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Gertrude Hermes

1901 - 1983

The Swimmers by Gertrude Hermes

The Swimmers   1924

  Original wood engraving.
Signed, titled and dated in pencil.
Russell 6
S 238 x 410 mm; I 141 x 339 mm
Original Gertrude Hermes wood engraving.

Excellent impression from the only edition of 30 signed proofs. Proofs of this wood engraving are now rare as all of the wood blocks which Gertrude Hermes engraved prior to 1928, along with many of the signed proof impressions, were destroyed when the river Thames flooded her basement studio flat on 7th January 1928.

Designed as an independent print The Swimmers was Gertrude Hermes’ first major wood engraving and was to become her breakthrough work. Engraved in her first year as a wood engraver (1924), The Swimmers is Hermes’ most important early work – Hermes herself called this her ‘Prix de Rome’ engraving.

Gertrude Hermes chose an impression of The Swimmers as her principal exhibit for her first contribution to the Society of Wood Engravers. The work immediately caught the attention of the leading critic and connoiseur of modern art, P.G. Konody, who wrote in The Observer (14 December 1924): “Miss Gertrude Hermes is to be congratulated on her admirable engraving of The Swimmers”. Following this review, it was chosen for reproduction in Eve magazine to illustrate an article entitled “Woodcuts by women”. The print itself was bought by the Contemporary Art Society for the British Museum permanent collection.

The Swimmers stands out as the most striking early example of her highly skilled original wood engravings. This image reflects Gertrude Hermes’s own passion of swimming, a theme which she repeated in her later wood engravings One Person and Undercurrents, and in the cover illustration for The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies (Penguin, 1938). Gertrude Hermes was an intensely physical person who loved the thrill of rushing water experienced when swimming in rivers or the sea. Her Swimmers are similarly physical, and she has captured the grace and strength of their nude figures as they strive relentlessly against the continuous power of the current. Hermes’s interpretation of the reflective and transparent qualities of moving water in this masterly engraving are testament to her natural genius as an original wood engraver.

On simile Japan paper, with full margins and deckle edge. Generally very fine condition.