I have two portfolios of prints, one issued in 1884, the other in 1888, both entitled, Vingt-cing eaux-fortes par les principaux artistes modernes. The publisher is A. Lévy at the Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, 13 rue Lafayette, Paris.
Of course the idea of a portfolio of etchings by the principal modern artists working in Paris in the 1880s sends shivers of anticipation down the spine. But as we say in England nowadays, “Calm down, dear. It’s a commercial.” There’s nothing in either set by any of the names that would nowadays seem obvious. And the artists are by no means all French, for they include four Italians and two Spaniards.
Title page etching by Henry Somm
Still, they are fascinating collections. The first thing I realised about them is that many of the etchings date from the late 1860s/early 1870s (so even in 1884 weren’t as moderne as all that), and were originally published by Alfred Cadart. Cadart, who founded the Société des Acquafortistes (1862-1867) was one of the principal forces behind the French etching revival. Between 1870 and 1875 he commissioned and published a large number of etchings, using Auguste Delâtre as his printer. But Cadart died in 1875, aged only 47. From the evidence of my etchings, his widow continued his business for some time (at least until 1880, as her imprint is on an etching by Lhermitte from that year), but evidently by the 1880s the rights had evidently been sold on. In the captions below I will give dates for the etchings when I am sure of them, but there is still quite a bit of research to be done.
Edmond Morin, Averse sur le boulevard, 1876
Lévy was a bookseller and publisher with a strong interest in etching. In 1875 he published the catalogue raisonné of the etchings of Charles Daubigny; the following year he published a collection of etchings by members of the Barbizon School, under the title Le paysagiste aux champs. So he was exactly the kind of person to capitalize on Cadart’s back catalogue.
How many copies of the portfolios were issued is unknown, but they seem to be very rare. I can’t find any record of copies at the Bibliothèque Nationale (though I will admit I’ve never found the BN’s website very easy to use), or any others for sale. So I don’t know if 1884 was the first, or 1888 the last, or if any were issued in the years between.
Adolphe Lalauze, La balançoire
My view is that Lévy was simply offering his customers a kind of lucky-dip selection from Cadart’s back catalogue. The covers and title pages of the portfolios are identical (with an etching by Henry Somm), and both have exactly the same four-page introduction by Roger Marx. The introduction makes no mention of specific artists or prints, and there is no list of contents, so it seems that the purchaser simply got a blind selection of prints.
Antonio Casanova y Estorach, Andalouses, 1877
The two portfolios even overlap, with 9 prints in common; though oddly all the etchings in the 1884 version are printed on china paper pasted onto a wove backing sheet (chine collé), while all those in the 1888 edition are printed directly onto laid paper.
Louis Lemaire, Vase de fleurs
The 1884 portfolio is in much less good condition than the 1888 one, with quite a bit of foxing. Foxmarks are the yellow-to-rust spots that bloom on paper that has been kept in a damp atmosphere that allows mould to grow. Unfortunately they can’t really be removed. But it still has some interesting items, including two etchings by Paolo Michetti one of the foremost artists of the Scuola di Resina, the Italian Impressionists. They are two wonderful pieces, in which the central figures emerge mysteriously from a mass of hasty scribbles. To put this find in context, only one etching by Michetti has been offered at auction in the last twenty years, and that was in 1990.
Paolo Michetti, Cueillette d'olives dans les Abruzzes, 1875
Paolo Michetti, L'enfant au panier, 1878
The 1888 portfolio, apart from being in excellent condition, has another surprise up its sleeve. Instead of 25 etchings, it has 32, plus 8 duplicates. There are also two copies of the title page and the introduction, so maybe at one point there were 50 etchings in all. The treasures here are quite remarkable. There are two copies of Giuseppe de Nittis’s masterly essay in Japonisme, La danseuse Holoke-Go-Zen.
Giuseppe de Nittis, La danseuse Holoke-Go-Zen, 1873
There’s an original etching by Léon Lhermitte, an artist so admired by Vincent van Gogh that in one letter of 1885 Vincent mentions him no fewer that 8 times, ranking him among “the great”.
Léon Lhermitte, Épicerie de village, 1880
There’s an etching by the Barbizon artist Charles Daubigny, Le pré des graves à Villerville, Calvados.
Charles Daubigny, Le pré des graves à Villerville, 1875
There are three etchings by François Feyen-Perrin, one of the most popular artists of his day, famed for his depictions of Breton fisherfolk.
François Feyen-Perrin, Mélancolie, 1870
François Feyen-Perrin, Les filles du pêcheur
François Feyen-Perrin, Derrière un jardin à Veules-en-Caux, no later than 1875
There are three original etchings by Charles Chaplin, who taught Mary Cassatt, as well as an etching after Chaplin by Félix Bracquemond.
Charles Chaplin, Roses de mai, 1877
Charles Chaplin, Avant le bain, 1876
Charles Chaplin, Les colombes, 1864
Charles Chaplin, Les bulles de savon, 1867
Charles Chaplin, Le miroir (etched by Félix Bracquemond)
And there is a copy of Deux idiots mendiants by Alexandre Falguière one of only two original etchings produced by this important realist sculptor/painter; I already have two proofs of his other etching, Caïn et Abel, so I now have his complete catalogue of etchings. This is one of the few etchings I can date to the year of publication of the portfolio, as Falguière's painting Les nains mendiants, on which this etching is based, was exhibited at the Salon of 1888.
Note on the above, added 4 August 2009: I have been puzzling since writing this how the Falguière etching could possibly date as late as 1888, as it was printed by Veuve Cadart, and I am sure she had given up the business way before that date. The etching is signed, and I now realise also dated, in the plate - all in reverse. Looking at it in a mirror, the date is clearly 1876. So the etching came before the painting. As with Caïn et Abel, which received two quite separate printings, in 1876 in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts and in 1902 in the Revue de l'Art ancien et moderne (which mistakenly believed the etching to be previously unpublished), so Deux idiots mendiants was printed twice - in 1876 by the widow Cadart, and in 1888 by L'Artiste, in which the title is given as Nains mendiants - Grenade. The later printing is also distinguishable from the first because it was printed by Taneur, not Cadart. Why it took so long for Falguière to exhibit his painting of this scene, I don't know. But at least the story of Falguière as an etcher begins to make more sense. Both of his etchings date to the same year, 1876, and each exists in two separate editions. This also accords with my theory that Lévy's portfolios were simply a means of shifting Cadart's unsold stock, and apart from Somm's title page did not contain any new work.
Alexandre Falguière, Deux idiots mendiants, 1876
Enjoy the pictures, and for those interested, here is the complete list of works in the two portfolios. They include three completely anonymous works, with no etched signature or printed credit. I append photos of these at the end of this post, and if anyone has a clue as to the artists, I would be very grateful.
Alberto Pasini, Abbrutimento
Édouard Toudouze, Woman fishing
Jules Lefebvre, Rêve
Frédéric La Guillermie, Jeune Bretonne vannant du blé noir au bord de la mer, 1874
Edmond Hédouin, Interior with mother and child, 1876
Célestin Nanteuil, Jacintha, 1866
Vingt-cing eaux-fortes par les principaux artistes modernes, 1884:
Two women walking in a wood
Camille Bernier (1823-1902)
Une ferme en Bannalec (etched by Edmond Yon, 1836-1907)
John Lewis Brown (1829-1890)
Alfred Louis Brunet-Debaines (1845-1939)
La rue d’Orléans à Pont Audemer
Charles Chaplin (1825-1891)
Les bulles de savon
Alfred Alexandre Delauney (1830-1894)
Tour de la Giralda, à Séville
Edmond Hédouin (1820-1889)
Interior with mother and child
Croquis d’une figure
Frédéric Auguste La Guillermie (1841-?)
Jeune Bretonne vannant du blé noir au bord de la mer
Adolphe Lalauze (1836-1906)
Le malade imaginaire
À sept ans
Louis Eugène Lambert (1825-1900)
Envoi (etched by Edmond Yon)
Jean-Paul Laurens (1828-1921)
François de Borgia devant le cerceuil d’Isabelle de Portugal (etched by Edmond Yon)
A. Lefort (dates unknown)
Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851-1929)
Cueillette d’olives dans les Abruzzes
L’enfant au panier
Louis Monziés (1849-?)
Amateur de tableaux
Célestin François Nanteuil (1813-1873)
Alexandre Protais (1826-1890)
La garde du drapeau (etched by Edmond Yon)
Jules Jacques Veyrassat (1828-1893)
Intérieur d’écurie à Samois
Men with horses at a farmhouse
Vingt-cinq eaux-fortes par les principaux artistes modernes, 1888 (duplicates from 1884 marked with a star):
An art auction
Girl gathering flowers
Antonio Salvador Casanova y Estorach (1847-1896)
Avant le bain (2 copies)
Les bulles de savon*
Roses de mai (2 copies)
Le miroir (etched by Félix Bracquemond, 1833-1914)
Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878)
Le pré des graves à Villerville
Alfred Alexandre Delauney
Tour de la Giralda, à Séville*
Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900)
Deux idiots mendiants (Les nains mendiants)
François Nicolas Augustin Feyen-Perrin (1826-1888)
Derrière un jardin à Veules-en-Caux
Les filles du pêcheur
Alberto Maso Gilli (1840-1894)
Interior with mother and child (2 copies)*
Le guet-apens (2 copies, one entitled À Les)*
Ah! Tout doux! Laissez-moi de grace, respirer (2 copies)
Le malade imaginaire (2 copies)*
Hét Éves Vagyok (this is the same etching as À sept ans)*
Louis Eugène Lambert
Kedélyes Fészek (this is the same etching as Envoi)*
Jules Lefebvre (1836-1911)
Louis Marie Lemaire (1824-1910)
Vase de fleurs (2 copies)
Léon Lhermitte (1844-1925)
Épicerie de village
Ricardo de Los Rios (1846-1929)
Edmond Morin (1824-1882)
Averse sur le boulevard
Giuseppe de Nittis (1846-1884)
La danseuse Holoke-Go-Zen (2 copies)
Alberto Pasini (1826-1899)
La garde du drapeau (etched by Edmond Yon)*
Frédéric Regamey (1849-1925)
Coquelin – Rôle de Tabarin
Édouard Toudouze (1848-1907)
Jules Jacques Veyrassat
Intérieure d’écurie à Samois*
Anonymous, Two women walking in a wood
Anonymous, An art auction
Anonymous, Girl gathering flowers