I have a number of publications by Dover Publications of New York and, quite frankly, their quality is variable. However, the books about woodcuts which they have published reproduce the prints to a high standard. I first became interested in woodcuts from reading several of Frans Masereel's graphic stories in woodcuts and so purchased this book, published in 1994, which I found interesting and intensely moving.
The book contains more than 100 works by 30 artists printed on cream paper so as to give a good definition between the dark and light areas. There is a brief Introduction by Shane Weller, about whom there is no information, who warns readers that many of the German Expressionist artists and the publications that showed their works "had socialist or communist goals". It is disappointing that, in a book that forms part of Dover Books on Fine Art, neither the dimensions nor the locations of the woodcuts are given. The woodcuts date from 1908-1927, with the exception of earlier examples by Munch, 1896-1920 and later ones by Kirchner, 1933, and Gerhard Marcks, 1946.
The book illustrates the work of well-known and almost forgotten artists; amongst the former are Barlach, Beckmann, Campendonk, Feininger, Felixmuller, Heckel, Kirchner, Kollwitz, Marc, Munch, Nolde, Pechstein, Rolfs and Schmidt-Rottluf, whilst the latter are Erich Goldblum, Karl-Luis Heinrich-Salze, Karl Jakob Hirsch, Jerzy Hulewicz, Cesar Klein, Gerhard Marcks, Georg Mathey, Wilhelm Rudolph, Arthur Segal, Marcel Słodki, Jakob Steinhadt, Georg Tappert, Ines Wetzel and Auguste von Zitzewitz. Very brief biographical entries are included for all of the artists. In addition to Kollwitz, Ines Wetzel, Auguste von Zitzewitz and Karl-Luis Heinrich-Salze (Katharina Heise) are female.
The works are presented in alphabetic order of the artists and, even amongst this exhalted company of artists whose work was considered by the Nazis to be degenerate, I found that it was the work of Kollwitz that I came back to again and again. Her graphic works demonstrate the power of art to transform society, which is why the Nazis were so fearful of its impact. They stand as a constant reminder of the efforts that humans must make to ensure that peace triumphs over oppression. Three quarters of "The People" from 1923 is just black page whilst the remaining quarter shows agonised and fearful faces and one hand protecting a child. The book is worth purchasing for this woodcut alone.
Segal's "Exploding Grenade", 1915, is almost child-like in its simplicity and yet sums up the inhumanity of the activities taking place in Europe at the time in a way that, for me, speaks louder than the grainy old film showing the results of the slaughter. One grenade blast, one falling soldier (who could be on either side) and one life, one set of hopes destroyed. In contrast, Marc's "The Tiger" of 1912 has swirls and arabesques that belie the difficulty of their carving and, since one only ever sees the finished prints and, occasionally the woodblock from which they result, it makes one think about all the blocks that artists fail to transform. Feininger's harshly cut abstracted "Parisian Landscape" and "Cathedral" of 1918 and 1919, respectively, once again demonstrate how much this artist is overlooked.
This is an excellent book, marred only by its niggling omissions of information, for lovers of early 20th century woodcuts or for those interested in exploring this genre.