The Dancer

HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954) Biography
SCHOOL PRINTS (1947-1949) Biography
THE BAYNARD PRESS (worked 1894-1960) Biography

The Dancer (France, 1947 - 1948)

Lithograph on paper
School print Signed lower right


50.00cm high
79.50cm wide
(19.69 inches high)
(31.30 inches wide)
Request information about this work of art
View all images on one page

Description / Expertise


The idea behind School Prints Ltd. was brilliant and simple. Commission good artists to create original lithographs which would be editioned in very large numbers and sold cheaply to those schools adventurous enough to subscribe to the scheme. Thus, it would be possible for children in school to enjoy a direct and continuous contact with real works of art. In her introductory letter to artists, Brenda Rawnsley, whose idea it was, wrote We are producing a series of auto-lithographs, four for each term, for use in schools, as a means of giving school children an understanding of contemporary art. If that somewhat ambitious aim were not to be fulfilled, the prints would in any case enliven corridor walls and bring a splash of welcome colour into dull assembly halls. And so they did. For many of those at school in the austere '40s, their first memory of a genuine work of art will be a print by one of the many artists who contributed to the two major series of 1946 and 1947.

The scheme was nurtured by the prevailing atmosphere of post-war optimism and democratic humanism: the future was what mattered, and the children in school embodied that future. The artists approached responded enthusiastically, and an impressive number of them were prepared to submit sketches to the selection committee enlisted by the tireless Mrs. Rawnsley. It was chaired by Herbert Read, and it included R.R. Tomlinson, the influential LCC Senior Inspector of Art. The committee was not afraid to turn down work by established artists that it considered unsuitable. The records of its dealings with artists show no evidence of ill-feeling on their part at the committee's willingness of offer advice on matters of composition or subject matter. (Brenda Rawnsley still possesses the brilliant sketch of the Cat and the Fiddle by Michael Ayrton, which the committee felt would be too frightening as a full-size lithograph.)

The spirit which pervades the published prints is of quiet celebration: they picture a world reassuring in its familiarities; a world of everyday work and occasional festivity. It is a spirit in keeping with the general optimism of the project. The best of these prints present images of perennial rural and small-town life: they are versions of pastoral. Fields are ploughed and harvested (Kenneth Rowntree, Tractor in Landscape; John Nash, Harvesters); trees are felled (Michael Rothenstein, Timber Felling in Essex); nets are mended for the next fishing (Julian Trevelyan, Harbour); horses are groomed, and deliver beer to local pubs (John Skeaping, Mare and Foal; Tom Gentleman, The Grey Horses). For high days and holidays there is the circus (Clarke Hutton, Harlequinade; Russell Reeve, The Elephant Act), the fair (Barbara Jones, Fairground) and the outing (Edwin La Dell, Tower of London). Nowhere is there any reference to the late war and its devastations. Colours are bright and cheerful.. The drawn frame round each picture meant that the print could be pinned directly to the wall.

Inevitably, there is a wide variation of quality with the series. Some have little more than a period charm (which may increase their interest as nostalgia catches up with the '40s), others are merely dull; but some have survived remarkably well (including those mentioned above) and a small number are very good prints indeed. These latter include works by John Nash, John Tunnard, Lowry and Moore. In Nash's Window Plants the old lady dozing is engulfed by the exuberant plants, her heart imaged in the bright red geranium at her breast, her sleeping cat echoing the striped partridge-breast cactus on the sill. It is a comically extravagant image, full of incidental wit and exactly observed detail. Tunnard's Holiday shows him in his best vein of semi-abstract surrealist fantasy. This was worked on the stone by the indefatigable Mr. Griffiths at the Baynard Press.

Moore's magisterial Sculptural Objects was drawn by the artist direct on to plastic plates newly developed by Cowells of Ipswich, and proofed under his supervision. This print was one of Moore's earliest graphics and it remains one of his best: powerfully drawn in primary colours, the objects like strange toys abandoned in a mysterious space; it is a compelling image.

The sheer logistics of the operation, the costly effort of distribution to over 4000 schools, finally ended the great adventure of the School Prints scheme. A further disheartening factor was the expensive flop in 1949 of the magnificent European series, made possible by the plastic portable plates, which, in addition to Moore, featured Matisse, Picasso, Leger, Dufy and Braque.

The now incredible negative reaction of her subscribers to this spectacularly imaginative enterprise must have put in doubt the idealistic ambition of the original idea, but it could not detract from a unique achievement. School Prints put genuine works of art of real quality into the lives of many children in visually hard times. There has been nothing like it since.

An article by Mel Gooding from Arts Review July 1980:


The `European' series of school Prints were published in 1949. Most of the prints were commissioned by Mrs. Brenda Rawnsley in June 1948 during a week's whirlwind tour of France by chartered plane. During this visit she secured the participation of Picasso, Leger, Dufy, Braque and Matisse, all of whom agreed to use plastic plates specially developed by W.S Cowell in Ipswich for a payment of £200. Matisse, due to infirmity subsequently decided to submit a papier dechire from which lithographic plates were photographically prepared. As part of the same operation, Henry Moore was one of those invited to execute a lithograph in no more than six colours to be published in an edition of 3000. With regard to subject matter, we should like to put ourselves entirely in your hands and only ask you if you would be good enough to do something suitable for children. (letter from Mrs. Rawnsley to Henry Moore, 15 July 1948)

Henry Moore's initial letter of agreement on 6 July indicated his interest in lithography, which was closely allied to his wartime concentration on drawing:

I've only tried my hand at lithography once before- for a poster for the Spanish refugees in 1939 but it wasn't used, the War came and put such things in the background. But lithography is something I've always through might be suitable to my way of working and so recently I've said I'll try to do a lithograph for the V&A's lithograph exhibition (to be held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the invention of lithography) and also I've said I'll do one for Miller's Gallery, Lewes. SO by the time I do one for you School Prints I might know a bit more about the technique.

The process in which Moore was to be initiated by this commission was first announced in the Penrose Annual of 1949 as a way of improving the quality of large-scale lithographic printing. John W. Lewis, who was involved in the printing of the European series, proved the following account of the method in A Handbook of Type and Illustration, London 1956 p. 57.

Instead of drawing on lithographic stones or plates, the artists drew (the reverse way round) on a transparent sheet of plastic grained like a lithographic plate. The advantages were that any opaque material, chalk, pencil, ink etc. may be used, because the sheets of plastic are not transferred but are used in the same way as a photographic positive would be. That is, placed in a printing-down frame against a lithographic machine plate and then exposed to light. By this means an offset printing plate capable of a hundred thousand run can be produced. Also machine plates can be duplicated from the plastic original without any deterioration in quality. Colour separations are made easier, for the artist can superimpose one sheet on another.

On 22 July Mrs. Rawnsley dispatched to Henry Moore two sheets of plastic, two chalking pencils and a pot of ink for you to doodle with so as to give you some idea of the possibilities and texture of this new plastic material. This produced two trial sheets of sketches, which were proofed by Cowells and subsequently used for a presentation folder for the Press, but never published. On 10 September Moore wrote to her I am working on a batch of drawings one of which will be selected as the model for a School Prints lithograph and suggested that she bring the full sized plastic plates for the print on 21 September. According to a taped account of the whole project made by Mrs. Rawnsley in 1989, Moore was apprehensive about using colour in lithography, and asked to see what the French artists had done first, so that he could get his colours bright enough to compete with them. By the end of February 1949, all the material for Sculptural Objects had been forwarded to Coewell's, consisting of six separations (presented by School Prints Ltd. to the Tate Archives in 1971), a colour chart, one small plastic plate with the artist's signature, one small sketch and one full size signed sketch to show what the final lithographs should look like.

Henry Moore went in person to Ipswich on 10 March to supervise the colour proofing, and the completed series was unveiled to the public at a special exhibition at the firm's temporary premises at 39 Eaton square on 28 April.

The detailed evidence of Moore's involvement at every stage of the process was particularly important to Mrs. Rawnsley in the 1960s, when for marketing purposes she was anxious to establish the autolithographic nature of the European series. Moore signed a statement on 1 June 1966 certifying that he drew six individual colour plates on the plastic material for the lithograph Sculptural Objects. The British Council, for whom Moore was to be a major artistic export after the war, purchased a number of copies of Sculptural Objects for distribution abroad, and the success of the collaboration prompted school Prints to commission four more lithographs printed on `Plastocowell'.