithographs extant being almost, without exceptions, translations by skilled mechanics. Some modern Frenchmen have experimented in colour lithography
with the happiest results. In their work the economy of line,
which is in favour to-day, has produced a less complex,
but not less complete, effect.

Yet a certain drawing by M. Aman-Jean, and another by
L. Levy-Dhurmer (both reproduced in The Studio), pull you up sharply in any attempt to proclaim that flat pigments are alone admissible, and leave you again in presence of the truth, that any and every method can be justified in an artist's hands. 1

truth be told, that may not be the right december for this year, but it was a 'loose december,' so i'm glad to at least find a possibility for a month that is otherwise nowhere to be found! believe me, if i ever find the right december (if this isn't it), i'll replace it.

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