April 3, 2015

Birds and Beasts by Mankes

        Jan Mankes (Dutch, 1889-1920) died young, after having lived somewhat apart from the art centers of the time.  He did landscapes and portraits of intimates, and a lot of farm animals, and his woodcuts include lots of crows and chickens. in particular  He has quite a variety of different styles among the pieces I looked at, from rough to intricate, some with white backgrounds and only black outlines, some the reverse with black backgrounds and only a bit of white, many with lots of texture.  But rather than try to show you a whole range, I’ll just give you a few of my favorites.
        The hen’s background is interesting; it looks much blacker than the black ink on other parts of the print, such as between the bits of straw on the ground.  It looks like someone (presumably 
Mankes, but you never know) actually painted in the background to make it as black as possible.  In any case, I like the pattern of the feathers, and the rather unusual viewpoint, from the front instead of the side.
        The hedgehog has no background at all, just solid black, and he’s composed of nothing but the fine carved lines of his texture.  The difference in gouges - short, spaced lines or very fine densely packed lines - perfectly suggest the differences between the prickles and the fur.
        I like the blackness of the crow against the texture of the background.  The bottom half could reasonably be ground of some sort, but the top half of the background doesn’t seem to be representational.  It’s just something that’s neither black nor white to offset the crow.
        Finally, this goat has a much more detailed representative background.  It’s clearly standing among plants, with even a branch or sapling behind it.  On the other hand, its face looks a little more stylized than the other animals’.
        Mankes was a new discovery for me, and I’m glad to have made the acquaintance of his birds and beasts.  I’m sorry he wasn’t able to have 50 more years of wood block printing for the world.

[Pictures: Zilverwyandotte, wood block print by Jan Mankes, 1917;
Egel, wood block print by Mankes, c 1916;
Schreeuwende kraai, wood block print by Mankes, 1918;
Geitje, wood block print by Mankes, 1915 (All images from Rijksbureau V. Kunsthistorische Documentatie).]

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