Sheila Markham

in conversation

The Interviews

Ann Baer

Ann Baer


‘Are all these pictures by Ganymed, or do you have other artists as well?’ Running the Ganymed Gallery in London from 1949 to 1980, Ann Baer was kept quietly amused by the unpredictable reactions of the general public to the works of the Ganymed Press. Surprising questions and overheard remarks were secretly noted, and kept behind the desk in an envelope labelled ‘Authentic Jokes’. When a child’s question ‘What’s Ganymed, mummy?’ met with the response, ‘The process, dear’, the answer wasn’t entirely wrong. Ganymed isn’t a process, but the name became synonymous with collotype printing of the highest quality by Ganymed Graphische Anstalt of Berlin, and its successor Ganymed Press London under the direction of Ann’s late husband, Bernhard Baer.

Ann Sidgwick was born on 4 April 1914, one of six children of Mary Christina (née Coxhead) and Frank Sidgwick. The Sidgwicks were an erudite and well-connected family of distinguished scholars and schoolmasters, deeply rooted in the literary world of their day. Ann’s grandfather, Arthur Sidgwick, an Oxford don, was the author of Latin and Greek primers noted for their light-hearted composition to ease the learning of those languages for generations of unwilling schoolboys. Arthur’s sister, Mary ‘Minnie’ Sidgwick, who married Edward Benson (later Archbishop of Canterbury), was considered by William Gladstone to be the cleverest woman in Europe. Their brother, the philosopher Henry Sidgwick, and his wife Eleanor (a sister of the prime minister A.J. Balfour), with others founded Newnham College, epitomising the family passion for education, especially female.

On leaving Trinity College, Cambridge, Frank Sidgwick worked in partnership with A.H. Bullen from 1902 to 1907 at the Shakespeare Head Press in Stratford-upon-Avon. Frank’s diary for 1903/4, recording the technical problems of starting a small provincial printing house, and his role as manager-owner, with Bullen, and self-styled odd-job man, was discovered by Ann 70 years later on the bookshelves of her late mother. Basil Blackwell published Frank Sidgwick’s Diary for the Shakespeare Head Press in 1975 in an edition of 1000 copies, for which Ann wrote the introduction. The manuscript diary is now kept in the firm’s archives, with other mementoes of the Shakespeare Head Press, which Sir Basil Blackwell had rescued from bankruptcy in 1921, recognising the typographical genius of Bernard Newdigate. Ann has her father’s copy of The Works of William Shakespeare, 1934, inscribed by Basil Blackwell and Bernard Newdigate ‘for Frank Sidgwick who helped to make this edition possible’. A number of misprints are corrected in pencil in Sidgwick’s hand, and Ann has noted others, including ‘Julia’ for ‘Juliet’ in Act I, Scene III of Romeo and Juliet.

 In 1908 Frank went into partnership with Robert Cameron Jackson to form the publishing firm of Sidgwick and Jackson, of which R.B. McKerrow, the distinguished bibliographer and literary scholar, who had previously collaborated with Bullen, became a director. It was McKerrow, over-age for military service, who kept the firm going during the First World War, in which Jackson lost his life. With the return to peace, Frank resumed his publishing activities, and in 1926 became President of the Double Crown Club, founded two years earlier by Oliver Simon as a dining club for printers, publishers, book designers and illustrators; Frank occasionally remarked that there was too high a proportion of gastronomy to typography.

The Sidgwick children grew up with an appreciation of good printing from an early age. Indeed they were familiar with the art and craft of lettering from their cradle, on which Frank had carved the names of his two sons and four daughters in beautiful roman capitals. There was a hand-printing press in the family home and, through careful observation of her father, Ann acquired sufficient knowledge for her own juvenile experiments in printing, using corks from the glass medicine bottles that were common before the days of childproof screw-tops. Ann and her sister Elizabeth cut raised letters with their penknives in the flat ends of corks, painted them with watercolour, and pressed them on the paper. The letters had of course to be cut back-to-front on the corks, and Ann recalls that more than twenty-six corks were used before the capital ‘N’ was satisfactorily cut backwards. As cork-ends are circular, considerable skill was required to press them down along a straight line with the verticals correctly aligned. The results were messy, but the process engrossing.

 In 1925 Ann was sent to Hayes Court School, near the family home, Dallywaters, at Keston in Kent. The school had been founded by Katherine Cox shortly after the First World War, and was run on the most advanced lines. The Sidgwicks had been introduced to Cox by Naomi Royde-Smith, who set the literary quiz in the Saturday Westminster Gazette, which was almost invariably won by a member of the family. Frank and his siblings had a gift for light verse and literary parody, much above the average, from variations on Kipling to fanciful paradigms of Greek irregular verbs. They regarded fun as an essential part of the creative process, and one that is clearly hereditary as any discussion with Ann about her life and work will confirm.

Hayes Court was a very expensive school, but Ann and her sisters were educated on the profits from Rupert Brooke – Sidgwick and Jackson having made their name with the posthumous publication of his 1914 and Other Poems. A figure on the fringes of Bloomsbury, Katherine Cox was able to attract such luminaries as Virginia Woolf to lecture to the girls, and Roger Fry, whose friend, Marion Richardson, became the art teacher at Hayes Court. Incidentally Katherine Cox was not the woman of that name who was Rupert Brooke’s lover, although one should not underestimate the role of coincidence in Ann’s early life and career. She soon became one of Richardson’s most promising pupils – all the Sidgwick children having been encouraged to draw and paint. As sketchbooks, they used the blank pages of publisher’s dummies brought home by their father.  She also excelled at pottery, which was taught by Ursula Darwin, who lived nearby at Down House. Their paths would later cross when Ann attended classes at Ursula’s studio in Chiswick Mall, where she lived with her husband Julian Trevelyan. 

As a student of design at Chelsea School of Art, Ann made friends for life. There she met Elizabeth Robinson (née Edwards), who later became a governor both of Chelsea and St Martin’s schools of art, and with whom Ann took up photography during the 1930s. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Ann was employed as a temporary civil servant in the War Damage Commission in Euston Road. Although she viewed the building as the ‘gates of hell’ and her job as boring and unpleasant, the indomitable Sidgwick spirit rose to the challenge, and a certain amount of fun was still to be had. The job involved checking claims submitted by semi-literate builders for the cost of repair work. A plaster-like material called Sirapite was a frequent item on their bills and, during her time at the commission, Ann accumulated a list of forty-seven alternative spellings. This form of entertainment was later to come into its own at the Ganymed Press in Great Turnstile, where Ann received post addressed to Madame Ganymed in ‘Greekturn Style’, and many other variations.

It was while sifting through claims for Sirapite that Ann noticed an advertisement in The New Statesman for someone to run a bookshop. She applied for the job, mentioning her parentage and keen interest in literature and history. It turned out that the advertisement had been placed by the newspaper itself, John Roberts, the entrepreneurial manager of The New Statesman, being keen to keep up with The Economist, which had just opened a bookshop. In the event, Roberts decided to abandon the bookshop idea in favour of a book-publishing firm, the Turnstile Press, in which Ann accepted a job. On the same day she also received an offer to work at Bernard Leach’s pottery in St Ives. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one she never regretted.

John Roberts had been able to profit from a post-war scheme that was designed to help ex-soldiers to re-establish themselves in their previous occupations. By employing Michael Hodson, a recently demobilised army officer, who had worked for A. & C. Black, Roberts had the advantage of Hodson’s licence to buy a certain quantity of paper, which was essential for establishing the Turnstile Press. Hodson’s knowledge of printing complemented Roberts’s managerial skills. The blockmaking was done by Ronnie Sterck, whom Hodson had known when they were both in the Army in Berlin. Sterck had worked for the Allied Control Commission, with responsibility for ensuring that the German press and publishing conformed to the Allies’ demands. In the course of his work, Sterck came across Bruno Deja, manager of Ganymed Graphische Anstalt of Berlin, the collotype printers of the famous portfolios of facsimiles published by the Marées-Gesellschaft, founded by the art historian Julius Meier-Graefe in the 1920s, and named after Hans von Marées, arguably the greatest German painter of the nineteenth century.

Ganymed of Berlin printed almost 600 facsimiles for the Marées-Gesellschaft and, after Meier-Graefe’s retirement in 1929, Deja continued as a collotype printer, winning a prize at the Paris World Exposition of 1937. The printing works in Berlin suffered some damage during the early years of the Second World War, but disaster did not strike until 1 February 1945 when it was completely destroyed. Deja retreated to Austria for a year to recuperate. On his return to Berlin, now occupied by the Allies, he discovered that some equipment could be salvaged from the rubble, and applied for a licence from the Allied Control Commission to restart his printing firm. By chance, his application was considered by Ronnie Sterck, and Michael Hodson who knew of the pre-war reputation of Ganymed Graphische Anstalt. When Deja offered to give technical assistance to anyone in England who would like to set up a similar colour-printing business, Hodson passed on the offer to John Roberts, who jumped at the opportunity. The seed of Ganymed London was sown.

Aware of his ignorance of colour-printing processes, Roberts consulted E.C. Gregory and Eric Humphries of Lund Humphries, whose publication in 1944 of Henry Moore: sculpture and drawing, with an introduction by Herbert Read and tipped-in colour illustrations, had set a new standard in illustrated art books in England. An early patron of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Gregory was keen to secure for Lund Humphries the means of reproducing their work to the standard achieved for other artists on the Continent, and therefore gave his firm’s support for Roberts’s idea of Ganymed London.

Ann witnessed a fascinating meeting in the attic office above The New Statesman, which she shared with Michael Hodson, at which Roberts, Hodson, Sterck and Gregory first discussed the possibility of setting up Ganymed in London. Walking along Holborn on her way home that evening, Ann reflected on her good fortune to be working with people who had such marvellous ideas. There followed a number of visits to Berlin, during which Bruno Deja’s printing works were excavated, and  four of  his presses were acquired for the London firm, with considerable assistance from the Board of Trade, which had obtained the necessary government permission. Food parcels were collected in the front office of The New Statesman, and sent to the people digging out the machinery, who were near starvation, like most Berliners at the time. On his return from one of these trips, John Roberts brought back the Renoir portfolio of facsimiles, printed by Ganymed Berlin in 1920, which established the fame of the Marées-Gesellschaft outside Germany. It included the Nude Woman Sitting, Drying her Right Foot, which Ann had last seen at Hayes Court, where the Ganymed facsimile hung on the wall of her classroom.

 The salvaged equipment was installed in a small factory in west London, where Sterck became the works manager with a small staff of printers and retouchers, including three German technicians trained by Deja. There was no financial connection between the German and the English Ganymeds, but Deja permitted the English firm to use the name. Ganymed Press London Limited was established as a joint financial venture of The New Statesman, Lund Humphries and Cyril Reddihough, a patron of contemporary British art. A photograph exists in the archives of the Medici Society of workmen in Berlin digging the collotype machines out of the rubble in 1948. By the following year, the same machines were in use by Ganymed Press London, producing facsimile printing of a quality formerly only available on the Continent. The Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum lent watercolours and drawings from their collections for reproduction, and the British Council commissioned the publication of a series of works by British artists.

These facsimiles were exhibited at a party organised by Ann to celebrate the launch of Ganymed Press London. It was held on 15 June 1949 in Lund Humphries’ magnificent first-floor room at 12 Bedford Square. Herbert Read, Kenneth Clark and Hans Schmoller were amongst the 200 or so guests. Raymond Mortimer summed up the critical reaction to the Ganymed facsimiles, saying that they would be a real menace to the art world but for the embossed head of Ganymede after Benvenuto Cellini, which distinguished them from the original works of art. The day after the party, the Ganymed Gallery opened next to The New Statesman’s offices in 11 Great Turnstile, off Lincoln’s Inn Fields, so named after the gate that once kept cows from wandering into High Holborn. Ann was appointed to run the gallery from this bottega oscura by John Roberts, who recognised that her talents would be better employed there than working for the Turnstile Press.

Amongst the guests at the opening party was Bernhard Baer, Ann’s future husband (they married in 1964). Originally from Berlin, Bernhard had practised as a lawyer until 1933 when, being a Jew, he was forced out of the profession. He was also a talented photographer, and had experimented widely with techniques of colour photography. In 1938, he seized the opportunity to escape from Nazi Germany when he was offered a job by Harrison & Sons, printers of reproductions for the National Gallery, on condition that he smuggle out his one-shot colour camera, the like of which was unknown then in England. When the war started, Harrison’s business declined, Bernhard lost his job and was sent as an enemy alien to the Isle of Man. He was released after a year or so and employed making precision parts for guns before a more suitable job turned up colour-printing maps for the RAF. After the war, he was introduced to Penguin as a photographer, and worked on their multi-volume ‘History of Art’ and ‘British Painters’ series. In 1950, Bernhard Baer was appointed works director of Ganymed Press London, the job for which he had, in his own words, been preparing all his life.

Before the invention of the collotype process in the mid-nineteenth century, all printed illustrations had to be drawn on stone or engraved in metal or wood. The collotype process made it possible to turn photographs into print by the application of photographic emulsion to the printing plate, requiring the highest skill from the technicians, resulting in an extraordinary fidelity to the finest details. It was always Ganymed’s practice to have the original work of art at the printing works for constant comparison by the retouchers during the process of reproduction. The result was an exact replica, sometimes printed on the same paper to achieve the literal meaning of a facsimile. Many valuable paintings were borrowed from museums and private collectors, insured at the owners’ valuation and stored in Ganymed’s printing works – an arrangement that would be unthinkable today. Bernhard regarded Cézanne’s Still Life with Chair, Bottle and Apples as Ganymed’s most successful facsimile reproduction. The original watercolour presented immense technical challenges and was printed from eight plates. It belonged to Samuel Courtauld, who had said to Bernhard, ‘If I ever see a good reproduction of my Cézanne, I will believe in colour printing.’ Unfortunately Courtauld died before Bernhard received permission from Anthony Blunt, Director of the Courtauld Institute Gallery, to borrow the Cézanne. Blunt was given a copy of the Ganymed facsimile as his retirement present.

Much of Ann’s day-to-day work in the gallery was concerned with the constant search for commissions for printing, upon which the Ganymed Press depended for regular income. Printing orders were received from institutions at home and abroad, including the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum of Williamsburg, Virginia, which sent six American primitive pictures for reproduction. Ganymed’s bestseller was Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, bought by Glasgow Art Gallery in 1951, with the copyright of the image. The painting depicts the Crucifixion, viewed from above, in a landscape of lake and mountains. It was described by Kingsley Martin, Editor of The New Statesman, as a curious view of the Lake District.

When John Roberts lost his job at The New Statesman, he was given as compensation the newspaper’s shares in the Ganymed Press. Although Roberts had been a successful entrepreneur, he had little artistic judgement, and the directors of Lund Humphries, foreseeing irreconcilable differences, withdrew their support at a very difficult board meeting in 1962, with Bernhard and Ann Baer both present as directors of Ganymed. It signalled the end of Ganymed’s own collotype printing, which had, in any case, been contending with increased competition from the cheaper and more predictable process of colour offset. The firm continued its publishing activities until 1979, when that part of the business was taken over by the Medici Society, with the remaining stock of Ganymed facsimiles.

Before the closure of the printing works, Bernhard set up a new company in December 1962, Ganymed Original Editions, to print and publish original graphic work by leading contemporary artists in limited editions, with the support of Lund Humphries and Cyril Reddihough. The printing was done by specialist firms in England, France, Germany and Switzerland. The Ganymed Press had in fact already ventured into the publication of original graphic work with three collographs by Henry Moore, published in 1951, in an edition of 75 copies of each, numbered and signed by the artist. Bernhard had to swear to the Inland Revenue that the proofs had been destroyed in order to avoid purchase tax, payable on editions larger than seventy-five. When Ann commented on a lampshade that Bernhard had made from one of Henry Moore’s proofs, he replied, ‘There are different methods of destroying things.’ Sidney Nolan made his first venture into lithography with eight studies on the theme of Leda and the Swan, which Ganymed published in 1961.

When the Tate Gallery held a major exhibition of the work of Oskar Kokoschka in 1962, it was something of a revelation in Britain, where the artist, although he had spent the war years in England, was comparatively unknown. On 13 January 1963 Bernhard went to visit Kokoschka at his home near Lake Geneva to discuss the possibility of a suite of lithographs for an edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear to celebrate the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964. Bernhard knew of Kokoschka’s interest in the theatre and Shakespeare in particular, and also that the artist had not undertaken any major graphic work since before the First World War. The idea struck a chord and, within two days, Kokoschka produced one drawing for King Lear, which Bernhard took to J.E. Wolfensberger, lithographic printers in Zurich. This was shortly followed by fifteen other drawings. Ten months after the initial visit, Bernhard returned to Switzerland with a copy of the only book Ganymed ever published, bound in full vellum by the Wigmore Bindery, with Kokoschka’s sixteen lithographs, the text set by hand in Fell type printed on dampened sheets by Vivian Ridler at the University Press, Oxford. The paper was dampened in an old tin bath, known to this day as King Lear’s bath. It was the start of a fruitful association with the artist, who created several great suites for Ganymed Original Editions, concluding with Saul and David in 1969. Ganymed Original Editions’ publications also included Henry Moore’s Stonehenge, Ben Nicholson’s etchings, L.S. Lowry’s lithographs and works by Australian artists.

The financial success of Sidney Nolan’s The Leda Suite had been a decisive factor in the founding of Ganymed Original Editions, but the business was always short of money, and entirely dependent on the success of one project to finance the next. By 1980, old age was beginning to tell; the last stocks of Ganymed Original Editions’ prints were sold off, and the enterprise came to an end. In the winter of 1980–81, the London firm was honoured with an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Bernhard wrote the introduction to the catalogue, which was printed by Harrison & Sons – for whom he had smuggled out of Germany the specialist camera for the colour photography on which Ganymed’s success was later founded. Bernhard Baer died, aged 78, on 13 July 1983.

Ann continued as the guardian of the two Ganymeds. She managed to trace, inspect and publish a catalogue of almost all the facsimiles published by the Marées-Gesellschaft, and by the Ganymed Press, while keeping active in other literary and artistic ways. The Bernhard Baer–Ganymed Archive is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1996 Ann wrote and illustrated a novel, Down the Common: a year in the life of a medieval woman, which was recently chosen by the novelist Philippa Gregory as one of her top ten history books. A Sidgwick to the end, Ann Baer informs her ‘Biblio-vignettes’ in the book collector with a jaunty spirit and lively intelligence: they convey a vivid impression of a remarkable woman, whose secret of a long and creative life is best summed up in her own words: ‘So many things interest or amaze me.’ Happy birthday, Madame Ganymed.

Photo credit: Adrian Pope.

First published in The Book Collector Autumn 2014.

 Ann Baer died on 1 December 2021 at the age of 107.



Ann Baer

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