M a x =W e b e r - - 1 8 8 1 - 1 9 6 1


Modernist Abstration,

 

"To fill eternity with the ripest and the sanest expression of our consciousness is the essence as well as the purpose of life.”—Max Weber

Max Weber was born in Bialystok, western Russia. When he was ten, his family came to America, settling in Brooklyn. While enrolled at nearby Pratt Institute from 1898 to 1900, he was a student of the renowned modernist artist and influential teacher Arthur Wesley Dow who advocated for art as a means of self-expression rather than its traditional role of cultured ornament.

Weber became an art teacher, first in the public schools in Lynchburg, Virginia, and beginning in 1903 at the Minnesota Normal School in Duluth. Inspired by Dow’s experience, Weber longed to continue his studies in Europe, and after years of prudent saving, he traveled to Paris in 1905.

He became a devoted disciple of Paul Cézanne, met Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Pablo Picasso, and Leo and Gertrude Stein, and became close friends with Henri Rousseau, later organizing the first exhibition of Rousseau’s work in the United States. A pupil of Matisse in 1908, he was deeply affected by the great artist’s expressive freedom and boldness of color. In acknowledgement of his gifted assimilation of these diverse influences, one of Weber’s paintings was accepted for exhibition at the prestigious Salon d’Automne in 1907.

Weber returned to New York and had his first one-man show at the Haas Gallery in April of 1909, revealing his newfound status as one of America’s earliest modernist artists. Although, as might have been expected, his progressive work was mostly misunderstood and widely criticized, the show introduced the artist to Arthur B. Davies, who became a supporter and friend. Weber credited Davies with teaching him lithography in 1916, enabling him to incorporate the medium into his printmaking oeuvre.

In 1919 Weber created his first group of woodcuts, many of them in color, which were exhibited in 1920 at the Montross Gallery in New York. Davies purchased some of the works, and the esteemed critic and gallery director Carl Zigrosser took other prints to sell at the Weyhe Gallery. That spring, ten of Weber’s poems with ten woodcuts were published in the Yiddish literary journal 'Schriften.' These early figurative abstractions display Weber’s unique melding of Cubist vernacular with primitivist sensibilities and stand among the most avant-garde American prints of the first quarter of the 20th century.

Weber’s subsequent group of relief prints represented Jewish themes, reflecting his heritage and spiritual convictions. Some of these works, such as ‘Feast of Passover,' expanded the artist’s repertoire to depict the interplay of multi-figure groupings. Weber’s prints were frequently reproduced in small literary magazines, and his book 'Primitives,' published in 1926, integrated his poetry with his woodcuts.

Weber’s friendship with William Zorach, and an exhibition of the Provincetown printmakers in 1916, inspired his return to color relief prints. During 1919 and 1920, Weber created some thirty block prints—distinguished by their original use of color applied in a painterly manner, each impression being virtually unique.

In 1925 the artist taught at the Art Students League, New York. From 1928 to 1933, he produced thirty-four black ink lithographs, printed from zinc plates. Many of these works demonstrated Weber’s continuing interest in using figurative groupings to explore his Zen-like approach to what he described as “the problem of form, balance of volume and sculpturesque spacial values.”

In 1930 Weber began to receive institutional recognition for his innovative work. That year, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work, and four years later, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York purchased a painting. This interest was sustained through several important exhibitions in the 1940s and 1950s.

Carl. O Schniewind, curator of the Depart­ment of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, offered Weber the first one-man exhibition of his relief prints in 1942. To demonstrate the expressive intention of Weber's work and emphasize the painterly qualities of the artist's nuanced inking Schniewind showed 35 prints with the 35 blocks from which they were created. Essentially this format was repeated in 1948 when Una Johnson curator of Prints and Drawings at the Brooklyn Museum mounted an exhibition of woodcuts, woodblocks, and lithographs, and wrote the first comprehensive article on Weber’s graphic work for the Brooklyn Museum Bulletin.

Today Weber's work is included in every major American art museum including The Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art; National Gallery of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

 


Max Weber's Relief Prints-

"Because each of Weber’s impressions was pulled without a press, using hand pressure, the tonality of the image was never the traditional sharp dark and light contrast but rather a subtle range of color or tone creating a living feeling for the block itself. In some prints, for example, ‘Crouching Nude’ and ‘Primitive Figure’, the line was not cut with an eye for descriptive contour in the conventional sense but rather the block was modeled like sculpture so that when inked, the eye moved through the tones over patterns of shape. Never striving for precision, but always with an eye for the expressive personal aesthetic, Weber was in defiance of the professional printers of the period whose production of wood en­gravings exhibited a sterile exactitude and dry re­productive quality. As each of his impressions varies so completely from the next, one of the most reward­ing aspects of Weber’s relief oeuvre is the study of the variable inkings. No artist since Gauguin or Munch offered so many options from a single matrix.

"Weber executed no preparatory drawings or studies or his relief prints. Although he may have drawn the image on the blocks before cutting—many of the de­signs are of such an intricate nature that presumably they require some sort of compositional planning—no evidence of this method has been found. Basically the forms were spontaneously cut and gouged directly in the blocks in the same spirit of immediacy as his pen and ink drawings and gouaches. A few of his designs were executed after specific paintings, but most were the visualization of images held within the imagination, the collective expression of many past influences. In all of his wood­cuts, Weber combined strong decorative motifs with vigorous cutting. His forms uniquely embraced and consolidated a concern for archaic imagery, primitive tradition, and the spirit and iconography of his He­braic and eastern European heritage.

"In summary, Weber’s relief prints cannot be called just primitives or cubist forms. No single stylistic term is a satisfactory label. Collectively they suggest some common denominators: independence from academic traditions, interest in the element of design rather optical realism, simplicity and unpretentiousness in execution, craftlike tradition underlying their formulation and the desire to eschew the exactitude and dryness of wood engraving for the imprecision and painterly of hand-blocked work. The work was not a conscious effort at naiveté or lack of sophistication; on the contrary it was an attempt to approach the origins of art.

"In an age which has seen the machine take the feeling of material from the hands of man, these relief prints describe a spirit of craftsmanship and an originality of abstract design that is unique to Max Weber’s artistic oeuvre, to American art, and to the tradition of relief printing."

- Daryl R. Rubenstein, Max Weber, A Catalogue Raisonné of His Graphic Work, The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

 

Prayer- - 1920, Linoleum Cut with unique inking.

Rubenstein 32. Edition not stated. Signed in pencil. Numbered 2 in the bottom left sheet corner.

Image size 8 15/16 x 2 3/4 inches (227 x 70 mm); sheet size 9 1/4 to 6 3/4 inches (235 x 171 mm).

A fine impression with fresh colors, on tissue-thin cream laid Japan; apparently the full sheet, with narrow margins top and bottom (1/8 inch), wide margins left and right (2 1/4 inches). Several invisibly repaired tears in the top sheet edge, two extending into the image; otherwise in good condition. Scarce.

Another impression of this work was reproduced on the exhibition catalog cover Max Weber: Prints and Color Variations, Daryl R. Rubenstein, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1980.

SOLD


Prayer- - 1920, Linoleum Cut.

Rubenstein 32. From the edition of 25 printed in 1956. Signed in pencil.

Image size 8 15/16 x 2 3/4 inches (227 x 70 mm);sheet size 12 1/2 x 9 inches (318 x 229 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan; the full sheet with wide margins (1 3/8 to 3 1/8 inches), in excellent condition. Scarce.

Printed, at the artist’s request, by Joseph Blumenthal, The Spiral Press, New York. Included in the suite 'FIVE PRINTS BY MAX WEBER' published by Erhard Weyhe, director, Weyhe Gallery Inc., the renowned New York gallery established in 1919 to specialize in fine prints.

Collections: Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

$1400. (HOLD)


Feast of Passover- - 1920, Woodcut.

Rubenstein 30. From the edition of 25 printed in 1956. Signed in pencil.

Image size 5 x 5 15/16 inches (127 x151 mm); sheet size 12 1/2 x 9 inches (318 x 229 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan; the full sheet with wide margins (1 1/2 to 4 1/4 inches), in excellent condition. Scarce.

Printed, at the artist’s request, by Joseph Blumenthal, The Spiral Press, New York. Included in the suite 'FIVE PRINTS BY MAX WEBER' published by Erhard Weyhe, director, Weyhe Gallery Inc., the renowned New York gallery established in 1919 to specialize in fine prints.

Collections: Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

$2000.


Large Primitive Head in Profile- - 1920-21, Woodcut.

Rubenstein 33. From the edition of 25 printed in 1956. Signed in pencil.

Image size 8 15/16 x 2 3/4 inches (227 x 70 mm); sheet size 9 1/4 to 6 3/4 inches (235 x 171 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan; the full sheet with wide margins (2 1/8 to 2 7/8 inches), in excellent condition. Scarce.

Printed, at the artist’s request, by Joseph Blumenthal, The Spiral Press, New York. Included in the suite 'FIVE PRINTS BY MAX WEBER' published by Erhard Weyhe, director, Weyhe Gallery Inc., the renowned New York gallery established in 1919 to specialize in fine prints.

Collections: Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

$1400. (HOLD)


Primitive Figure- - 1921-25, Woodcut.

Rubenstein 40. From the edition of 25 printed in 1956. Signed in pencil.

Image size 9 15/16 x 3 1/16 inches (252 x 78 mm); sheet size 12 1/2 x 9 inches (318 x 229 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan; the full sheet with wide margins (1 1/8 to 3 inches), in excellent condition. Scarce.

Printed, at the artist’s request, by Joseph Blumenthal, The Spiral Press, New York. Included in the suite 'FIVE PRINTS BY MAX WEBER' published by Erhard Weyhe, director, Weyhe Gallery Inc., the renowned New York gallery established in 1919 to specialize in fine prints.

Collections: Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art.

$2400.


Nude Woman with Arm Upraised - 1930-32, Linoleum Cut.

Rubenstein 42. From the edition of 25 printed in 1956. Signed in pencil.

Image size 5 7/8 x 2 11/16 inches (149 x 68 mm); sheet size 12 1/2 x 9 inches (318 x 229 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan paper; the full sheet with wide margins (2 5/8 to 3 7/8 inches), in excellent condition. Scarce.

Printed, at the artist’s request, by Joseph Blumenthal, The Spiral Press, New York. Included in the suite 'FIVE PRINTS BY MAX WEBER' published by Erhard Weyhe, director, Weyhe Gallery Inc., the renowned New York gallery established in 1919 to specialize in fine prints.

Collections: Detroit Institute of Arts, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

$1400. (HOLD)


Mother Love (Madonna and Child)- - 1920, Woodcut.

Rubenstein 35. Edition not stated. Signed in pencil.

Image size 4 13/16 x 2 1/8 inches (122 x 54 mm); sheet size 10 x 6 1/4 inches (254 x 159 mm).

A fine impression, on cream Japan, with full margins (1 3/4 to 3 inches). Brown paper tape hinge remains on the top sheet edge, verso, otherwise in excellent condition.

SOLD


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