Hall Thorpe: Colour and Expression

Australian born artist John Hall Thorpe (1874 – 1947) learnt the technique of woodblock printing in the early 1890s at the ‘Sydney Mail’, under the apprenticeship of John Fairfax and Sons. It was over the course of nine years that he mastered the technique of wood engraving. Thorpe spoke very highly of these influential years and cherished his time:

“I received, every encouragement in my art, and I have since found the knowledge I gained of wood engraving during my apprenticeship to be of incalculable value”

Hall Thorpe
Piccadilly (London)
Colour woodblock

Relocating to London in 1902, Thorpe struggled to gain recognition but made a small start with a handful of drawings for commercial magazines and papers. Thorpe began to paint small personal pieces depicting his new surroundings. During his time living abroad, Thorpe was invited to exhibit at the 1906 Royal Academy’s Colonial Exhibition alongside fellow Australian artists such as Arthur Streeton and Hayley Lever. Thorpe’s breakthrough moment in this exhibition was when he receive a favourable comment from respected art critic Cameille Mauclair, “I knew nothing – of Mr. Hall Thorpe before seeing his works collected here, but from the first glance I felt that I was in the presence of a true artist; that is, one for whom technique has but one mission, one safeguard, and one purpose – the expression of sentiment, which is everything… He paints not merely what he sees, but what he has thought. This is why his art has in it something moving – intimate – and it is perhaps when art speaks to us in a subdued voice that our hearts listen most profoundly”

Once Thorpe’s artwork gained recognition, his whole attitude towards the process went under a complete change. He began to view artworks from an aesthetic point of view, captivating colour, simplification in its expression and shadow no further than essential to form. With this new outlook and take on his technique, Thorpe begun to use new subjects, such as his now renowned floral still lifes, fruit still-lifes, and landscapes. The still life prints portray a variety of rich colours and form, immediately appealing to a broad range of collectors to brighten their homes. Thorpe undertook each step of the printing process himself, from the design through to the publishing proving that his time at the ‘Sydney Mail’ served him well. This is perhaps the reason that he felt no need to limit specific editions.

Hall Thorpe
A Summer Bunch (detail)
Colour woodblock

It was during this time that Thorpe produced ‘A Country Bunch’, at the time the largest woodblock print to be printed in colour with the first printing acquired by the Contemporary Art Society, Australia. This was the first of many of Thorpe’s prints to be acquired by notable collectors and institutions. ‘Three Wise Men’ was added to the print collection of the British Museum in which it is still held. At exhibition, her Majesty the Queen Mary showed appreciation and purchased ‘Anchusa’, a delicate blue flower that Her Majesty was fond of.

His artworks feel like a walk through a familiar garden, the colour is consistent and considered with an emphasis on the pure joyousness of fresh colour. Hall Thorpe is now a widely collected printmaker on a global scale. I am delighted to invite you to view our recently consigned collection of Hall Thorpe woodblock prints featured in the November Prints and Multiples auction.

HANNAH RYAN / Prints & Multiples Manager

October 2020