White Line: Blanche Lazzell and the Provincetown Printers

Swann Galleries’ upcoming September 23 auction featuring American Prints & Drawings includes Blanche Lazzell’s Tulips, color woodcut on Japan paper, 1920, created by the artist in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1920.

Lazzell (1878-1956) was an American modernist printmaker and a member of the pioneering woodblock print society–the first of its kind in America–known as the Provincetown Printers. This small group of printmakers came together in 1915 in the artistic community of Provincetown on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, which had become a destination for avante-garde American artists and European artists fleeing the turmoil of World War I. The group remains most noteworthy for having innovated the white-line woodcut print, known as “the Provincetown Print.” 

Bror J.O. Nordfeldt’s Three Travelers Crossing a Bridge in the Snow, color woodblock on Japan paper, 1906.

Inspired by nineteenth-century Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, these artists carved their designs onto a single block, rather than the western tradition of using multiple blocks, and inked each section with a different color. The small grooves between each segment create distinctive white lines. Bror J.O. Nordfeldt, also a member of the Provincetown Printers, developed the technique, but Lazzell is considered to be the master of the white-line woodcut.

Renowned for her devotion to the technique and for the influence of abstraction and Cubism in her work, Lazzell gained popularity not only in America but also in Europe, where she first exhibited in 1923 at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

In September 2013, Swann established a new print record for Lazzell, when her 1933 color woodcut The Flaming Bush (above) made its auction debut and realized $87,500.