July 3, 2015

Thalmann's Wood Block Prints

        Max Thalmann (Germany, 1890-1944) is a little-known artist working between the two World Wars.  He had a relatively short career in wood block prints, and his work consists primarily of three major portfolios of prints: The Passion, The Cathedral, and America in Woodcuts.  Despite success with these, he eventually turned away from art and worked as a book designer until his death.  It’s a shame he didn’t produce more, as his work is interesting, and since each of his three print cycles has a different and distinctive look, I have every reason to believe that he would have continued to come up with new and interesting pieces if he had kept at it.  (Of course, perhaps he felt that book design was an even more new and interesting thing for him.)
        At any rate, I have some pieces for you today from the latter two collections.  The Cathedral, published in 1923, includes ten woodcuts that very clearly are all variations and explorations of a single theme.  The same shapes, simplified Gothic arches echoed by stylized bowed 
figures, build up all the pieces, with variations of black and white, arrangement and scale.  They end up as explorations of light and shadow, evoking both the scintillating light of stained glass windows and the glowing halos of processions of saints.
        By contrast, the pieces in America in Woodcuts, inspired by a trip to the United States in 1923-4, are much more varied, and much more specifically representational.  Although I can’t find that Thalmann labelled the scenes as representing actual locations, I can certainly believe that they do.  Despite seeming more realistic than the Cathedral series, you can still see that Thalmann stylized his views heavily, and reduced the scenes to their geometry.
        I have to agree with the blurbs I found on Thalmann, who all claim that he’s underrated and undeservedly unknown.  I think his work is unique and interesting, and I like it.

[Pictures: from Der Dom (The Cathedral), woodcut by Max Thalmann, 1922 (Image from fulltable.com);
from Amerika im Holzschnitt (America in Woodcuts), woodcut by Thalmann, 1925 (Image from Wikipedia);
Skyscraper Under Construction from Amerika im Holzschnitt, woodcut by Thalmann, 1925 (Image from Stevens Fine Art);
from Amerika im Holzschnitt, woodcut by Thalmann, 1925 (Image from Stadtmuseum Weimar).]

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