Friday, February 20, 2009

The fast rise and long slow fall of Édouard Chimot


Édouard Chimot
Sous les voiles du soir
Etching and aquatint for L'enfer, 1921

The career of Édouard Chimot is a study in how a talented artist can be overtaken both by changing tastes and by outside events. Famous in the 1920s, Chimot is now almost completely forgotten.


Édouard Chimot
La montée aux enfers
Etching and aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

Chimot was born in Lille on 26 November 1880, and died in Paris on 7 June 1959. He studied under Jean-Baptiste Levert and Alexis Mossa at the École des Arts décoratifs in Nice, and then under Pharaon de Winter at the Beaux-Arts, Lille. The course of his early career is unclear. He seems to have first exhibited in 1912, rather late at the age of 32, and perilously close to the outbreak of World War One, which would cause a four-year hiatus in his career, so that Chimot was 39 by the time he really made his mark on the Paris art world.


Édouard Chimot
La fille du sultan
Etching and aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

Both oil paintings and drawings by Chimot do come on the market, usually depicting female nudes, but he devoted most of his energy to etching, often for fine press limited edition books. The first of these, Les après-midi de Montmartre, with a text by René Baudu, appeared in 1919, but these etchings of “petites filles perdus” were made in 1914, before the outbreak of WWI. They record the last gasp of the decadent Montmartre of Toulouse-Lautrec.


Édouard Chimot
Le café-concert maudit
Etching and aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

In his art, Édouard Chimot was always to hark back to the Symbolist style that dominated the 1890s but was already superseded by Art Deco, Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstraction by the time his own career was in full swing. He felt a special affinity with Decadent authors such as Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Pierre Louys, and those who followed in their footsteps such as Henri Barbusse, Jean de Tinan, and Maurice Magre. Chimot was particularly close to Magre, illustrating his books La montée aux enfers (1920), Les soirs d’opium (1921) and Les belles de nuit (1927). In 1924, Le Figaro rather flatteringly described Magre as “an anarchist, an individualist, a sadist, and an opium addict”, adding, perhaps less convincingly, “he is a very great writer.”


Édouard Chimot
Les rencontres dans le port vieux
Etching and aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

What happened to Chimot during WWI, I do not know. Presumably he was called up to serve on the Western Front. But after the war, he hit the ground running. He already had the etchings for Les après-midi de Montmartre. These were published in 1919, followed in a whirl of activity by La montée aux enfers and Les soirs d’opium by Magre, Le fou by Aurele Partorni, L’enfer by Henri Barbusse, La petite Jeanne pâle by Jean de Tinan, and Mouki le delaisse by André Cuel, all illustrated with original etchings between 1920 and 1922. In 1921 Chimot also found the time to found a magazine, La Roseraie: Revue des Arts et des Lettres, published by the printer and publisher La Roseraie under Chimot’s artistic direction.


Édouard Chimot
La treizième année
Etching and aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

The journal La Roseraie folded after a single issue, but it pointed the way to Chimot’s future career, as artistic director of Les Éditions d’Art Devambez (see my previous post on Devambez), where between 1924 and 1931 Chimot oversaw the production of a wonderful array of livres d’artiste, illustrated by artists such as Pierre Brissaud, Edgar Chahine, Alméry Lobel-Riche, and Tsuguharu Foujita. Chimot reserved some plum texts for himself, including Les chansons de Bilitis by Louys (1925), La mort de Venise by Barrès (1926), Les belles de nuit by Magre (1927), and Parallèlement by Verlaine (1931).


Édouard Chimot
La nuit
Etching and aquatint for L'enfer, 1921

During the glittering decade of the 1920s, Chimot was forming not just artistic but literary alliances, with writers such as the Surrealist Gilbert Lély, who dedicated the first publication of Ne tue ton père qu’à bon escient to Chimot in 1929. On 23 October of that year, Édouard Chimot must have felt gloriously launched on his late-started career. At the age of 49, he was a significant figure in the Paris art world, a generous patron of his fellow artists, and himself an artist with a public hungry for his late-Symbolist nudes, “soumises à leurs passions mortelles et délicieuses”, as the writer André Warnod put it.


Édouard Chimot
Devant la glace
Etching and aquatint for L'enfer, 1921

The following day came the Wall Street Crash, which wiped out the market for fancy limited editions. When the last of the books in production for Devambez, Chimot’s own edition of Parallèlement, was published in 1931, the game was up. That year a monograph on Chimot by Maurice Rat was published, with a preface by Maurice Magre, in the series Les Artistes du livre, adding the final full stop to the glory years of Édouard Chimot.


Édouard Chimot
Un hémisphère dans un chevelure
Etching and aquatint for Le Spleen de Paris, 1926

The rest of Chimot’s life seems to have been a struggle to re-establish himself, during which his art deteriorated and his reputation was eclipsed. In the 1930s he self-published a number of books in the vein of the Devambez productions, such as an edition of La Belle Carolina by Louis René Talon in 1936. The first such self-published work was the anonymous album of colour lithographs, Chats (“Pussies”), published “À l’enseigne de l’auteur qui ne veut pas dire son nom” (“At the sign of the author, who does not wish to say his name”). The 15 lithographs are all depictions of “sexes féminin”, featuring some outlandish fashions in pubic hair. It is the kind of production one can imagine some rich but vulgar connoisseur sharing with his friends over the after-dinner brandy and cigars.


Édouard Chimot
Les chants du bar
Etching and aquatint for Les belles de nuit, 1927

Chimot’s move with Chats away from the intensely-charged, almost mystical eroticism of his work in the 20s, towards the lubricious eroticism of the clandestine book market, with editions of works such as Pierre Louys’s scabrously obscene Trois filles de leur mère, heralds a real decline in his work. The effect of this was to be felt especially in the years after WWII, when almost all Chimot’s work, by this time facile and shallow, was to be aimed at collectors of erotica, with editions of texts such as Lady Chatterley, Fanny Hill, and Prelude Charnel, all published by Éditions Deux-Rives.


Édouard Chimot
Son amie
Etching and aquatint for Les belles de nuit, 1927

Chimot’s work in the last three decades of his life shows a sad falling-off from his pinnacle of activity and achievement in the 20s, though inevitably in an artist so richly talented there are flashes of grace and brilliance. In the last year of his life appeared an interesting-sounding work, which I have not seen, Les belles que voilà: mes modèles de Montmartre à Séville, a collection of 16 nudes, though whether the plates are reproductions or original prints I am unsure.


Édouard Chimot
Lady Chatterley
Dryoint for Lady Chatterley's Lover, 1950

It appears that after the Fall of Paris, Chimot took refuge in Spain, for his publications during the Second World War all appeared in Barcelona, and mostly illustrate Spanish-language texts.


Édouard Chimot
Nude
Lithograph for Lady Chatterley's Lover, 1950

There is a bibliography of Chimot’s illustrated books by J. L. Bernard, Édouard Chimot, 1880-1959: bibliographie des oeuvres illustrés, which was published in an edition of 200 copies in 1991. I have not yet seen a copy of this, but I would be surprised if its author did not share my view that the crucial decade of Chimot’s career was that between the end of WWI and the Wall Street Crash. It was during this time of frivolity and excess that Édouard Chimot created the haunting and compelling images by which his name will endure.


Édouard Chimot
Prelude Charnel
Drypoint for Prelude Charnel, 1957

15 comments:

Roxana said...

you know, Neil, there are blogs like yours or japonisme that are so rich and offer so much information that I always learn a lot when I come here. oh yes, and look at incredible paintings. I love the subtlety and, as you say, intese eroticism of his work. especially 'hémisphère dans un chevelure', I would like to photograph like that. but if I showed such pictures on my blog, blogger would warn the readers about the content. I think people have got used to such topics in painting, but photography is still a different business, I'm afraid.

ronoc said...

I love this post.To be Frank,though my name isn´t, "the thin line", which Chimot portayed exquistely,by far
exceeds the obscene thin line between
moralism and pure art.
The beauty and delicacy with which he expresses a reverential awe for the female body is vugarly tainted and slighted by off the cuff victorian arty-farty tags of risque or erotique.
His work be it on the walls of the Louvre or in Lady Chatterly is truly, sublime "pure" art

Neil said...

Thanks, Roxana. I can imagine you creating images that echo some of the effects Chimot achieves with etching and aquatint, and would love to see them (maybe you'd have to start up a second blog, I agree it would be a shame to have readers warned before they could access your beautiful photographs). Often Chimot will allow much of the plate to be almost blank, just patinated with aquatint, which gives the same kind of dreamy suggestiveness that you do so well.

ronoc said...

I love the post. Absolutely beautiful "Art". The Victorian arty farty moralistic tags of Risque or
erotique vulgarly taint and slight
this artist´s subilme delicacy towards the female nude.
The "thin line " ( with or without the funky hair-do´s) that Chimot depicts IS "pure" art, whether in the Louvre or in Lady Chatterly´s lover,and has nothing to do with thin line between social moral stench and sick minds.

Neil said...

Hi Ronoc. Love the bit about the funky hair-do's! To the pure, all things are pure.

Jane said...

Mae West said "Whenever a girl goes bad, there go a whole lot of men right after her." Artists, too. Chimot's colors appear very delicate, as though applied with a sure hand. It makes the slackening off all the sadder. Perhaps competition from photography hurt, too.

Neil said...

It seems possible that Chimot's late start as an artist was because he initially trained as an architect - the only evidence I have for this is an item on the internet from Fodor's guides, which credits Chimot with the design in 1903 of the Villa Lysis in Capri, for the dissolute Baron Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Beautiful, sensitive images, especially the early ones, as you say. If I come across any mentions of Chimot as an architect, I'll let you know.

Otis Carroll said...

Fascinating - I've had an etching of "Le café-concert maudit" for years and never knew much of anything about M. Chimot. Many thanks for the education!

-Otis

Otis Carroll said...

Apologies if you've received this more than once, but Blogger is giving me fits!

Just wanted to thank you for this post - I have a print of "Le café-concert maudit" and have always wanted to know more about its artist. Looking forward to delving deeper into your blog.

Neil said...

Thanks, Otis. It's always nice when a bit of long-sought information drops into your lap - one of the pleasures and benefits of the internet, despite its capacity to frustrate!

Martin Stone said...

Re Chimot's obscure early career-apart from designing Fersen's Capri villa and decorating its interiors,he was also the art director of Fersen's review "Akedemos"(1909-1910).A lengthy correspondence exists between them.
"Les Belles de Voila" is better than most of his late work,but with lithographs rather than the finer etchings.Happily,here in Paris there is a noticeable revival of interest in his work,particularly,of course,for the early and best books,though "Chats" is much in demand.It seems curiously scarce despite the sizable limitation(500copies).I've never heard of a japan paper copy appearing on the market.
Love your blogs-thank you

Neil said...

Hi Martin - Thanks for all this extra information, and also the news on the current market. I seem to have inadvertently created a boom in Chimot! I do think his 20s etchings are great. The demand for Chats is understandable, because it's period erotica, but from the images I've seen on the internet I'm not that enthused by the art. On a different note, assuming you are who I think you are, I must say I greatly enjoyed seeing you play in the 70s, mostly at the Roundhouse. A wonderful period of my life, and I hope yours.

Martin Stone said...

Hello Neil-Uh,oh-outed!But yes,what delicious times at the Roundhouse and elsewhere,and thank you for suffering the assault so graciously.Please,please let me know if ever you uncover the Marcel Roux edition of "Fleurs du Mal"-totally gone to ground.All best

Neil said...

Martin, I've never seen a copy of Roux's Fleurs du Mal, and I'm not sure how extensively illustrated it was - the one image on the Marcel Roux website is of the cover. It's funny how some editions of Baudelaire seem to just disappear - another case in point is Mario Avati's Les plus belles pages de Charles Baudelaire, announced in an edition of 10,000 copies, actually printed in a run of no more than 150, and remarkably scarce even for such a limited edition. Even the same book printed without Avati's aquatints is very rare.