John B. Flannagan: Sculptor as Printmaker

John Bernard Flannagan, Nude (ca. 1923‐24), linocut, image 13.5 x 19.3 cm, sheet (irregular) 16.1 x 22.1 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the Lola Downin Peck Fund from the Carl and Laura Zigrosser Collection, 1974.

John Bernard Flannagan, Nude (ca. 1923‐24), linocut, image 13.5 x 19.3 cm, sheet (irregular) 16.1 x 22.1 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the Lola Downin Peck Fund from the Carl and Laura Zigrosser Collection, 1974.

John B. Flannagan (1895–1942) is best known as a sculptor at the forefront of the American direct-carving movement that developed in the wake of the 1913 Armory Show. Eschewing models and maquettes, direct carvers attacked their materials with immediacy and emotion. In the 1920s and ’30s Flannagan also made relief prints that reveal his approach to the template as a carved medium.1 Flannagan died young, and his prints are poorly documented; many questions surround them, not least their number. (Reba White Williams cites nine block prints, though that count may be inflated by the inconsistent titling of two prints; current research suggests the existence of at least three more.)2

For sculptors such as Flannagan, modernism lay in the simplification not only of forms but of the techniques used to arrive at them. Bronze casting represented the academic tradition, while the age-old technique of carving directly into wood or stone appeared to be invested with personal authenticity—a means, as Flannagan wrote, to escape the “highly mechanized drift of our time.”3 Flannagan’s statement, “The Image in the Rock,” elucidates his metaphysical aspiration to “partake of the deep pantheistic urge of kinship with all living things and fundamental unity of all life.”4

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  1. Flannagan prints are held by the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Harvard University Art Museums/Fogg Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the University of Oregon Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. []
  2. Reba White Williams: Appendix 7, “The Prints of John B. Flannagan,” in The Weyhe Gallery between the Wars, 1919–1940 (PhD diss., CUNY Graduate Center, 1996), 511‐18. []
  3. John B. Flannagan, Letters of John B. Flannagan, ed. Margherita Flannagan (New York: Curt Valentin, 1942), 23. []
  4. John B. Flannagan, “The Image in the Rock,” in The Sculpture of John B. Flannagan (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1942), 7 (originally published in Magazine of Art 35, no. 3 (March 1942): 90‐95. []