Fine Work by Unknown Artist

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Vancouver CPR: UL_1085_0030. Views of British Columbia and Alaska. University of British Columbia Library. Rare Books and Special Collections. Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs. n.d. [1880-90]. Artist and photographer unknown.

I find lithographs such as this one (from a volume in the Uno Langmann Collection entitled Views of British Columbia and Akaska) to be very appealing. Vancouver Art historian, Gary Sim, has pointed out that that the first image (from the source hard copy of the book; the signature isn’t visible at the online site) is signed Louis Glaser, Leipzig. Glaser, apparently, had an amazing process by which these lithographs were produced.¹

Views was published by M. W. Waitt & Co, an early Victoria bookseller. Marshall Wilder Waitt (1833-1892) succumbed to Smallpox in 1892 and sometime after that, Waitt’s son-in-law, Charles H. Kent, moved the business to Vancouver. The year that Views was published isn’t known, but the staff in UBC Library’s Special Collections department estimate it was between 1880-90.

I’m aware of there being several examples of B.C. publishers publishing their own work anonymously. As far as I know, that wasn’t the case with Views. However, Waitt’s daughter (who married Waitt’s successor, C. H. Kent) Georgina (1866-1933), was a portrait artist and may have been connected to a capable B.C. artist who she brought to her father’s attention (and who was just hungry enough to agree to M. W. Waitt’s terms of publication anonymity).

I take it that Views sold well because a smaller, “best of”, edition was published a few years later (1900?). There were only 20 or so prints in this little volume. The Langmann (188-?) edition – a first edition, presumably – has about 60 prints.

I am no art critic; mainly I know what I like. I like most of the work in Views, and I’m very interested in finding out who the unsung artist was behind the fine images within its covers. Permit me a brief ramble about my assessment of the art (and artist).

The artistic form is Realism (with a capital ‘R’). There is no hint of any abstract influence in this work at all. I’m convinced that the work in Views is by a single artist; it doesn’t look to me like a compilation of work by a variety of artists. That said, it seems to me that there is a difference in the maturity of the artist’s skill among the several examples in Views. I think that the work comes from different periods in the artist’s life – some of them from relatively early in his/her life; others from later periods. This is best illustrated by looking at the artist’s weakest artistic subject: human figures. In the print shown below (which I take to be an earlier one), the figure in the rowboat is rendered pretty crudely.

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The CPR Crossing the Columbia River: UL_1085_0046. Views of British Columbia and Alaska. University of British Columbia Library. Rare Books and Special Collections. Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs. n.d. [1880-90]. Artist and photographer unknown.

But here, in the image called “Indian Groups” the artist demonstrates a skill level vastly superior to that in the rowboat work. The human figures in this image are almost photographic.

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Indian Groups: UL_1085_0028. Views of British Columbia and Alaska. University of British Columbia Library. Rare Books and Special Collections. Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs. n.d. [1880-90]. Artist and photographer unknown.

I wish that there was much hope of me tracking down the artist/engraver who did this fine work. But I’m told that engraved work of this period was typically unsigned and that it is very difficult to pin down who was responsible from this distant remove.

Notes

¹For more background info on this artist and his work, see Gary Sim’s talk to the Vancouver Historical Society. The entire talk on early Vancouver artists is worth watching, but for the section pertaining to this artwork, go to the 34.37 mark.

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