May 21, 2021

America On Stone: the Rise of Commercial Lithography in the 19th Century

The Development of a Mass Visual Culture in American Society, and its grounding and enlivening effects in the reaffirmation of the mythos and social imaginary of the American populous

Thanks to the efficiency of production and the massively economical nature of its distribution, lithography took America by storm in the 19th Century, nestling itself into a vast range of applications in art, commerce, and advertisement. Though there were many printmaking firms in operation at this time, none have stood the test of time as fortuitously as Currier & Ives (1835-1907). the firm called itself "the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints'' and advertised its lithographs as "colored engravings for the people"—Currier & Ives effectively managed to streamline production to such an extent that, over the course of their 70-year career, over 7500 original lithograph prints were brought to market, the prints produced and sold in unlimited editions, amassing to estimates of well over one million total prints put into circulation. More essentially, a Currier & Ives print was sold for no more than a few dollars, from the beginning of their printing career up until the very end.

Currier & Ives found their start in the economic uncertainty and technological catastrophe of the 1830s, a series of large-scale calamities that unsettled Americans and created deep, lingering insecurities in the American social imaginary; a sensibility comprised of a stubborn faith in progress above-all-else and an oft-professed determination to overcome adversity. The 1830s saw the initial developments of the market for self-help and advice manuals, alongside which the lithograph prints of Currier & Ives and their contemporaries aided the American masses in reaffirming a national identity, a sense of self in the face of uncertain fate, by way of imagery and imaginative space that in a cathartic manner served to voice widespread fears, hopes, ideals, and entirely American victories and pleasures.

Whether it was the warm, comforting simplicity of the bucolic scenes of everyday American life (American Country Life, Pleasures of Winter, Litho, 1855)

N Currier, American Country Life, Pleasures of Winter, Litho, 1855
N Currier, American Country Life, Pleasures of Winter, Litho, 1855, Available on iGavel Auctions until June 3, 2021

the sensitively, emotionally memorialized representations of contemporary disasters (A The Great Fire at St John, NB June 20, 1877),

The Great Fire at St John, NB June 20, 1877
Currier & Ives, The Great Fire at St John, NB June 20, 1877, Available on iGavel Auctions until June 3, 2021

or the freedom-laden, youthful opportunity expressing portrayals of the frontier and American Manifest Destiny (Across the Continent),

Currier and Ives (Publisher): Through to the Pacific, Hand Colored Lithograph, 1870
Currier & Ives, Through to the Pacific, Hand Colored Lithograph, 1870, Available on iGavel Auctions until June 3, 2021

the visual culture formed and promulgated—even though it is a mythical vantage, not necessarily linked to a real lived American reality—by way of lithograph prints in 19th century America served to vividly enliven and reaffirm the righteousness of American identity and all that it entailed; the prints thusly best understood as compositions combining memory, myth, and progress-oriented hopes of a nation that had been shaken to its core, but refused to fall into the annals of history.

April 16, 2021

Hasui Kawase: A Master of Rain

At the start of Hasui’s career, Japan was in a period of transition from the Meiji into the Taisho. Within two generations, the country had moved from a feudal into a model modern society. Foreign investments and industrialization opened Japan to an international audience for trade and exchange of culture through art, in particular printmaking. 

Portrait of Hasui Kawase, 1939

Demonstrating an affinity for drawing as a toddler, Kawase Hasui’s (1883-1957) parents recognized and nurtured their son’s ability, and when he came of age he was sent to the school of the painter Aoyagi Bokusen. There Hasui learned brush painting and drawing, assimilating specific Western painting styles into his oeuvre. After his studies Hasui, with great reluctance, returned home to manage the family business as a silk braid merchant. Luckily, at the age of 26 he was emancipated from his familial obligations and returned to the pursuit of art as a career. 

He studied Western-style painting for two years under the tutelage of Okada Saburosuke, a leading figure in Yōga style painting, a movement known for its heavy mimicry of European painting traditions. Two years later, Hasui changed teachers and began studying under Kaburagi, the leading artist for what is known as Bijin-ga, “the beautiful person” genre, which focused mainly on depicting lovely young Japanese women as seen in ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Saburosuke was the founder of Kinreisha School which Hasui attended. The rigor of the school’s programming led to a partnership with Shōzaburō Watanabe, an erudite English-speaking, business-savvy print dealer and publisher with formidable sales channels to the North American and European markets. Watanabe was the champion for the emerging Shin-Hanaga movement, which revitalized traditional ukiyo-e art rooted in the Edo and Meiji periods. His publishing company maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaboration system of printmaking production, with 1) Artist 2) Carver 3) Printer and 4) Publisher all engaged and devoted to their assigned division of labor. By maintaining this strict production regimen, Watanabe was able to offer the precepts of traditional printmaking practice as a selling point to his Western audience. At this time printmaking in Japan proper was considered base and commercial, but Watanabe successfully tapped into the Orientalist fervor sweeping Europe and North America, and his ability to appeal to the Japonisme craze subsequently elevated printmaking as fine art in the West.  

Despite Hasui being an inexperienced printmaker, Watanabe recognized the artist’s talent and quickly added him to his roster of artists. This new partnership established Hasui, and allowed him to extensively travel Japan, gathering material from known tourist attractions, temples, shrines, pagodas, and of course Mt. Fuji. Somewhat akin to the French Impressionists, Hasui would complete his drawings en plein air; due to his short-sighted vision and need for thick-lense glasses the traveling artist would later have to add in color and smaller details at whichever local inn he was residing at. Eventually, Hasui became best known abroad for his work rather than in the country of his birth. 

Kawase, Hasui, Japanese Woodblock Print, Rainy Night at Maekawa
Available of iGavel Auctions until April 27, 2021

Traditionally, rain was not depicted in Japanese printmaking, nor was the use of shadows. Yet these two elements are what distinguished Hasui in the Shin-Hanaga movement. Distinct features of the artist’s visual vignettes, such as Rainy Night at Maekawa, where he used lighting and shadow to depict a nostalgic, romanticized Japan, drawing from his Western Impressionist counterparts, Hatsui easily attracted international collectors to his work. Unabashedly playing into the Occidental taste and nostalgia for  ‘feudal’ Japan, his city-scenes, despite Tokyo being a sprawling urban center, are presented as quiet, somber, and village-like.

Kawase, Hasui, Japanese Woodblock Print, Rainy Season at Ryoshimachi Shinagawa
Available on iGavel Auctions until April 27, 2021

Hasui evokes a calm of tranquility with atmospheric compositions encapsulating the sound of pattering rain, chill air, wet, squelching footsteps. Often he steered away from using bold hues and maintained thin, soft washes of muted color. Though he regarded himself as a realist, Hatsui did not like to invest too much effort depicting people; given his poor eye-sight, it was vexing to draw with minute detail because of people being moving subjects. 

Regardless of his esteemed reputation abroad and demand for his prints, he never lived the wealthy life - his travel expenditures were large, and many times he had to take advances on his earnings from his publisher. He acknowledged with pride that he was an artist who lived sustainably, never having to moonlight at other occupations, though misfortune was to follow. 

On September 1st, 1923, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Mw scale struck Kanto, just outside of Tokyo. In the cataclysm, Hasui’s home and studio were destroyed, the bulk of his woodblocks, paintings, equipment, and other works lost in the devastation. He was never able to recover from the loss. A decade and a half later Japan was at war against the Allied powers. The Army Art Association of Japan tightened control on the arts and culture, with a focus on promoting propagandistic war artists. Given the reallocation of Japan’s already scant resources, artist materials became rationed. Futhermore, Hasui’s home was destroyed a second time from aerial bombings. The market for Japanese art abroad collapsed; Hasui never recovered and the Shin-Hanaga movement never re-attained popularity in the post-war years.  

In 1956, in acknowledgement of his outstanding career, Hasui was named a Living National Treasure by the Japanese Government. The Committee for the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage designated Hasui's Zojo Temple in Snow as an Intangible Cultural Treasure, the greatest artistic honor in post-war Japan. Approximately one year later, he died of cancer. 

April 15, 2021

Authenticity of Xuande and Yongle Bronze Sino-Tibetan Marks

The Xuande Period was and remains known as a time of great artistic and cultural advancement in China. The Xuande emperor (Zhu Zhangji) reigned from 1425-1435, considered the highpoint of the Ming Dynasty. Within the arts, imperial commissions sustained and expanded a heightened level of craftsmanship and artistry from ceramics to bronzes, lacquer, and paintings. The association of high-quality workmanship and creativity with the Xuande period resulted in the Xuande mark being used ‘honorifically’ on objects made at a later date, indicating that the later made object was inspired by the works of this early Ming period.

There are many types of Xuande marks, examples on bronze vessels are commonplace and in most cases, the Xuande mark appears much more frequently than marks of the actual period in which the item was cast. This is particularly true for ritual vessels and porcelain. Differentiating between early authentic marks and those of a later date is not difficult. Each displays features that are consistent with the period in which the figure was cast.  Marks should never be judged in isolation, rather in the context of the object on which the mark has been placed, the  provenance, wear, casting quality, and other features. The following marks are authentic Xuande marks on bronze objects.

Bronze Figure of Vajrasattva, Early Ming, Xuande Mark and Period


Notice the mark with the crisply incised lines, sharp beveled edges that indicate a precise, strong hand prepared in advance to replicate the type of precision possible with a fine-bristle brush. The spacing of the characters is proportionate to the script both in height and width. There is a void at the upper register between each character particularly for the first two and final two characters, and the Xuande characters seem to  extend very slightly above the height of the other characters and slightly higher that the lower register of each character. Whether this indicates a different hand than the first two and final two characters, is unknowable, but there is a slight visual difference between the center two characters and the others. The gilt ground is marked by a fine network of horizontal scratches beneath the gilding and the edge of the base is irregular as is the frieze beneath the edge with the open-sphere line of beadwork, perhaps created as collars for inclusion of turquoise or coral or paste stones. Comparing the downward sweep of the stroke on the fourth character to the final character, a noticeable difference exists in the depth and width of the cut. A similar difference exists between the downward sweep of the first character compared to the fourth character and the final character.

For a comparison, look at the example of a similar figure sold at Christies.


The first figure and this figure are of comparable size and quality, and the Christie’s example has a Xuande mark that is in a noticeably different hand than that of the example cited above. The first two characters and the final two characters are smaller than characters three and four, which are dominant and larger vertically and horizontally than the other characters. The characters are in a similar style and technique but the size and spacing is different. The surrounding area beneath the gilding is pitted with faint traces of horizontal scratching in some areas.

A figure of Vajrapani dating from the Xuande period has a different style mark but with similar spacing between the first two and the final two characters in relation to the two center characters. The cut of the characters is also smaller for characters three and four than the first two and last two characters.


A final example is the Buddha Shakyamuni which has a pitted and scratched ground beneath the gilding and the third and fourth characters are larger than the first two or the final two characters.


The variation in the style, scale, placement of the characters indicating the reign period may be the result of these being added after the first two and final two characters, suggesting that the figures may have been cast during the preceding Yongle period and inscribed later during the Xuande reign. Xuande marks on Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze figures are far less numerous than those with a Yongle mark.  

A comparison of the Xuande Marks with those of a few examples from the Yongle period, show greater consistency in the style of the characters with the third and fourth characters.


This figure of Amitayus has a finely scratched surface with wear at the edge below the mark and above the beaded rim. The third and fourth characters are slightly diminutive compared to the others, with the first and sixth character broader in width.


March 12, 2021

Athanasius Kircher: the Polymath and China

Kircher, Athanasius. Jesu China Monumentis qua
sacris qua profanis, Amsterdam: 1667

Athanasius Kircher was a polymath. He was a German Jesuit priest and truly a Renaissance man. He is considered by many to be the founder of Egyptology. He had a wide range of methods from scholastic research to wild experiments. Soon after an eruption, he had himself lowered into the crater of Vesuvius to make observations. He wrote 44 books, was the inventor of the Aeolian Harp, and once experimented to test whether firefly extract could be used to light houses. This text, China Monumentis, was not the first book to be published on China, but it was certainly one of the most influential. This first edition was published in Latin 1667, the book was soon after published in German in 1668, and French, Dutch, and English after.

Kircher, Athanasius. Jesu China Monumentis qua
sacris qua profanis, Amsterdam: 1667

Kircher studied the works of and spoke with many Jesuit priests and other travelers to Asia. He based the engravings on sketches of these intrepid individuals as well as original images brought back from Asia.

Kircher, Athanasius. Jesu China Monumentis qua
sacris qua profanis, Amsterdam: 1667

This book represents a milestone in the study of Chinese language. Kircher learned from missionary Michael Boym of the now-famous Nestorian inscription at His-an fu, which showed that Christian missionaries reached China in A.D. 781. The transcription and transliteration of the His-an fu inscription, printed here for the first time, make up “the first Chinese vocabulary ever printed in the West . . . the standard text for the study of Chinese until the nineteenth century” (Merrill).

Kircher, Athanasius. Jesu China Monumentis qua
sacris qua profanis, Amsterdam: 1667
Kircher, Athanasius. Jesu China Monumentis qua
sacris qua profanis, Amsterdam: 1667

This book is part of a collection of over 200 other  books, ranging from extremely rare 15th and 16th century texts to signed first editions of Ayn Rand, this sale encompasses 6 centuries of man's drive to record and share information. The sale is open for bidding on the iGavel Auctions website until March 30. Click here to view all lots in the sale.

Works like these are held in great libraries throughout the world; they influenced the Founding Fathers in their creation of our great nation, and helped form the foundation for the Western world as we know it today. We are happy to share this important collection with those able to visit our Texas gallery.

Auction Exhibition
Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm, now until March 30, 2021
Lark Mason Gallery, 210 W. Mill Street, New Braunfels, TX 78130

For More Information Contact:
Lark Mason III | or +1 (212) 289-5524

March 11, 2021

Artist Profile: Moise Kisling (Polish/French, 1891–1953)

France, like many European countries at the turn of the 19th/20th century, was a nation riven by social and political pressures. Heated Nationalism became the binding agent for citizens; in France it was marked by clericalism and anti-Semitism as two keynotes. The Dreyfus Affair, a case where a Jewish French military officer was tried and wrongly convicted of espionage, stoked the widespread and lingering animosity against the Jewish population in the country, and from it came an existential inquiry as to whether one can be Jewish and a Nationalist, or in the case of Möise Kisling, Jewish, a citizen, and a modernist.

After showing a proclivity towards drawing from a young age, Kisling’s parent positioned him to be an engineer, however, he chose to enroll himself at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts instead. The Polish art scene at the time was heavily influenced by alumni from the Munich School, which focused on naturalism and historical painting. In contrast, Kisling was trained in Impressionism, and eventually moved to Paris in 1910 at the encouragement of his teacher. 

Moïse Kisling, c.1916

With the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, France was drawn into the tumult of a new pan-European conflict. Identifying with a newfound kinship as a denizen of Paris, Kisling enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He was seriously injured at the Battle of the Somme, honorably discharged, and granted French citizenship in 1915. Upon his return to Paris, Kisling took up residency in Montparnasse, living in the same building as Amedeo Modigliani, where the two became steadfast friends.

Amedeo Modigliani , Portrait of Moïse Kisling (1915),Milan, Emilio Jesi collection


Similar to many people at the time, Kisling traveled to various rural parts of France in order to have a respite from the urban hustle-and-bustle of Paris, favoring in particular the small town of Céret in southern France, then a well- known retreat for artists; it was eventually given the moniker The Mecca of Cubism. Not a Cubist himself, his compositions took on a compact yet color-charged theme indicative of his Slavic origins. Though he embraced both aesthetic tendencies, Kisling could only tangentially be associated with the Post-Impressionist and Cubism stalwarts.

Moise Kisling (French/Polish, 1891–1953), Still Life (Poppies), Oil on Canvas, 1938, Available on iGavel Auctions until March 16, 2021

With an approach similar to the Purists and Orphists, Kisling’s oeuvre became a definable off-shoot from the Cubists, leaning more and more towards what is now called the Ecole de Paris. In the example “Still Life (Poppies)”, we get an inkling of a sense of Post-Impressionism, but one imbued with linear stylization. Retaining a sparse and unfussy outline, Kisling’s poppies never wander into a simply decorative, vacuous void. The ebullient petals blooming in various reds ease the viewer into a glimpse of Kisling’s academic school days, emphasizing the importance of intention, consistency, and cohesion as expected of himself. 

After the Vichy Government was installed in the 1940s, much of the Jewish population faced deportation. With the traditional French military disbanded, and under threat of arrest for being anti-fascist, Kisling and his family immigrated by the way of Lisbon, Portugal to the United States, where he split his time between New York and Southern California. By the time of his exodus from Europe, he had an established collector base and was marketed as a painter with “unflagging zeal.”  In 1941, Kisling exhibited his paintings at the Whitney Museum of Art and had a solo exhibition at the James Vigeveno Gallery in Westwood Hills, Los Angeles in 1942. Roughly a year after WWII ended, Kisling and his family returned to France, where he died in 1953.

His work can be found in various public museum collections, including the Harvard Art Museum, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo’s Fuji Art Museum, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva, among others.