The Etchings of H. Van Raalte, A.R.E.

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The Etchings of H. Van Raalte, A.R.E.


Lindsay, Lionel.


Art in Australia (Sydney).


1st series, number 5, 1918, n.p., [2pp.]

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illustrations: 4 b&w





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by Lionel Lindsay

THE little world of Australian etcher's was stirred recently by the news that a Dutch etcher of repute had settled in West Australia. Gradually some work came east, and during the last year the work of Van Raalte has grown more familiar to the art public of Sydney and Melbourne.

The Sydney Gallery has acquired three of his works, and he showed with the Society of Artists this year, when the interest in his work was quickened by his ' attack upon Australian subject matter. But the etcher is only half a Dutchman. He was born in England in 1881, his mother coming of an old Suffolk family, to which the late Tom Browne was related, and his father from the village of Raalte near the Zuyder Zee.

His art interest was awakened at school by the clever drawings of S.H. Sime, whose happy admixture of line and tone fascinated the future etcher, though it was not until many years afterwards, when he had penetrated the mystery of the bitten line, that he was able to apply in etching the qualities which had been his first admiration. His first essays were in the manner of Phil May and Holbein, whom he imitated after the way of youth. With Herbert Dicksee, R.E., his first master, he had his first glimpse of the craft
of etching, but for Dicksee's method, that painful accumulation of meaningless lines which accounte4 for so many frontispieces
ot the "Art Journal," he had wisely no use, and his first attempts were covertly made.

"According to my master," he writes, "I was too much a beginner to start etching, so I did it secretly. My first etching was of a wild cat. I used pure nitric acid and soft beeswax for a ground. I bit the plate so deeply that the wax came off in lumps and as I did not know how to get a big dark space I did a lot of surface biting and made an unprintable, unrecognisable mess." Not a very promising start, but most etchers can tell a similar story when they come to speak of their "first plate." But he rapidly improved under the able guidance of Monk, and at the age 20 was made an Associate of the Royal Etchers, and had ex¬hibited at the Royal Academy. In the following year (1902) he was represented in the. "Studio" extra number and hung on the line at the Academy, where his work won the praise of Sir Seymour Haden, which must have proved a splendid spur to the young etcher’s ambition.

Though an Englishman by birth and education, Van Raalte has often turned to the land of his father for inspiration and subject matter. It is not to be forgotten that it was Haden who restored to popular estimation the virtues of Rembrandt's untrarnmelled line, and that English etchers of the first rank have ever kept in mind and in the forefront of technique, the great traditions established by the mighty Dutchman. This affiliation of the Dutch and English spirit is happily evident in Van Raalte's work, though I suspect that he was led to portray little Dutch maids and the fishermen of the ample trousers much in the spirit that actuated Phil May for the sake of their inherent picturesqueness.

In his fine etching of "The Boat Builders' Shed, Rye," Van Raalte has dealt most successfully with a subject dear to the heart of the English etcher. The sure and sympathetic drawing, the division of interest between the shadowy timbers and the simplified foreground, mark this for a sterling work, crowned as it is with such convincing reticence. The little window and the open doorway, the broken lights between the roof beams, possess that mysterious charm which draws the eye to that little space of sky which Millet considered an essential of all landscape, and of which he wrote, "however small it may be, it should suggest the possibility of indefinite extension."

This was reproduced in the special number of "The Studio" with a fine dry point entitled the "Philosopher," in which the artist has visualised with rare insight some aged Galileo or Columbus meditating by chart and globe the possibility of undiscovered lands. The figure of the old man is admirably placed and the model has been lost in the unconscious attitude of thought. The fine old face suggests the dignity resident in the portraits of Holbein.

Since his arrival in Australia Van Raalte has changed his manner. His line has become looser and more suggestive. His finest Australian plate is undoubtedly "The Monarch." In this vision of a great eucalypt the lighting is arbitrary a sullen flash in time of tempest; but the tree is an unmistakable gum. Its chiaroscuro suggests one of those Rembrandt gleams so brilliantly set in the phrase of Huysman which came into my mind as I contemplated it: "I see again that gush of light in the night, the trails of golden powder in the shadow, the suns that set beneath tenebrous arches."

Henri Van Raalte is an accomplished artist. and it may be that the chance illness which landed him in the West will be the means of stirring some art movement in the one Australian state that has stayed too long void of all plastic expression.

Art In Australia. 5th Number, 1918