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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeWhile there is copper ...

“WHILE THERE IS COPPER THERE IS HOPE”
Prints BY Michael Blaker R.E.
& Prints COLLECTED by Michael Blaker

While there is copper there is hope was a dictum of the artist R T (Dick) Cowern, who taught Michael Blaker at Brighton School of Art in the late 1940’s -50’s. It seemed an appropriate title for this additional catalogue, produced, in place of the cancelled London Original Print Fair, in the lockdown days of the corona virus pandemic.

The catalogue is divided into two sections: the first a selection of prints etched by Michael Blaker; the second a selection of prints collected by Michael.

It was fortuitous that my visit to Ramsgate to go through the prints took place two weeks before lockdown and that the prints I brought back with me so conveniently made up a catalogue in their own right.


MICHAEL BLAKER R.E., Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate. The Road to Montoire. Original soft ground etching and aquatint with colour wash, c1991-93. This print is for sale

MICHAEL BLAKER R.E.
Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate

The Road to Montoire
340 x 437 mm
Original soft ground etching and aquatint with colour wash, c1991-93.
Signed in pencil, entitled and numbered 4/350. On stout cream wove.
£350


Michael was nearing ninety-one years of age when he died in November 2018. He worked till his final year, holding a retrospective 90th birthday exhibition, Blaker’s World, at the Pie Factory Gallery in Margate, April 2018.

A painter-etcher, writer, and for ten years, 1983-93, editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, Michael was a lover of art, jazz and animals; he also had an eye for the humour in life.

Born and raised in Hove, where his father had a newsagency, Michael Blaker’s paternal grandfather and grand uncle had been aldermen and, turn and turn about, mayors of the municipality of Brighton & Hove. His maternal grandparents ran the Elite café and oyster bar beneath the Brighton promenade. They were Swiss immigrants of Italian extraction; he a Lanfranchi (Dante had met an ancestor in Hell) and she a Giuliani, granddaughter of a Longhi, and descendant of the painter Pietro Longhi.

Blaker enrolled at the Brighton School of Art in 1945. He only discovered etching in 1947, when painting a mural on the Art School staircase he looked down into the etching room. He recalleded this ‘revelation’ and the excitement of his discovery in his Autobiography of a Painter-Etcher.

The very atmosphere of the etching room, with the white dishes of dangerous green acid, the procedure of dampening down the best rag paper, of smoking the beeswax ground – the air of devoted, monastic dedication, seemed archaic … We lived for the Friday all-day sessions, and I spent a great deal of time studying the history and methods of my new interest. From that moment when I had looked through the fanlight from my scaffolding and seen the etching room at work I had known by divine intuition that it was to be my selected way of life. Nevertheless, I was still involved, and was to continue to be so – we are, after all, essentially Painter-Etchers - … with painting, modelling and sculpture.

Exempted from National Service because he was extremely short-sighted, he would return to the Art School for a couple of years, nearly a decade later, as a dedicated student of etching.

At Brighton School of Art in 1957 he and friends formed a spasm jazz band, The Eminent Victorians, and for a while jazz-playing occupied much of his spare time. Brighton had a very active Traditional Jazz scene at this period. Also in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s Michael spent time at Ditchling, painting inn signs for Crosby Cook, the father of fellow art student Diana.


MICHAEL BLAKER R.E., Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate. Girl in a long dress – Diana (Ida John’s dress). Original etching, 1971-73. This print is for sale

MICHAEL BLAKER R.E.
Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate

Girl in a long dress – Diana (Ida John’s dress)
374 x 278 mm
Original etching, 1971-73.
The plate signed. Signed in pencil, entitled and numbered 2/30.
Printed in brown-black ink, with plate tone, on stiff wove.
£300

A study of Diana de Vere Cole (née Crosby Cook) wearing Ida John’s dress. Her husband Tristan de Vere Cole, whom she married in 1962, was the illegitimate son of Augustus John. His mother Mavis Cole, first met John in 1928 at the Café Royal, when she agreed to model for him. She married Horace de Vere Cole, in 1931 but a year later became Augustus John’s mistress. Tristan Cole, from the age of 18 months, was brought up in the John household at Fryern Court, Fordingbridge. Diana began as a student at Brighton School of Art in 1957. During the following three years Michael helped her with etching, was her mentor at art school and became a lifelong friend and correspondent. Diana’s family had moved to Ditchling to live in Brangwyn’s former house, The Jointure. Her father, Crosby Crook, had been a printer who worked with Brangwyn on his posters. After Brangwyn’s death he ran an inn sign painting business and in the summer of 1958 he employed Michael Blaker in this business. Michael slept in a gypsy caravan which had been built by Dunstan Pruden, a silversmith in the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic.


There were travels to the Continent and periods in London before Blaker settled in Rochester, in 1978, after marrying Catriona McTurk. In 1987 they moved to Ramsgate.

Michael decided to primarily make his living selling his etchings. Blaker’s Autobiography (published 1986) opens with

An etching should, of course, traditionally, be in black and white. It has “always been” and to the mind there at once leaps the image of a thin black frame enclosing a vast white mount in which the print –ideally rather small – sits enshrined with rather more authority about it than an old master drawing. There is, and always has been as Sickert inferred , something about an etching.

However,

It was pointed out to me (by London commercial galleries in the late 1970’s) clearly and incisively that monochrome etchings, however painstakingly delineated, would not sell. Colour, was all they bought. Did they? I didn’t. Nor did many people I knew. Nor did the painter-etchers of the old school favour it. Colour to a painter-etcher had been an anathema. However, the whole new modern school of printmaking went in for colour wholesale. My own approach was admittedly, unmitigated Nineteenth Century; but that was what I liked… I was not going to change, because I only wanted to draw what I saw, and what I saw was seen with the eyes of that period, even when I inserted a contemporary car into a plate.

Interest of subject matter and detail were his preoccupations.

“Why not colour them as you colour your watercolours?” said Catriona. “Or like the Eighteenth century aquatints - gentle, delicate washes - ” I commenced to do this.

In fact it was a practice that went back to the 15th century when monks and nuns coloured devotional woodcuts for sale to visitors to their abbeys.


REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN, Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam. St Jerome in a Dark Chamber. Original etching, 1642. This print is for sale, priced £2800

MICHAEL BLAKER R.E.
Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate

Carriages in Salzburg
156 x 219 mmm
Original etching and colour wash, c1983-86.
The plate signed and inscribed Salzburg.
Signed in pencil, entitled and numbered 21/250.
On stout cream wove.
£220

Exhibited at the R.E. 1986. A carriage stand by the ‘horse’ baroque fountain in the Residenzplatz (one of the locations used in the film The Sound of Music) Blaker wrote in his Autobiography “I etched the fountain and its Bernini horse - it appears to have come via Rome and the Piazza Navona - I draw the carriages as they move, avoiding (or being avoided expertly by them) as I stand too close, in the way.


Michael’s etchings are a mirror on his life, a visual journal of people and places.

All the prints offered in this catalogue are from Michael Blaker’s estate.


Published July 2020.
Quarto paperback; 77 pages, 153 items offered for sale, all illustrated
(Price U. K. £15; Overseas £20)

Prints available
Prints from this catalogue are still available.

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MICHAEL BLAKER R.E., Hove 1928 – 2018 Ramsgate. Evening on the Medway. Etching, aquatint & colour wash, c1980. The original print illustrated here is for sale

Front cover, showing detail from Summer Evening on the Medway Etching, aquatint & colour wash, c1980 by Michael Blaker.

Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Austin R
  • Basket C H
  • Blaker M
  • Brammer L
  • Brightwell C L
  • Brown D
  • Cameron D Y
  • Carter F
  • Chahine E
  • Cole D de Vere
  • Cowern R T
  • Desboutin M
  • Drury P
  • Eccleston H
  • Fairclough W
  • Freeth H A
  • Gill E
  • Haagensen F H
  • Holloway E
  • Lumsden E A
  • Morisot B
  • Osborne M
  • Renoir A
  • Robins W P
  • Short F
  • Smart D I
  • Smith P J D
  • Tanner R
  • Tute G
  • Vuillard E
  • Walcot W
  • Whistler J.McN

DENISE BROWN. 1911 – 1998. Oxfordshire L’Etudiante or The Print Room. Original drypoint, 1936. The original print illustrated here is for sale

Back cover, showing

DENISE BROWN R.E.
Lambeth 1911 – 1998 Watford

L’Etudiante or The Print Room
189 x 175 mm
Original drypoint, 1936.
Signed in pencil and numbered 14/25.

A rich impression printed in umber with plate tone on thin cream laid paper watermarked hand made. Dedicated, at a later date, in pencil, “The Print Room” this impression for Michael & Catriona (Blaker) with my best wishes.

£750

An impression was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1936.

A familiar scene (and self-portrait?) in the Print Room of the V & A, which was in the adjacent building to the Royal College at South Kensington.

Brown had gained her R.C.A. Diploma in 1935 and before taking up a Travelling Scholarship in 1936, she stayed on at the R.C.A. as a student demonstrator.

Denise Brown wrote of her work and opinions for Blaker’s 5th issue of the R.E. Journal, 1983

… remembering precisely the moment of addiction to engraving. For me it all began at Harrow Art School, when my attention was drawn to details of a British Institution Scholarship in Engraving. I thought it was at least worth submitting some examples of my work and when, to my surprise, I was successful I soon found myself in a small and happy band in the Engraving School of the Royal College of Art, working under the direction of Malcolm Osborne and Robert Austin.

 


 

DIANA DE VERE COLE, Born Guildford 1941. Owl. Original aquatint, 1986.

DIANA DE VERE COLE
Born Guildford 1941

Diana’s artistic career has been varied, including as well as painting, writing, making murals, decorating furniture and occasional printmaking when she could get access to a printing press. She is currently ‘artist in residence’ at Parham House and Gardens, Sussex.

Owl
253 x 145 mm
Original aquatint, 1986.
Signed in pencil and numbered 6/50. On cream wove.
Sold

Printed on the press of Robert Tilliard, when he was giving etching classes.
From the collection of Michael Blaker.

 


 

Michael Blaker’s Collection

I have been buying and collecting prints – like most printmakers – since first I took up the dominating and all-encompassing occupation: commencing with exchanges with fellow students in the same class, and progressing to the haunting of print-shops and galleries.
(Michael Blaker in the Journal of the RE, issue 8, 1986)

Though Michael had a keen appreciation, love and admiration for old master paintings, he does not seem to have collected old master prints, though he was inspired by Rembrandt’s direct views of Amsterdam, and made pen and ink copies of Dürer engravings.
The Old masters are however ‘represented’ in the deceptively good copy by Lucy Brightwell of one of Rembrandt’s landscapes, and a student copy by Michael’s good friend, Harry Eccleston P.R.E., of Rembrandt’s mother seated at a table.

There are a few works by Continental artists but etchings by the Modern British School predominate, often with a personal connection.
They range from examples by classic names, from Whistler to Tanner, and include Blaker’s teachers and fellow students, in general they are by friends and other fellow members of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers.

Michael wrote “It is better to surround yourself with work you admire, rather than your own.”

 

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