Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Frank Cheyne Pape - The Legend of Siegfried

one signed and dated 'F.C Pape 04' and four signed with initials; pencil and watercolour heightened with bodycolour and varnished;
in in an embossed copper Arts and Crafts frame
decorated with coats of arms, formalised landscapes and emblems of war and the chase. probably designed by the artist

36 1/2 x 34in. (93 x 86.5cm.)

Little is known of Pape's life except that he married a Slade student named Agnes Stringer and lived for many years in Tunbridge Wells, but his career as a fine and prolific illustrator, spanning a period of nearly sixty years (1904 - 1962), is amply documented. Working for most of the major publishers who were producing illustrated editions in the early part of this century. he tackled such varied writers as Homer, Suetonius, Rabelais, Spenser, Bunyon, Defoe, Charles and Mary Lamb, Hans Anderson, George Sand, Alphonse Daudet, George MacDonald, RD. Blackmore and Denis Wheatley, not to mention the authors of the Book of Psalms and the Arabian Nights. But he is best known for his illustrations to the books of the American writer James Branch Cabell and the French writer Anatole France. published in the 1920s. These resulted in something of a Pape cult. 'How good they are', remarks a character in Alec Waugh's novel Kept (1925), referring to Pape's illustrations to Cabell's Jurgen (1921), which are generally regarded as his masterpiece. 'I should doubt if an artist has ever entered more completely into the spirit of the writer.' For further information and lists of his hooks, see Brigid Peppin and Lucy Micklethwait, Dictionary of British Book lllustrators: The Twentieth Century. 1983. pp.225-6. and Alan Home, The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators, 1994. p.342.

The present composite picture shows scenes from the first half of the Nibelungenied, the great national epic of Germany on which Wagner based his opera cycle, The Ring. First in chronological sequence is the main design on the right, in which Siegfried is seen wrestling with Alberich, the king of the dwarfs who guard the Nibelung treasure. He overcomes him by siezing his cap, the Tarnhelm, which renders him invisible and gives him the strength of ten men, properties which Siegfried now inherits. The hero goes on, in the lunette-shaped design above, to slay the dragon Fafnir, thereby acquiring the treasure but also the curse which goes with it. On Alberich's advise he bathes in the dragon's blood to achieve immunity in battle, but a falling leaf prevents the blood from covering a spot on his shoulder, where he remains vulnerable.

The story now moves to the main design on the left, which Siegfried is seen wooing Kriemhild at the court of her brother Gunther, King of the Burgundians, at Worms. They marry and are blissfully happy, but it is not long before the curse begins to work. Kriemhild and Gunther's wife, Brunhild, quarrel, and Hagen, one of the chief knights at Gunther's court, sides with Brunhild, who claims she been slandered, and vows vengeance on Siegfried. A hunt is arranged during which it is planned to kill the hero. Hagen having treacherously learnt from Kriemhild that he vulnerable on the left shoulder. Indeed she has unwittingly offered to identify the spot by marking it with a cross on her husband's clothing. In the lunette above, the hunt prepares to set out, while Kriemhild, who has had a premonition of impending disaster, begs Siegfried not to go. Her entreaties are to no avail.

The dramatic sequel is shown in the 'predella' panels below. On the left, Hagen kills Siegfried by aiming a spear at the fatal spot as the hero kneels to drink at a spring. In the long centre panel Siegfried's body is brought hack to Worms; and on the right Kriemhild, having dismissed his knights, weeps inconsolably at his bier. The terrible revenge she seeks in the second part of the epic results in the annihilation of all the characters, including herself.

Painted in 1914 when the artist was twenty-six, the picture seems to be his earliest known work, predating his first illustrated book - E.F. Buckley's Children of the Dawn, 1908 - by four years. The designs anticipate and arc closely related to the illustrations that he was to make for Siegfried and Kriemhild: A Story of Passion and Revenge, a 'told to children' version of the Nibelungenlied published by Thomas Nelson in their 'World Romances' series in 1911 (according to the British Library catalogue; other sources say 1912, and the book itself is undated). With the exception of the scenes of Siegfried wooing Kriemhild (which appears in the book but in a different composition) and Siegfried's body being carried to Worms (which does not re-appear at all), all the compositions were to be re-drawn for the book with variations of detail. Moreover the general conception of the book's plates - a main picture with a lunette above and a 'predella' below, all set in a monochromatic decorative frame - is prefigured in the picture. The two chief subjects in the picture - Siegfried winning the Tarnhelm and Siegfried wooing Kriemhild - remain central to illustrations in the book, while the scenes of Hagen slaying Siegfried and Kriemhild mourning at Siegfried's bier. both of which form part of the 'predella' in the picture, are elevated in the book to 'main subject' status. The two lunettes the picture retain this format in the book. Siegfried slaying the dragon being placed above his fight with Alberich (as in the picture), while the subject of Kriemhild imploring her husband not to go on the hunt tops the scene of Siegfried's death.

The slightly haphazard arrangement of the scenes in the picture suggest that they were conceived as illustrations and only later framed together to form an independent work of art. But in any event there can be little doubt that the existence of this set of designs prompted Nelson's to commission a more extended series seven years later. Much is lost in the re-working, the later illustrations being more conventional and lacking the intensity and brilliant colouring of our versions. Indeed. glowing like miniatures in an illuminated manuscript and set in their extraorchnary beaten copper frame with appropriate emblems of war and the chase. These are something of an Arts and Crafts tour de force.

Although he was so prolific. Pape's work is seldom seen 'in the flesh'. There is only one example, an oil painting of 1908, in his Witt Library file. An illustration was sold at Christie's South Kensington on 7 July 1993, lot 88. Another, in an American private collection, was included in Fantastic Illustration and Design in Britain, 1850-1930, an important exhibition held at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York. 1979, no.153.