Henry Wolf, Master Wood-engraver: 1852 – 1916

Wood-engraving reached its height in mid-nineteenth century America; it was utilized as an inexpensive method of reproducing drawings, and even paintings, in periodicals – the most noted probably being Winslow Homer’s work in Harpers Weekly.

Many American wood-engravers (notably Linton, Juengling, Kruell, Closson, J.P. Davis and Kingsley) became known for their contributions to the craft. Two other wood-engravers, Timothy Cole and Henry Wolf, brought a virtuosity that went beyond craft to their work. While Cole’s work tended to be coldly accurate, technical masterpieces, Wolf was able to give his wood-engravings a life of their own – whether the subject was a painting by Velasquez or Hals, William Merritt Chase or Homer Martin.

Don Balthazar Carlos (after Velasquez)

Courting (after Franz Hals)

At the turn of the twentieth century, when the craft of the illustrative wood-engraver was rapidly disappearing due to new technology that allowed for photographic and half-tone reproduction methods, Wolf was at the height of his artistic career. His work was considered fine art and was being handled by noted American print dealer Frederick Keppel. Wolf was receiving numerous awards and accolades for his work.

The ultimate recognition of Wolf’s contribution to printmaking came in 1915, the year before his death, when he was awarded the Grand Prize in printmaking at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, an exhibition still unequalled in its importance for bringing together art from around the world.
Wolf exhibited 144 wood-engravings at this venue.

A Danish Princess (after Hans Holbein)

Henry Wolf was born in Eckwersheim, Alsace, France in 1852. He studied with J. Levy in Strasbourg, and came to New York in 1871, after exhibiting throughout Europe, Paris in particular.

Henry Wolf was the premier wood engraver working in America from the late 1800’s through his death in 1916. He primarily copied the “greats” for publication in the three most popular literary magazines of the time, “Century Magazine”, “Harper’s Monthly” and “Scribner’s Magazine”. The American artists he presented for public consumption included John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart and Frank Weston Benson, the Europeans included Jan Vermeer, Edouard Manet and Jean Leon Gerome.

In the book “The Life & Work of Henry Wolf” by Ralph Clifton Smith, there is a quote from a letter received by Mr. Wolf from W. Lewis Fraser, for many years connected with the art department of the Century Magazine. In 1905 the quote, referring to Gerome, “Many thanks for your letter. Gerome’s expression as he looked at the proofs of your engravings of his paintings was ‘they are beautiful, Mr. Wolf knew better than my brushes what I wanted to do.’” He began publishing original works of his own design, beginning in 1896 with “Evening Star”. He worked until his unexpected death in 1916 in New York, at the age of 64

Portrait of Mr. Leon Gerome by Henry Wolf

Portrait of Catherine Hansell French Earle (after William Merritt Chase)

Many years ago I added to our inventory over 60 of Wolf’s wood-engravings. As we began cataloguing them we found they were all signed proofs, printed on a thin Japanese paper, many of them had the original labels from the Panama Pacific Exposition and listed the small edition and how many from the edition were still available.

Wolf’s work also fell out of favor by the 20’s and is now mostly appreciated as a small niche in the overall history of printmaking, however they deserve a serious consideration, they are really quite remarkable. Especially if you keep in mind the fact that the engraving of the block had to be done as in reverse so that the images, many of which were familiar to the viewer, had to print correctly and be in absolute proportion.

Mrs Plumstead (after Gilbert Stuart)

Good Friday (after Von Uhde)

Napolean, Emporer (after Lefebre)

We have a number of Henry Wolf prints still in inventory as well as a couple of his blocks. Here is a link to those works on our website.

About Annex Galleries

The Annex Galleries holds one of the largest original fine print inventories on the West Coast. With over 9,000 works, we specialize in (but are not limited to) original prints of the WPA era, Arts & Crafts movement, and Abstract Expressionism through the 1960's, with a focus on American and Californian artists both known and unknown. We have everything from Durer to Baumann to Picasso.
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6 Responses to Henry Wolf, Master Wood-engraver: 1852 – 1916

  1. roob says:

    Hello,

    I am interested in the works of Henry Wolf. Regrettably your website isn´t searchable, the link ( http://www.annexgalleries.com/inventory?q=henry+wolf) leads to a blank page. Can you please provide me with a list an images of the works you offer, also of the blocks.

    thank you

    a. roob

  2. Brian Larkin says:

    I was the power of attorney for Henry Wolf’s grand niece and have some of his works and notes in my possession. His son Austin Wolf lived here in Providence and passed what he had down to his niece Grace Allsop.

    • Prudence Crowther says:

      Wolf, as noted above, engraved a painting by Fritz von Uhde called “Good Friday” (Karfreitag), but I can find no evidence of where this painting is. Any chance his notes reveal where he would have seen it? Many thanks if you can help.

  3. Cindi Herring says:

    I have a engraving by Henry Wolf, 1902, ” To my friend Miss Anna Govern.” Can you give me any information. Thank you, Cindi Herring

    • Dear Ms. Herring. I cannot be of any help, you gave me no information except an inscription. You have all the information in front of you: the technique, the image and paper sizes, the condition, the date done, etc. We have a biography for him on our website: http://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/2564/Wolf/Henry A Google search for Anna Govern might be helpful (there was one who died in 1902 – this may have been a gift to her when she was ill) but that takes time.

      Regards,
      Daniel Lienau

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