Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze)

[no title]


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Etching and drypoint on paper
Image: 124 x 98 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

Wols nearly always worked on a small scale.

The effect is intense and delicate in this series

of etchings. The lines are woven into strange suggestions of body parts or microscopic life.

The writer Jean-Paul Sartre saw in such images the artist's obsessive fascination with the minutiae of nature. Wols himself wrote in a poetic piece:

'At Cassis, the pebbles, fish, rocks under a magnifying glass ¿ made me forget about human pretensions, invited me to turn my back

on the chaos of our goings-on, showed me eternity in the little harbour waves'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

P07975 [from] Complete set of untitled etchings c.1942–1951 [P07948-P07980; complete]

Thirty-three etchings and drypoints in range 2 3/4 × 4–12 1/4 × 9 1/8 (64 × 102–324 × 248) on thin ivory Japan paper approximately 15 × 10 1/4 (381 × 267), printed and published posthumously by the artist's widow (edition size and printer not known)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Reiss Cohen Inc., New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Lit: Will Grohmann, ‘Das Graphische Werk von Wols’, Quadrum, 6, 1959, pp.95–118 (repr. with the exception of no.XXXV)

According to Grohmann, at the time of Wols's death he left behind a number of copper plates which he had been working on since c.1942. He states that the exact number of these plates cannot be established since a number were ruined or lost. In 1954 Wols's widow commissioned the printing of thirty-five plates in an edition of 6. At the time of Grohmann's article three of these were in private collections and two belonged to the widow and to the artist's brother. They were printed on ivory coloured Velin Arches and stamped with the stamp of the estate. In addition one set was made which did not bear the stamp of the estate and was given to a former schoolfriend of the artist. Some of these plates had been printed during the artist's lifetime as illustrations to texts by Sartre, de Solier, Bryen and Artaud. In 1955 the artist's widow commissioned the printing of a further 10 sets on a thicker white paper. Three plates from the original set, according to Grohmann, were missing at the time of this printing, nos. X, XXIII and XXVII. These were printed by Georges Visat in Paris and numbered from 1 to 10. Each sheet was numbered in roman numerals and the set was numbered in arabic numerals. According to Dr Ewald Rathke (letter of 9 October 1985), a further edition was printed in 1962 by Lacourière et Frelaut, Paris in an edition of 50, each sheet stamped on the back with the stamp of the estate and numbered on the front out of 50. This edition contained impressions from the plates which Grohmann thought had been destroyed and included one plate which Grohmann had not recorded.

It is not possible to define exactly which edition P07948-P07980 come from. They are printed on thin, ivory Japan paper and the set includes etching no.x. Therefore it cannot belong to the edition of 1955. The prints do not bear any inscriptions or stamps which suggests that they may be from the edition of 1953, and in particular be the set of prints given to a schoolfriend of Wols (see Grohmann, pp.95–6). However, Grohmann does not indicate that this set was printed on paper other than Velin Arches. The plates themselves are hard to date. According to Grohmann twenty were made before 1949.

The prints are in the manner of Wols's late works and are very finely and delicately etched. They depict images suggestive of botanical and biological forms as well as of faces, ships and landscapes.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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