Saturday, December 26, 2009

First Impressions

I’ve posted before about the journal Paris à l’eau-forte, a literary journal illustrated with original etchings which was edited and published by Richard Lesclide between 1873 and 1876. I’ve unfortunately never managed to see a complete run of all 11 volumes of this short-lived revue. I have volumes 1-3, for which the art editor was Frédéric Regamey, and volumes 9-11, for which the art editor was Henri Guérard. All the etchings are printed by Delâtre, but in the early volumes they are printed on china paper mounted onto the pages of the journal (in the technique known as chine collé or chine appliqué), and for the most part integrated with the text, while in the later ones (from volume 5) they are printed on Hollande laid paper, and are presented hors-texte. A recent purchase of volume 4 shows that Regamey had left, but Guérard had not yet arrived. Paris à l’eau-forte is a fairly obscure publication, and I don’t think it has been fully realised how supportive the journal was of Impressionism. From the beginning, the support of Dr Paul Gachet gave access to a wide circle of Impressionist artists.

Armand Guillaumin, La Seine à Bercy
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 22,  24 August 1873
Kraemer D 7b

By the end, with Guérard—a close friend of Manet, and husband of the Impressionist painter Eva Gonzalès—at the helm, the revue is packed full of Impressionist works. Volume 11, for instance, featured etchings by Norbert Goeneutte, Félix Buhot, Louis Forain, and Henry Somm, as well as Henri Guérard himself. If the journal had continued, we may well have been left a rich legacy of Impressionist etchings; but it folded, removing one of the few sympathetic outlets for etched work in this revolutionary new style. Under the art direction of Regamey, Paris à l’eau-forte published no fewer than 11 etchings in the Impressionist style by Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927) in the months before the First Impressionist Exhibition, and a twelfth just a fortnight after the exhibition opened. Because at this period the revue did not name the etchers whose work it featured, it took some detective work to identify these, but I am confident that we have, in these modest etchings by Guillaumin, a record of the first true encounter between Impressionism and the wider French public.

Armand Guillaumin, La banlieu de Charonne
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 22, 24 August 1873
Kraemer D 7c

The First Impressionist Exhibition opened on 15 April 1874. Over 30 of the works on display were etchings by Félix Bracquemond, husband of the female Impressionist Marie Bracquemond. Among the painters, the acknowledged leaders of the new group—all regarded as the disciples of Manet, who did not exhibit—were Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Pissarro, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, and Armand Guillaumin. When Théodore Duret published his groundbreaking Histoire des Peintres Impressionistes in 1878, these were the artists he discussed (with the omission of Degas, for some reason).

Armand Guillaumin, Route d'Allemagne
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 23, 31 August 1873
Kraemer D 7d

It is hard to imagine Armand Guillaumin (who had three paintings in the first exhibition, and I believe showed work in all the subsequent ones) receiving quite such extensive coverage in a book on Impressionism now. His art is often overlooked, by critics, curators, and public alike. But I admire Guillaumin. His vivid colours anticipate and echo those of his friends Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and also influenced the thinking of the Fauves, especially Matisse and Othon Friesz.

Armand Guillaumin, La Seine vue de Charenton
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no, 23, 31 August 1873
Kraemer D 7i

Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin came from a humble background. In 1861 he gave up his job in his uncle’s lingerie store to study for two years at the Académie Suisse, where he met his lifelong friends Cézanne and Pissarro. But he could not afford to paint full-time, and instead worked the night shift in the Department of Bridges and Causeways in order to support himself and have the daylight in which to paint. He only became financially independent at the age of 50, not through artistic success but through a massive win on the national lottery of 100,000 gold francs.

Armand Guillaumin, La ruelle Barrault
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 23, 31 August 1873
Kraemer D 10a

Paris à l’eau-forte launched in 1873, the year after Armand Guillaumin, Paul Cézanne, and Camille Pissarro were making their first etchings in the Auvers studio of Dr Paul Gachet. It was likely Gachet (another contributor, and a major supporter of Paris à l’eau-forte) who introduced Guillaumin to the journal’s editors.

Armand Guillaumin, Le marais de Vitry
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 23, 31 August 1873
Kraemer D 7g

The first Guillaumin etchings appeared in issue 22, published on 24 August 1873. The first on 24 August is entitled La Seine à Bercy, which is unsigned; the second, La banlieue de Charonne, is signed with Guillaumin’s monogram (his initials, reversed by the etching process). The next issue, on 31 August, featured five further etchings: La route d’Allemagne, La Seine vue de Charenton (both unsigned), and La ruelle Barrault (signed Guillaumin in the plate), Le marais de Vitry (signed with the monogram), and Le chemin des hautes-bruyères. This is signed with the same monogram, but this time reading correctly, showing that Guillaumin had now worked out how to reverse it on the plate, though the title etched in the plate below is a hopeless mix of correct and reversed letters.

Armand Guillaumin, Chemin des Hautes-Bruyères
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 23, 31 August 1873
Kraemer D 10d

On 28 September appeared L’île de Casseuil, Gironde (signed with the monogram and titled La Plâtrière in the plate). On 26 October, Une marine à Charenton (unsigned). On 2 November, Dans les hautes herbes (signed with the monogram and titled Bas Meudon in the plate). And finally on 9 November, Entrée de village, also known as Une longue route (signed with the reversed monogram).

Armand Guillaumin, La plâtrière, ou L'île de Casseuil
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 27, 28 September 1873
Kraemer D 10c

I don’t claim these 11 etchings as masterpieces. Guillaumin is clearly still mastering the technique, and there are some clumsy passages, but they do show great verve. Both in style and subject matter (for instance the smoking factory chimneys in both La Seine, vue de Charenton, Une marine à Charenton, and Dans les hautes herbes (Bas Meudon) they are typical of early Impressionism. In fact I would say that these etchings of the 1870s are among Guillaumin's most important prints, expressing as they do the fresh inspiration of Impressionism-in-the-making.

Armand Guillaumin, Une marine à Charenton
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 31, 26 October 1873
Kraemer D 7b

I don’t think I would ever have worked out who the artist was if it had not been for the faint “Guillaumin” etched with a drypoint needle in the bottom right corner of La ruelle Barrault—and thereby hangs a tale. For I have two copies of this print. In one, the signature is present; in the second, the person responsible for trimming the china paper to size has sheered off a tiny fraction more along the bottom of the etching, and the signature has disappeared... So without the duplicate, I doubt I would have been able to identify the author of these etchings.

Guillaumin's etched signature on La ruelle Barrault

Michel Melot in his L’estampe impressioniste (1974) writes of Guillaumin’s etching Chemin creux aux hautes bruyères, vallée de la Biévre, that it is “griffonnée nerveusement, brutalement mordue, bien dans le style des croquis à l’eau-forte exécutés par Van Ryssel, puis par Cézanne et Pissarro au retour des promenades dans la vallée de la Biévre”: hastily sketched, brutally bitten, very much in the style of the etched sketches executed by Van Ryssel [the artistic pseudonym of Dr Gachet], and later by Cézanne and Pissarro on returning from walks in the valley of the Biévre. The phrase “griffonnée nerveusement” is hard to translate satisfactorily. Griffonnée means hastily sketched or scribbled; nerveusement could mean nervously, but I believe in this context probably means vigorously.

Armand Guillaumin, Bas Meudon ou Dans les hautes herbes
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 32, 2 November 1873
Kraemer D 7f

Since writing the above, I have managed to get hold of the book Vom Spiel der Farbe: Armand Guillaumin, ein vergessener Impressionist, edited by Rainer Budde (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, 1996), with a catalogue raisonné of Guillaumin’s graphic work by Gilles Kraemer, source of the reference numbers above. What is most interesting for me to discover is that all twelve of my etchings were etched on just two copper plates. The first (D 7 in the catalogue) has nine small subjects, of which one (Le lavoir) does not seem to have been used in Paris à l’eau-forte. They are: Le lavoir, La Seine à Bercy, La banlieue de Charonne, Route d’Allemagne extérieure, Entrée de village, Bas Meudon (Dans le hautes herbes), Les marais de Vitry, Une marine à Charenton, and La Seine à Charenton. The second (D 10 in the catalogue), contains La ruelle Barrault, Bicêtre et Chemin des barons, La platrière, and Chemin des Hautes-Bruyères. Gilles Kraemer seems to have missed the publication of both Entrée de village and Bicêtre in Paris à l'eau-forte, an entirely understandable oversight in view of the almost deliberately confusing and uninformative layout of this remarkable revue.

Armand Guillaumin, Entrée du village
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 33, 9 November 1873
Kraemer D 7e

While I have owned the first 11 Guillaumin etchings for some time, I have only recently acquired a copy of volume 4 of Paris à l’eau-forte. Frédéric Regamey is no longer the art editor, though he still supplies some etchings; it appears he has moved to England. No replacement is announced. The etchings in this volume are still printed chine appliqué, but Lesclide announces that, because of complaints about the rather sloppy execution of this work, resulting in creases and other faults (at least one etching in my volumes is stuck in upside down), from vol. 5 all the etchings will be separately printed on laid Hollande paper, as they are in vols. 9-11. Volume 4 has one further Guillaumin etching, signed and titled in the plate, Bicêtre & Chemin des Barons. The First Impressionist Exhibition opened, as I noted above, on 15 April 1874. The etching appears in issue 56, published on Sunday 3 May 1874, and is introduced by Richard Lesclide with the words, “Enfin M. Guillaumin, dont les tableaux font sensation à l’Exposition du boulevard des Capucines, nous a donné une vue de Bicêtre et des terrains vagues qui l’entourent. Cela a un caractère de désolation sinistre qu’il suffit d’indiquer.” I don’t think you can get closer to the earthquake of Impressionism than an etching by one of the founders of the movement, published within a fortnight of the first exhibition, with mention of the sensation of that exhibition but no acceptance yet of the word Impressionist.

Armand Guillaumin, Bicêtre et chemin des barons
Etching, published in Paris à l'eau-forte no. 56, 3 May 1874
Kraemer D 10b

The issue for 19 April 1874 has a review of the First Impressionist Exhibition, under its official title, Exposition de la Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs et Lithographes, by C. de Malte. This enthusiastic article gives the lie to the accepted notion that all reactions to the exhibition were scathing and dismissive. I’ll give a rough translation of just some of it, to give an idea of the tone: “Above all, this exhibition resembles an ambush by colourists; the brilliant tones, hot, silvery, lively, luminous, await you round every corner, surprise you and in the end seduce you. It is an ambuscade of radiant colours.” The reader is urged to visit “ce feu d’artifice de palettes enragées”—this firework display of furious palettes. Monet is praised for expressing “des éblouissements d’impression”—dazzling impressions.


Jane said...

I think the same about Guillaumin's use of color. When he used a bright palette, the jutxaposition of colors was eye-catching, but his softer pictures seem insipid to me. The black & white images here made me notice that drafting wasn't one of his strengths. Thank you.

Neil said...

I know what you mean about the drawing, Jane - there is a somewhat stiff and clumsy element in some of the images. But I've been living with these etchings for a while, and have come to admire them more and more. I think the point for Guillaumin as for the rest of the Impressionists was to rapidly notate a sense impression, rather than to reproduce a scene - and in some cases I think he succeeded brilliantly. La Seine vue de Charenton and Bas Meudon are my favourites - vibrant quick sketches bitten into metal and retained for all time.