Thursday, December 16, 2010

The etchers' guru - Maxime Lalanne

The name of Maxime Lalanne would once have put thrills down the spine of many a keen young etcher - because it was Lalanne's Traité de la gravure à l'eau-forte (Treatise on Etching), first published by Alfred Cadart in 1866, from which thousands taught themselves the art of etching. Walter Franklin Lansil from my last post was one such young hopeful - and he had the pleasure of seeing his first ever etching published in an 1880 American edition of Lalanne's work. But Lalanne was not just seen as a teacher, he was revered as a master of etching. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, for instance, an etcher himself and editor of The Portfolio, which published many original etchings, wrote that, "No one ever etched so gracefully as Maxime Lalanne." The etcher and lithographer Joseph Pennell went further, saying that "His ability to express a great building, a vast town, or a delicate little landscape has never been equalled, I think, by anybody but Whistler." So are their contemporary judgements still valid today?

Maxime Lalanne, Une rue de Rouen
Etching, 1884
Villet 152, state ii/II

In my view, Maxime Lalanne was a supremely competent etcher, who in some plates - maybe a dozen out of around 200 - captured not just a sense of harmony and beauty, but the true atmosphere of a place. I don't have many Lalanne etchings, and wish I could show you at this point his Rue des Marmousets of 1862, his Un effet du bomdardement of 1870-71, or his Vieux quartier d'Amsterdam of 1881. But I do have one of his stunners, Une rue de Rouen, a relatively late work etched in 1884 and published the following year by The Portfolio.

Maxime Lalanne, Traveller on a Road in a Forest
Etching, 1866
Villet 32, state iv/VI

A while ago I had cause to be in touch with Jeffrey Villet, the leading expert on Lalanne. I had been offered a plate by Lalanne, published in 1889 by G. Barrie in Philadelphia, with what appeared to be a drypoint remarque by another hand in the margin. We managed to work out that the remarque was almost certainly by the Philadelphia artist Frank Le Brun Kirkpatrick - a piece of information now generally available to the public in the latest edition of The Complete Prints of Maxime Lalanne: Catalogue Raisonné, Lithographs and Etchings (3rd ed., expanded; Washington: 2010), of which Jeffrey Villet has been kind enough to send me a copy. It's a model of its kind, guiding the collector and connoisseur through a bewildering number of "states" of each of Lalanne's prints, which are almost never hand-signed and numbered as they might be today.

Maxime Lalanne, À Séville
Etching, 1866
Villet 33, state iv/VI

François Antoine Maxime Lalanne was born in Bordeaux in 1827, and died in Nogent-sur-Marne in 1886. A pupil of Jean-François Gigoux, he exhibited at the Salon de Paris from 1852-1886, chiefly etchings and charcoal drawings. His first prints in the 1850s were lithographs, but by 1862 he had switched to the newly-popular technique of etching (though interestingly he never embraced the use of aquatint, which enables the etcher to draw on tone as well as line in compositions). Maxime Lalanne was one of the earliest etchers of the French etching boom, and was commissioned by that movement's ringmaster, the publisher Alfred Cadart, to write his highly influential guide to the art of etching, Traité de la gravure à l'eau-forte, in 1866. Lalanne was one of the founding members of Cadart's Société des Aquafortistes in 1862, and the bulk of his etchings were published by Cadart or his successors.

Maxime Lalanne, Souvenir de Bordeaux
Etching, 1878
Villet 124, state iii/III

Maxime Lalanne was devoted to etching and drawing, and died with a stick of charcoal in his hand, despite suffering from the crippling bone disease osteomalacia. Despite all the praise he garnered in his lifetime, Lalanne's star faded with the arrival of Impressionism, besides which his meticulously detailed etchings began to seem fussy and overworked. The extent to which Lalanne's organization of his compositions results in a sense of harmony and balance that reflects the artist's individual vision, rather than simply recording what he saw, has only recently been recognized.

Maxime Lalanne, Le simoun
Etching after Eugène Fromentin, 1878
Villet 126, state iii/IV

After a long period of neglect, the gently perceptive and unfailingly harmonious art of Maxime Lalanne is once again appreciated.


Groslier said...

Thank you, it is instructive and engravings are beautiful

Neil said...

Thanks, TG. Lalanne is one of those artists who find themselves like a person on a boat with one foot on the boat and the other on the shore. In the end, you have to fall in. In his case, the boat was Salon art, and the shore was Impressionism. Now, we can see how facile these divisions are, and begin to appreciate those who bridged the great divide.

Groslier said...

I agree, indeed time is a judge sometimes more lenient… because humbler than us…

Je partage ce que vous dites, effectivement le temps est un juge parfois plus indulgent… parce que plus humble que nous…