Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet Thames run softly

As I’m just about to spend a couple of days in London, I thought I would post a little visual essay on etchings of the Thames between the dawn of Impressionism and the outbreak of the First World War. Some of these are by friends and associates of Whistler, and others by French artists drawn to London and the Thames just as British ones were drawn to Paris and the Seine (I have, for instance, an 1892 etching of Le Pont Neuf by Whistler’s disciple Frank Laing). Chief among the French artists, of course, is Claude Monet; my etchings are interpretative works by Charles Waltner and Gustave Greux, made in 1904, the year Monet exhibited the Thames paintings he had been working on since 1899. These etchings by Waltner and Greux were commissioned and published by the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, as were all of the others except the one by Jacques Beurdeley, which was published by a rival journal, the Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne. So there is a definite ebb and flow of influence to be discerned here; for instance Monet would almost certainly have seen John Postle Heseltine’s etching of Waterloo Bridge before making his own studies of the same motif. There was a fascinating-sounding exhibition in 2005 entitled Monet’s London: Artists’ Reflections on the Thames 1859-1914, which included work by great names such as Tissot, Derain, Pissarro, and Daubigny, as well etchings by two of my favourite lesser-known Impressionists, Félix Buhot and Henri Guérard. I didn’t get to see this, so I suppose I must look out for the catalogue and make do with that. In the meantime, here is my personal take on the same theme.

Arthur Evershed, At Twickenham
Etching, 1876

Arthur Evershed, On the banks of the Thames
Etching, 1876

Arthur Evershed (1836-1919) was born at Billinghurst in Sussex, where his father was a doctor. Evershed himself was to pursue parallel medical and artistic careers. The young Arthur was sent at the age of 16 to study with the landscape painter Alfred Clirt. However at the age of 22, at his father's urging, Evershed abandoned art to study medicine. On graduation he set up practice in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. Nevertheless, Arthur Evershed continued to take his art seriously, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1855 (at the age of 19) to 1892. He was made an Associate RE in 1891, and a Fellow in 1898. Despite this late recognition by his peers, the high point of Arthur Evershed's art career was undoubtedly the publication of a highly-favourable essay on "Les eaux-fortes de M. Evershed" in the influential Parisian revue the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1876. Written by Alfred de Lostalot, this article put Evershed forward as one of the key English etchers, alongside such names as Seymour Haden and Edwin Edwards. The Gazette also commissioned two original etchings by Evershed, bringing his art vividly to the attention of the French art world. Alfred de Lostalot remarked particularly on the fact that Evershed's etchings - almost all scenes along the Thames - were drawn directly on the copper plates, in front of the motif. This is what gives Evershed's work of this date its Impressionistic freshness - but the Gazette des Beaux-Arts was not the forum to make the crucial connection between Arthur Evershed and the Impressionists. Arthur Evershed made his first etchings in 1872, by which time he was living and working in Hampstead.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Fulham
Etching, 1879

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. He came to Europe in 1855, at first dividing his time between Paris and London. In 1860, when his painting La jeune fille en blanc was refused by the jury of the Salon de Paris, and exhibited instead in the Salon des Refusées, a piqued Whistler, always hyper-sensitive to criticism, settled in London. He only returned to live in Paris in 1896, after the death of his wife. Whistler was famous for his friendships and his enmities, most notably his celebrated libel case against Ruskin, and his long-running feud with his brother-in-law Francis Seymour Haden, a surgeon who founded of the Society of Painter-Etchers (now the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers). The cause of the fatal rift between Whistler and Haden, aggravated by professional jealousies and the clash of two strong personalities, was Haden’s refusal to meet the funeral expenses of his medical partner James Traer, a friend of Whistler, after Traer died in a Paris brothel.

John Postle Heseltine, Le pont de Waterloo à Londres
Etching, 1897

John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929) was born in Dilham in Norfolk. Heseltine was an accomplished etcher, who exhibited at the Royal Academy almost every year between 1869 and 1916. Heseltine specialized in landscapes. Freed by private wealth from the constraints that hampered other artists, he was also an avid collector of prints and drawings. John Postle Heseltine was a friend of Whistler, and a member of the Arts Club.

Claude Oscar Monet, Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé
Etching by Charles Waltner after Monet, 1904

Claude Oscar Monet, Le Parlement de Londres, soleil couchant
Etching by Gustave Greux after Monet, 1904

Monet painted his views of the Thames and Parliament during visits to London in 1899, 1900, and 1901, concentrating on the fog-laden vistas of trembling light that he could see from his room in the Savoy Hotel. He continued to work on the paintings back in his studio in Giverny.

Joseph Pennell, Le débarcadère du Temple à Londres
Etching, 1906

A notable lithographer and etcher, Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) was born in Philadelphia, but spent nearly thirty years in London, where he was a close friend (and eventual biographer) of Whistler. Joseph Pennell returned to America in 1912. This etching shows the landing stage at the Temple.

Jacques Beurdeley, Sur la Tamise
Etching, 1909

The painter and etcher Jacques Beurdeley (1874-1954) studied under Fernand Cormon, to whose studio Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor. Beurdeley studied printmaking with Eugène Carrière and Auguste Delâtre. Jacques Beurdeley's father was a friend of both Puvis de Chavannes and Whistler, and the influence of Whistler can be seen in Beurdeley's work, along with that of Corot and Meryon.

Paul-Adrien Bouroux, Le Pont de la Tour à Londres
Etching, 1910

Paul-Adrien Bouroux (1878-1967) was born in Mézières in the Ardennes. Although enthused by drawing from early childhood, Bouroux started a career in the Civil Service. It was only when doing his military service in Rouen that fellow-conscripts introduced him to their teacher at the Beaux-Arts, Paris, Luc-Olivier Merson, who offered him informal advice. Back in the civilian world, Bouroux made friends with Victor Focillon, who taught him the art of etching. Bouroux exhibited his first etching with the Société des Artistes Français in 1905, and the following year gave up his job as a tax collector to devote himself to etching. He travelled across Europe etching landscapes and cityscapes. Bouroux served at the front in WWI, collecting his sketches and etchings of the war under the title Au front d'Alsace. After the war he continued his travels, and began to concentrate on producing etchings for limited edition fine press books. Together with the bibliophile Henri Vever and the etchers Charles Jouas and André Dauchez, Bouroux founded the Société de Saint Eloy to publish such works. He received the Légion d’Honneur in 1936. From the early 1950s Bouroux's eyesight began to fail, and at the end of his life he often received assistance from his friend and neighbour Maurice Achener in finishing his plates.


Anonymous said...

Heraclitus could have said that you can't draw the same river twice. Nice variety of images. It seems to me that your French artists show more of a Japanese influence than the others.
I'm dipping into Pennell's book on Whistler thanks to you.

Roxana said...

I love the two Monet works, especially le parlement, wow, it is stunning.

and I was somehow reminded of these:


Neil said...

Jane - I love your take on Heraclitus! Whistler was influenced by Japanese art, of course, but I don't think in general English artists "got" Japan at this date.

Neil said...

Roxana - Thanks for the link to those lovely and atmospheric London views. I love those etchings after Monet, too. Though Monet never made any prints himself, he did authorize a few interpretative prints, and these are I think the most important, because they were created and published at the same time as Monet first showed these works. Waltner, who etched the Waterloo Bridge scene, was regarded at the time as absolutely the best interpretative etcher, and it is a very subtle work. But there were quite a few exceptional artists working at this trade, interpreting the paintings of others as etchings (or, earlier, engravings). Gustave Greux is one of them. It's hard to imagine now, when it is so easy to reproduce any work of art, that in 1904 the only way the general public could really get the feel of a Monet painting was for another artist to create an etching, that was in itself a new work of art. And of course even then the etching was only available to a select few - the general view seems to be that the Gazette des Beaux-Arts was published in about 1500 copies (I have come across lower estimates, but none higher).

Adrian Money said...

Does anyone know wht Evershed signed R.P.E.? I assume this is for Royal Society of Painters Etchers and pre-dates the usual R.E.


Neil said...

I would think you're right, Adrian. The Society of Painter-Etchers was set up by Francis Seymour Haden (Whistler's brother-in-law and rival) in 1880, and became the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1888. In 1991 it became the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, though I think the letters RE are still used after members' names. Arthur Evershed became an Associate RE in 1891, and a Fellow in 1898.