Design with Bird Motif

Gouache on paper
29.8 x 19.8 cm
Signed upper right
Karl Hagedorn, Rhythmical Expressions (Liss Llewellyn 2018) p. 91, no. 52
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester September 2018 – February 2019
Estate of Karl Hagedorn

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From Frances Hodgkins to Karl Hagedorn, 6 March 1932, The Nook, Bodinnick-by-Fowey, Cornwall

My Dear Karl
I found time, after I saw you, to look in at the “National” to see yr. drawings – and very good they are too – I spotted them at once, well hung & honoured as they should be. The person who can do work like that can do better still given the right mood & place & I see you going far on those lines … I think you have got onto something very sound – even lovely later on when you decide on letting yourself go

Karl Hagedorn RA (1889-1969) was born in Berlin and settled in the northern English city of Manchester in 1905 where he studied textile production and design. Hagedorn became a leading figure in the Manchester art scene, showing regularly at the Society of Modern Painters, exhibiting there from 1913-16, in London at the New English Art Club from 1913 and the Royal Academy from 1931-61.

In pre-war Paris he studied with Maurice Denis at the Académie Ranson, where he acquired a reverence for Henri Matisse and absorbed avant-gardism. On his return to England, Hagedorn made a consciously pioneering attempt to introduce Modernism into Manchester through his work as both painter and designer. He became a British subject in 1914 and served as a Lance Corporal in the Middlesex Regiment during World War I.

Hagedorn met Frances Hodgkins in 1923 in Manchester while she was staying with close friends Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders. Hodgkins was appointed a textile designer in 1925 and her burgeoning friendship with Hagedorn inspired a cubist tendency in her work. Hagedorn and Hodgkins remained close friends and supporters of each other for many years, a friendship which resulted in the acquisition by Hagedorn of Hodgkins’ chalk drawing, Cassis Quarry Man & Wife , painted during her visit to Cassis in 1920. Hagedorn left Manchester and relocated to London in 1927 where Hodgkins visited the artist and his wife at their new home.

Hagedorn worked in a distinctive geometric manner which applied Cubist draughtsmanship to the tradition of the English landscape watercolour. As a visual artist he did not confine himself to fine art or design, but his work encompassed many disciplines. As well as painting, he also made a large amount of work for commercial ends, such as posters, advertisements and letterpress. Identified as ‘Manchester’s first Modernist’, Hagedorn described his work as being ‘rhythmical expressions in line and colour’.

All of these attributes can be seen in the present work, Design with Bird Motif, which demonstrates Hagedorn’s clarity of form, his ability to abstract essential elements from natural subjects and his delicate touch. Although the purpose of this design is no longer known (the case with much of his surviving design work, sadly), it uses a distinctive palette that appears in much of Hagedorn’s interwar work.

During his lifetime Hagedorn was considered a controversial Modernist. He was one of the most colourful and original figures on the Manchester art scene in the early decades of the twentieth century. Such is the artful arrangement of decorative forms and appealing colour in his works that it is no surprise that Hagedorn won a Grand Prix at the famous International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris 1925.

Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Grace Alty
We are grateful to Dr Pamela Gerrish Nunn for her assistance in compiling the catalogue entries.