(Cathedral Study)

ca 1923

(Cathedral Study) is a woodcut circa 1923 by German artist Max Thalmann (1890-1944). It is one of ten woodcuts from Der Dom portfolio that was published by Verlag Eugen Diederichs, Jena, in an edition of 300. Fifty impressions were fully signed and editioned, the remaining impressions were initialed. The reference is Henkel 2011. This impression, printed by the artist on antique-white wove paper, is pencil initialed in the lower right and the block is incised with Thalmann’s initials. The image measures 19-5/8 x 14-11/16 inches.

Der Dom included ten highly stylized abstract images of cathedral interiors. In this superbly designed black and white woodcut, Thalmann relied on repetition of shapes to draw the viewer inward. Black veiled nuns, heads bowed in prayer or song, fill the cathedral and their shapes ascend until they mesh with structural elements. Offsetting their bowed heads are semi-circles, which spire upward to meld with the vault of the cathedral.

Max Thalmann, artist, illustrator and designer, was born in Rudolstadt, Germany on August 13, 1890. After a bookbinding apprenticeship in Halle in 1909, Thalmann attended the Kunstgewerbeschule Weimar (School of Applied Arts in Weimar), studying under Belgian painter and architect, Henry van de Velde, and master bookbinder and cover designer, Otto Dorfner. Thalmann was the first student to head the local bookbinding department, creating artistic book bindings, and, in 1911, he passed the master’s examination. He continued his studies at the Royal Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Industry in Leipzig between 1911 and 1913.

Declared unfit to serve by the Army due to poor health, Thalmann continued his studies in Weimar, enrolling at the Academy of Fine Arts, studying under printmaker and painter Walther Klemm. In 1919 he spent a semester as a “Jungmeister” at the Bauhaus Weimar, and then launched his career as a fine artist and designer.

The 1920s were Thalmann’s most active and successful years as an artist. In 1921 he created the art folio Passion, which would be his first exploration of the portfolio as an art form. Two years later he published Der Dom, a work of classic German Expressionist design, depicting ten stylized abstract images of cathedral interiors. Then, in the winter of 1923/24, he traveled to the United States, where he was inspired to create American in Woodcut: Rhythm of the New World; the last of his portfolios published in 1925. During the winter months in the U.S., a solo exhibition of his work was featured at a Chicago gallery, and his portfolios were included in exhibitions in Prague, Vienna, and Paris in 1927.

In the 1930s Thalmann changed his focus from woodcuts to watercolors, drawings, and pastels. A trip to Egypt inspired a series of works based on the daily life of the people, and the landscapes that were so different from his home country. By the mid-1930s he settled in Jena, Germany, and with the rise of the Nazi regime, seems to have abandoned much of his Expressionist artistic pursuits, perhaps out of fear of persecution by the new government. He was employed as a book cover designer for Verlag Eugen Diederichs, and designed over 150 books before his death in Jena, on September 21, 1944, shortly before the end of the war.

In the United States, Thalmann’s work is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brigham Young University Art Gallery, Salt Lake City; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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