329. Howard Cook

George Washington Bridge with “B”

Lithograph, 1931–32
Size: 35.2 × 25 cm
Full margins. Edition of 50 (from an intended edition of 75).
Signed, dated and inscribed ‘75’ in pencil, lower margin.
A superb, dark impression with strong contrasts. Duffy 156.

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Howard Cook (1901–1980) had a stellar career, before, during and after World War II. He married Barbara Latham in 1927, another outstanding artist, and settled in Taos, New Mexico, having travelled extensively in Europe. He represents the link that existed between artists across America, and the brilliance of their craft.

AMERICAN PRINT-MAKING IN THE 20TH CENTURY

The first half of the 20th century was a golden age for American print-makers. In some ways the situation there echoed what was happening in England, with Christopher Nevinson, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Paul Nash, among others. In the post-World War II era their art went out of fashion, and although more recently Ravilious and others have become valued again, many of their American equivalents are still sunk in oblivion. This is a pity, since their visionary compositions, and their skill in rendering them, have lost nothing of their enchantment and power.

Best known today among the American images from the inter-war years are the sky-scraper builders who hang from girders, as shown by James E. Allen. Or the Delmonico Building by Charles Sheeler. This was very much the East Coast school, fascinated by the graphics of construction and industry. The impulse for this group of artists was provided by Joseph Pennell, James McNeill Whistler’s heir apparent, who returned to New York in 1904. Accompanying this urban landscape came the dark, moody peregrinations around town by Edward Hopper, and the brilliant journalistic images of George Bellows.

Elsewhere, in Middle America and on the West Coast, other themes captured the skills of engravers, etchers, lithographers, woodblock printers and those who mastered the difficult multiple techniques of whatever they combined to transmit their images. Their absorption in the American landscape gave them access to a mystical frequency, which is reminiscent at first sight of Samuel Palmer and William Blake. The wildness of the West gave new bite to this kind of imagery. They lacked nothing technically by comparison with their East Coast counterparts, with whom they were closely connected through the many regional clubs across America, set up to promote and distribute the printed image. All those represented among this small selection were supreme maestros of their art, recognized as such in their lifetimes, and collected by major institutions across the Continent. The British Museum came late to the table, but in 2008 was able to put on an exhibition, The American Scene, Prints from Hopper to Pollock, in which, because the focus tends towards whatever seems to presage the contemporary, much of the Golden Age is missed. Paul Landacre, the great magus of this craft, is not even mentioned in the index of the catalogue.

Modernism, with American Abstract Expressionism as its battering-ram, cast much of what immediately preceded it into oblivion. Paul Manship, the supreme sculptor of the Art Deco era, was totally forgotten in the post-war period, as was the marvellously talented painter from California, Euphemia Charlton Fortune. She said of herself: ‘The conservatives think I’m very modern and the modernists think I’m completely conservative.’ Childe Hassam, a painter of lesser talent, was not entirely forgotten in the same way, probably because he was an Impressionist in style, and thus already one remove away from post-war Modernism. But everything of great quality one day re-emerges to be appreciated and valued. The dizzying brilliance of the Grosvenor School linocuts are once again eagerly sought after, and so no doubt will be the work of their American counterparts.