The Gothic Spirit [a.k.a. A Gargoyle, A Gothic Spirit] by John Taylor Arms

The Gothic Spirit [a.k.a. A Gargoyle, A Gothic Spirit] by John Taylor Arms

The Gothic Spirit [a.k.a. A Gargoyle, A Gothic Spirit]

John Taylor Arms

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The Gothic Spirit [a.k.a. A Gargoyle, A Gothic Spirit]

etching and stipple engraving 
Image Size
11 3/4 x 7 3/16" platemark 
pencil, lower right 
Edition Size
Fletcher 120; Gargoyle Series #8; Arms 122; LOC 147 
ivory Imperial Japon wove 
Inventory ID

John Taylor Arms was fascinated by what he termed the Gothic Spirit in early Gothic architecture. One of his focuses was on the elaborate waterspouts on the cathedrals, carved in the shapes of "gargoyles". In 1920 he began a series of 41 prints featuring various gargoyles of the French cathedrals. It is reported that he would climb out to the facade to a building in order to get what he felt was the best angle for an etching. Arms actually titled this image "Gothic Spirit". It was the eighth plate in the series, this done in 1922.

Wichita Art Museum's notes on their impression of this image sums it up perfectly: "In 1922 Arms executed a series of fourteen prints depicting gargoyles, the ornamental drain spouts in the shape of imaginary grotesque animals that are distinctive features of Gothic architectural detail. Critics agree that plate #8, "The Gothic Spirit", is a particularly spectacular example of Arms’ technical and expressive skills.  In his close-up, full- frontal, foreshortened view of the gargoyle, the artist brings the viewer face to face with the disdainful grin of a wild beast and the startling menace of a snake that emerges from the black drain hole beneath him.

This dramatic but seldom experienced direct confrontation with a gargoyle occurs against a background of fantastically varied, subtle textural patterning in the cathedral’s weathered stone. Dissatisfied with the effects that he could achieve with purely linear cross-hatching or aquatint, Arms developed a technique called 'stippling' to evoke a tender gray tone and velvety softness that expressed his sense of the crumbling stone surface of the old church. Stippling is the manipulation of the etching needle in a pattern of tiny dots and flicks to create a soft grainy texture, more organic and tactile than that achieved by other means. In the image of The Gothic Spirit Arms brought his innovative technique to perfection."

John Taylor Arms was born in Washington, D.C. on 19 April 1887. He first studied law at Princeton University but transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study architecture, earning a Master’s Degree in 1912. He studied with Ross Turner, David A. Gregg, and Felton Brown. For five years after his graduation Arms worked for the architectural firms Carrere and Hastings, and Clark and Adams before establishing his own architectural firm, of which he was a partner.

A gift of an etching kit from his wife, Dorothy, changed the course of his life. He produced his first etching in 1915 and he eventually produced 441 prints, mostly etchings. Arms became one of the most famous printmakers of the first half of the twentieth century. He is mostly noted for his etchings of medieval architecture but early subjects also included ships, sailboats, airplanes, rural landscapes, and the streets, buildings, and bridges of New York.

Arms’ exhibition history was lengthy beginning in 1927 and continuing to 1952. He authored 'Hand-Book of Print Making and Print Makers' in 1934 and illustrated 'Churches of France' and 'Hills Town and Cities of Northern Italy' by his wife, Dorothy Noyes Arms. His work can be found in most major collections of American prints.

Arms was an activist for printmaking and assisted in assembling exhibitions of American graphic art that were shown in Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Rome; he was editor of the Print Department of Print, A Quarterly Journal of the Graphic Arts, and he lectured on the techniques, history and value of original prints. Arms also served as the president of the Tiffany Foundation in 1940. John Taylor Arms died in New York City on 15 October 1953.


Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.