Emil Schumacher



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Emil Schumacher 1912–1999
Original title
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 446 × 305 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

Describing the development of Composition, Schumacher has said that the first line was purely instinctive, while each subsequent line was determined by the emerging pattern. He regarded making works such as these as a gradual process of discovery, which he compared to understanding a story as it unfolded. Although he acknowledged that recognisable figures could be detected within the surface of his works, Schumacher considered them to be predominantly abstract.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

P77173 Composition 1961

Etching and aquatint 446 × 305 (17 1/2 × 12) on wove paper 702 × 505 (27 5/8 × 19 7/8); plate-mark 446 × 305 (17 1/2 × 12); printed at the Radierwerkstatt Kätelhön, Wamel and published by Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover
Inscribed ‘Schumacher’ and ‘218/300’ below image b.l.
Purchased at Hauswedell & Nolte, Hamburg (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Repr: Druckgrafik des deutschen Informel 1951–1963, exh. cat., Albrecht Dürer Gesellschaft, Nuremberg 1975, no.127

In P77137 shades of grey surround a light area in the centre that resembles vaguely a figure. Small dark patches of aquatint are visible across the image, connected by a loose pattern of black lines. Between 1958 and 1962 Schumacher made two print portfolios and seventeen individual prints. Like P77173, many of these depict abstract line clusters around a central motif, with aquatinted grounds. Schumacher's earliest etchings dating from 1958 were mainly abstract. He began to introduce more identifiably figurative elements, such as the figure, an arch form and the outline of a mountain peak, in the early 1960s.

Schumacher did not make any preparatory sketches for P77173. Any errors he made when working on the plate were integrated into the composition. In conversation with the compiler on 21 May 1990 in Hagen, Germany, Schumacher said that he first developed the image in drypoint. He then used softground, and finished by aquatinting the plate. He applied three or four different aquatints to create the darker shades.

Schumacher developed the composition instinctively, building on the first line, which he regarded as ‘free’, in contrast to the subsequent marks, which automatically had a relationship to the pre-existing lines. He agreed that the light form in the centre of the sheet bore some resemblence to a figure, a motif that preoccupied him at the time. However, he stressed that the figurative element in P77173 was muted and that the central form could not be read easily as a figure. He discovered the shape after he had drawn a few lines. Schumacher described his work on the plate as a gradual process of discovery which enabled him to enter into a dialogue with the composition as it evolved. He compared the time taken in making P77173 to understanding a story as it slowly unfolded. This was a similar process to printmaking itself and the numerous states involved in completing a print.

P77173 was commissioned by the Kestner-Gesellschaft (Kestner Art Society), Hanover, as its annual print offer to members. In order to make the large edition required by the Society, the copper plate was steel-faced to minimise any reduction of image quality. Schumacher said to the compiler that he did not regard P77173 as one of his major statements of the period because of the large edition size, adding that he viewed it more as a reproduction than an original work.

Schumacher, who at the time was living in Hamburg, made all his prints between 1958 and 1962, including P77173, at the Kätelhön workshop in Wamel, Germany. He worked on P77173 together with several other prints over a period of days and there are several artist's proofs.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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