Elizabeth Harvey-Lee Logo Elizabeth Harvey-Lee, Print Dealer Elizabeth Harvey-Lee | Print Dealer Elizabeth Harvey-Lee | Print Dealer
Click here to return to the Home page at any time
Further information about Elizabeth harvey-Lee
The methods and history of printmaking
Order back-copies of Elizabeth's previous printed catalogues
View this month's selection of prints
View Elizabeth's current on-line exhibition, and explore the archives
Contact Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
Elizabeth Harvey-Lee
You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeePrintmaking Techniques Harvey-LeeRelief Harvey-LeeModern Colour Woodcuts

Modern Colour Woodcut

Morley Fletcher wrote specifically of colour woodcut

“…  no work gives such instruction in economy of design, in the resources of line and its expressive development, and in the use and behaviour of colour.”

though the observation could stand as a manifesto for all modern colour relief printmaking.

Some Modernists felt that the invention of photography had rendered obsolete painting and printmaking as a mirror of the external material world and strove to express the inner reality, emotional sensations, psychological reactions and spiritual or abstract concepts that the camera could not catch. Commensurately in seeking a formal language they looked to earlier styles, naïve or folk art, or to foreign cultures that were not based on academic realism.

In the late 1890’s in France, but particularly in Austria & Germany and in England artists developed an enthusiasm for colour woodcuts inspired by the contemporary Japanese woodblock print and the early Germanic tradition of woodcut that went back to the very origins of printmaking. Emil Orlik was a seminal influence in the development of the colour print, both relief and intaglio, as a Professor at Vienna. In 1900 he made the first of two visits to Japan to experience their printmaking at first hand.

In England, F Morley Fletcher began experiments with J. D. Batten in 1897, cutting blocks on cherry wood and colour-printing in the Japanese manner (though not style) with a principal key block and separate subsidiary blocks for the various coloured areas, though several colours could be printed simultaneously from different relief areas of the same block.

The water-based colours were bright, mixed with rice flour for body, painted onto the block so that variations in intensity of colour could be introduced within a single impression. William Giles and others went on to devise similar relief prints from multiple metal plates, etching away the unwanted areas and printing the flat metal surface left in relief. Printed in identical fashion to woodblocks it can be impossible to tell from an impression which matrix was used.

John Platt(1886–1967): The Irish Lady, Landsend. Six-Colour woodcut, 1921-22. (205 x 266 mm)

John Platt(1886–1967): "The Irish Lady, Landsend".
Six-Colour woodcut, 1921-22. (205 x 266 mm)
(Showing the influence of Japanese colour woodblock prints)

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian who spent several years at different periods in Germany and greatly influenced the German Expressionists, revolutionised the woodcut and produced some of the greatest masterpieces of modern European art in the medium. Often working on a large scale, Munch sometimes printed his woodcuts in different colour combinations and even different block combinations so that each had a different emotive atmosphere.

Exceptionally among British artists, Charles Mackie (above right) printed with oil-based pigments similar to traditional printing inks. His relief prints have a rich painterly, totally European character. Mackie printed only small editions and varied the range of colours from one impression to another, so that though printed from the same series of multiple blocks the effect could be very different.


Hans Neumann (1873–1957)

Hans Neumann (1873–1957):
"Bullocks grazing on a Cliff-top".
Three-Colour woodcut, 1908.  (205 x 180 mm)


Charles Mackie R.S.A. (1862–1920): The Palace Gardens, Venice. Oil printed colour woodcut, before 1910. (430 x 580 mm)

Charles Mackie R.S.A. (1862–1920):
"The Palace Gardens, Venice".  Oil printed colour woodcut, before 1910. 430 x 580 mm.

Mackie exhibited an impression in 1910 at the first exhibition of the newly-founded Society of Painter-Gravers in Colour.  


See also :

RELIEF PRINTING - An Introduction

Wood Engraving

Hand-coloured Woodcut
Chiaroscuro Woodcut
Colour Linocut
Colour Wood Engraving








Return to top ^