Edward Bawden: from lino to litho

This is the fifth and final post in a series coinciding with the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life which runs from 1st April to 28th October 2018. Each of the posts looks at an aspect of Bawden’s diverse – and often surprising – career.

The prints in Edward Bawden’s series ‘Six London Markets’, which date from 1967, are some of his best known and most popular. There’s a set held at Tate, and I once saw a copy of ‘Covent Garden: Foreign Fruit Market’ on the wall of a Minister (admittedly rather a junior Minister) in the House of Lords.

Covent Garden
Edward Bawden, ‘Covent Garden: Foreign Fruit Market’

Another of the prints, ‘Borough Market’, is currently on show in the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition Edward Bawden at Home: a working life. It’s a beautiful treatment of enfolded spaces: the canopy of an invitingly lit fruit and veg store juts under the powerful brick and iron of a railway bridge, with both overlooked by the tower of Southwark Cathedral. And, of course, the blocky shapes and flat patches of colour give away that this is one of Bawden’s celebrated linocuts. Except that it isn’t, it’s a lithograph, or at least it’s a ‘lithograph after linocut’. What’s going on?

Borough Market
Edward Bawden, ‘Borough Market’

Lino and litho are about as different as printing methods can be. In a linocut, the lino is cut away to leave a raised surface which takes the ink. It’s an essentially rough-hewn method which can produce pictures of vivacity and strength in the hands of an expert, but always in a limited print run.

In a lithograph, greasy materials are painted or drawn on a printing surface and – via a bit of intervening process and chemistry – hold the ink which is wiped from the rest of the plate. For artists, lithography is often seen as a ‘painterly’ technique, though it’s also the traditional backbone of commercial colour printing, capable of large print editions.

The translation of a linocut into a lithograph was something Bawden was familiar with before he came to ‘Six London Markets’. In the 1930s he’d produced pictures for London Underground in which original linocut images were used to give an aura of authenticity to what were, in fact, mass produced, lithographed posters. The 1936 advert for Chestnut Sunday at Bushy Bark is a good example, the rather tenuous inking on the chestnut tree giving a crafted effect.

For these posters, Bawden would have handed over his original artwork to be reproduced on a lithographic plate by the commercial printers. On other occasions, though, he prepared his own lithographs. For example, also in Edward Bawden at Home is the original art work for ‘The Dolls at Home’, this time a collage rather than a linocut. This is shown alongside the lithograph which Bawden himself prepared from his collage and which was published as part of the series commissioned by the J. Lyons & Co for their teashops.

Edward Bawden - The Dolls at Home
Edward Bawden, ‘The Dolls at Home’, lithograph

Not everyone was impressed with this bit of work. Peter Floud, who was Director of the Circulations Department at the V&A, said that ‘The Dolls at Home’ was an argument for why artists should give their work to expert lithographic craftsmen for reproduction. Whatever the fairness of this judgement at the time, Bawden continued to gain in skills as a lithographer. For the 1967 ‘London Markets’ series he worked collaboratively with Stanley Jones at the Curwen Studio to translate the original linocut images into lithographs. I had the good fortune to talk to Stanley Jones recently and he was full of admiration for Bawden’s craft, suggesting that these prints demonstrated the mastery needed to work across two print media.

It still seems a little odd, though, that a linocut should have been remade as a lithograph for a fine art print. The series was commissioned by Herbert Simon for Curwen Prints, as publisher, and each of the six images was made in a main edition of seventy-five. Did the publisher want Bawden’s most characteristic, linocut style, but delivered through the professional editioning capabilities of the Curwen Studio’s lithographic printers? Did Bawden receive the commission for lithographs and decide that linocut was the best way to capture the drama of his cast iron and glass subjects? Either way, the results work brilliantly.

What’s more, the contemporary world gives a final twist to this story of printmaking technology. Giclée copies of ‘Six London Markets’ have become widely available, so these ‘lithographs after linocuts’ are now reproduced via high-quality inkjet.

@michaeljclegg1

References

Peter Floud, ‘Some Doubts Concerning Auto-lithography’, Image 3 (Winter 1949/50) pp 61-8.

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