Picturing Modernity: The Linocuts of Claude Flight, Cyril Power & Sybil Andrews

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During the Interwar years in Great Britain, Claude Flight and his students at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London sought to create a new visual language suitable to the dynamic, if not frenetic, energy of their modern age. Flight believed the colour linoleum cut print to be the ideal vehicle for this new mode of expression, as it was unencumbered by the tradition and history of more established printing processes. His two most successful students, Sybil Andrews and Cyril Edward Power, mastered their teacher’s colour linocut technique. Both artists explored the themes of speed, urbanism and the rhythm of the human figure in their work but also sought to question and, at times escape from, the hectic pace that defined modern daily life. The Jeffrey M. Kaplan collection, featured in Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples sale, assembles some of the artists’ most striking and important images and is the largest group of Grosvenor School prints from a single owner to come to auction in recent memory. Click ahead to see some of the highlights on offer. –John Maher

Prints & Multiples
27–28 April | New York

Picturing Modernity: The Linocuts of Claude Flight, Cyril Power & Sybil Andrews

  • Claude Flight, Brooklands. Estimate $15,000–20,000.
    Like the Futurists that influenced him, Flight was fascinated by speed and frequently turned to the automobile as subject. Perhaps his most famous image, Brooklands celebrates the speed and power of the automobile on the racetrack. Using simple, primary colours to illustrate the scene, Flight heightens the presence of the machine by painting a pale, metallic silver wash throughout the sheet.  

  • (Left) Cyril Edward Power, The Tube Staircase (a proof aside from the numbered edition). Estimate $3,000–5000. (Right) Cyril Edward Power, The Tube Staircase. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Power's training as an architect is evident in his first mature colour linocut, inspired by the staircase at Russell Square Tube station on London’s Piccadilly line. The trial proof , which does not include the third and final block that can be seen in the editioned impression , provides a view into Power's working process and illustrates a tenet of Claude Flight’s theories on the linocut – that each block should be ascribed nearly equal value in building the print's composition.  

  • (Left) Sybil Andrews, Theatre. Estimate $7,000–10,000. (Right) Sybil Andrews, Concert Hall. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Like Power, Andrews’s earliest linocuts address architecture, but whereas Power's staircase glorifies an existing modern design, Andrews's Theatre , inspired by Queens Hall, Langham Place, and her Concert Hall , based on the ‘Old Vic’ Theater, each transform Victorian interiors into streamlined, Art Deco spaces.  

  • Sybil Andrews, Racing. Estimate $6,000–8,000.
    As her teacher did in Brooklands, Andrews captures the speed and excitement of competition in Racing . Andrews’s mastery of Flight’s pioneering linocut technique that ‘builds up block by block to a perfect whole’, is evident in the carefully calibrated block progression that layers orange, red, viridian and blue to produce the deep brown of the horses at the left.   

  • Cyril Edward Power, The Eight. Estimate $70,000–90,000.
    Power also delved into the racing theme in The Eight , inspired by the trials for the Head of the River on the Thames that he observed from Hammersmith Bridge. Isolating the single boat in the composition, Power eschews focus on the competition for the power and speed of the rowers and their united effort in the boat as it glides through the water. 

  • Sybil Andrews, Oranges. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Andrews repeatedly returns to the labourer as subject, often depicting him as working in harmony with a machine, yet always the master of it. In Oranges , her earliest linocut depicting manual labour, she infuses the image with warm light and establishes the time of day as the early morning by toning the sheet with a solid, uncarved ‘tone-block’ of transparent golden ochre, printed as the base before the image blocks are added.  

  • Cyril Edward Power, Whence & Whither?. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    The London underground fascinated Power. While he celebrated its streamlined modernity in The Tube Staircase, he portrays the commute in Whence and Whither? as an efficient but claustrophobic experience as faceless commuters proceed through a mechanised and apparently ceaseless descent underground.  

  • Cyril Edward Power, The Merry-Go-Round. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    As in his depiction of the escalator, Power imbues the presumably enjoyable diversion of the merry-go-round with a powerful but slightly menacing energy, with the passengers blurring into unidentifiable zigzags in the foreground and emerging as silhouettes in the rear, looking almost like victims of the gallows. 

  • Sybil Andrews, The Windmill. Estimate $30,000–40,000.
    Andrews conveys the same powerful, centripetal force of Power’s merry-go-round in The Windmill , but chooses a far more antiquated subject in Elmers Mill, an old Suffolk post windmill at the village of Woolpit. Perhaps because of the artist’s comfort with the traditional form of technology, the rendering carries none of the sardonic tone of her peer’s depiction of the circus ride. 

  • Sybil Andrews, Fall of the Leaf. Estimate $15,000¬–20,000.
    Despite the desire to build a thoroughly modern style, Andrews repeatedly returns to rural, agricultural subjects in her images. In Fall of the Leaf , the team of horses plowing the field in the lower left recalls a slower and more natural rhythm of life, far from the heightened pace of the modern city.   

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