The post-Impressionist Benjamin Jean Pierre Henri Rivière (1864-1951) is the French artist who above all others absorbed the aesthetics of Japanese art into his own. He is known especially for his woodcuts and lithographs of scenes in Brittany and Paris. Rivière first visited Brittany in 1884, and returned each summer until 1916. It was at this point that Rivière ceased exhibiting or publishing his work (his last print was published in 1917). My sole lithograph by Henri Rivière shows a scene in Perros-Guirec on the rose granite coast of Brittany. On the beach are massive boulders sculpted into extraordinary shapes by the tides, but Rivière ignores the monumental and the picturesque for the tranquillity of daily life. Rivière began as an etcher, moved on to woodcuts in the Japanese style (which he printed himself), and then turned to colour lithographs (which he entrusted to the master printer Eugène Verneau). This image is unusual in that he created it first as a woodcut, in 1891 as part of his unfinished series Les paysages Bretons, and then as a 9-colour lithograph, printed by Verneau for the art revue The Studio in 1896.
Henri Rivière, Le bourg de Perros-Guirec
Lithograph after a woodcut, 1896
Henri Rivière was born in Montmartre, and is in many ways the quintessential Parisian artist. Besides his graphic work, he also invented a form of shadow play, ombres chinoises, which was a speciality of the Chat Noir nightclub, and of which Henri Rivière and Caran d'Ache (Russian-born satirist Emmanuel Poiré, 1858-1909) were the chief exponents. I don’t have any example of Rivière’s silhouette images to show, but I do have two (also from The Studio) from Caran d’Ache’s celebrated shadow play on the Napoleonic Wars, L’Épopée (The Epic). These were printed on celluloid which has yellowed over time, but they still give an idea of the technique. For the actual play, the silhouettes were cut out of zinc and then projected onto a backlit screen—as much an early form of cinema as a kind of theatre. There’s apparently an excellent book on these plays, The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905 by Phillip Dennis Cate and Mary Shaw, but I haven’t yet seen it. The Musée d’Orsay has some 40 of the original zinc cut-outs.
Caran d'Ache, Two transparencies for L'Épopée
from The Studio, 1898