COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Art in limited editions
Gustave Baumann. Road to Town, 1917. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Gustave Baumann. Road to Town, 1917. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Working with younger collectors presents a great challenge and a fantastic opportunity for growth—and that applies to all parties involved. The challenge comes from stricter guidelines in terms of budget allocation. This leads to a narrower field that meets the collectors’ investment tolerance and this, in turn, to more difficult choices in terms of stylistic preferences, art historical time periods, and reputable artists. Be that as it may, the process usually concludes with new discoveries, art of excellent quality at accessible prices, and the satisfaction of having made an investment most likely to appreciate in tandem with the artist’s value.

A young collector’s affinity for early 20th century art and particularly German and English woodcuts proved to be beyond his reach. But he was open-minded to look at other regional centers of production, without deviating from that particular time period, namely the first three decades of the 20th century. While we rejected France early on, Austria and Northern European countries presented fascinating examples—but the collector could not associate with any historical events from these regions. The woodcuts we examined left him indifferent.

Later, we realized we had forgotten to look at American production to ascertain whether works of that particular time period presented stylistic affinities with his favorite German and English examples. Art Nouveau played a major role on this side of the Atlantic as well. Its decorative style that had already influenced artistic production—and most importantly woodcut production—in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, London was found aesthetically suitable and matched by the work of primarily two American artists: A. W. Dow (1857-1922) and Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) among others.

Gustave Baumann presented a most appealing case because he was born in Magdeburg, Germany and immigrated to Chicago with his family when he was already ten years old. The collector was pleased with Baumann’s German origins and the fact that his work was truly shaped in the US and specifically through his training at the Art Institute of Chicago. Baumann studied drawing, design, and woodwork (for carved toys and wooden figures) and applied these skills to a short career as a commercial artist in Chicago. A couple of years later, he financed a trip to Germany and enrolled in Munich’s Kunstgewerbe Schule to master the technique of color woodblock prints under the supervision of Maximilian Dasio.  He then returned to Chicago to resume his commercial practice but also began producing limited editions of color woodcuts as an artistic pursuit. In 1909, Baumann moved to Indiana whose landscape he depicted in his woodcuts with great success. Today, his work can be found in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and occasionally comes up in the market.  A great combination of German origins and training along with an American sensibility for landscape renderings met the young collector’s requirements for work appropriate for purchase. In the meantime, both he and I are happy to have discovered such an interesting and quintessentially American approach to woodcutting.

© Thomaï Serdari