I had the chance occasionally to acquire objects for the BMA’s collection at auction. It was always exciting, particularly when we won. The museum acquired an impression of this print, B.J.O. Nordfeldt’s The Skyrocket in this manner from Swann Auction Galleries in 2012.
The Skyrocket is my favorite of Nordfeldt’s woodcut compositions, which have a distinctive Japan-esque quality to them. (He also made etchings, which are more reminiscent of Whistler’s Thames series.) Inspired by 19th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, Nordfeldt developed a new method of printing color woodblocks. Instead of carving multiple blocks to carry individual colors in the Japanese manner, Nordfeldt carved images onto a single block, and inked each section with a different color. Sometimes, to keep colors separate on the block, small grooves were carved between each segment that create distinctive white lines in printing. This white-line style became a hallmark of his and other artists’ works made in Provincetown in 1916 and onward. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, and it is a decade before those works, but the design sensibility is definitely present.
You should know that the image I’m showing here is the impression from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It’s slightly different in its printing, though the colors are similar. For instance, the BMA impression has less of that brown along the bottom. I can’t show the BMA’s impression because it is not included on the online database. Not every object is available on the website and I suspect it will be many years before the online database includes everything. More reasons to make an appointment to see the work in person after the pandemic has eased and museums reopen their doors to the public.
B.J.O. Nordfeldt (American, born Sweden, 1878–1955)
The Skyrocket, 1906
Color woodcut on Japan paper
Image: 220 x 285 mm. (8 ¾ x 11 1/4 inches)
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Gift of L. Laszlo Ecker-Racz
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.