Tuesday, January 25, 2011

With the grain: the woodcuts of René Quillivic

The sculptor and wood engraver René Quillivic (1879-1969) was born into a humble family in the village of Plouhinec in the department of Finistère in Brittany. He attended the night classes at the École Boulle in Paris, studying sculpture under Marius Jean Antonin Mercié. Although he exhibited at various Paris Salons - des Artistes Français, de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, des Indépendants, d'Automne - the art of René Quillivic remained rooted in his native Brittany. He left his heart-rending mark on its landscape in the form of many war memorials to the fallen of the First World War. Many of these are in the Pays Bigouden, the area of Finistère made famous by Pêr-Jakez Helias in his marvellous book The Horse of Pride.

René Quillivic, Marine bretonne
Woodcut, 1922

Besides his sculptures, René Quillivic was noted for his woodcuts. He exhibited his prints in both Paris and London, and was a member of the Société de la Gravure sur Bois Originale. As a sculptor, Quillivic preferred the robustness of the woodcut (cut on the plank of the wood, with the grain) to the delicacy of the wood engraving (cut on the end grain).

René Quillivic, La vague
Woodcut, 1929

No Breton artist can escape the sea, and René Quillivic is no exception. All three of my Quillivic woodcuts are marine subjects. They show a certain Art Deco elegance, and also the lingering influence of Japonisme, especially in the beautifully rhythmical depiction of a tumultuous sea in La vague (The wave).

René Quillivic, Oceano Nox
Woodcut, 1929

Perhaps the most remarkable of the three is the one entitled Oceano Nox, after a poem by Victor Hugo. Is the fisherman in the image drowning, or simply entering a new life in the undersea world? In his essay "René Quillivic, graveur Breton" in the revue Byblis in 1929, Charles Chassé links this print to a second poem by Tristan Corbière, who writes of the death of sailors that
                              ... ils sont mort dans leur bottes
Leur boujaron au coeur, tout vifs dans leur capotes.
They die with their boots on, their ration of rum in their hearts, 
all alive in their sou'westers.

13 comments:

curator said...

These are wonderful. The reflections of the sails!

Neil said...

Glad you like them! It's interesting that the earlier piece, with those lovely fluid reflections, is really quite spare, while the other two are busy compositions with very little white space. I'm not sure how Quillivic's art developed after this point.

Roxana said...

oh, these are overwhelming, especially the wave and the last one, that man seems to have plunged into the deep underwater of his psyche, i see a clear Jungian symbolic here...

(thank you for commenting on my dreamy cats, indeed, i wondered who that anonymous might have been :-)

Neil said...

So glad you feel the same as I do about these, Roxana. "The deep underwater of the psyche" is a brilliant description of the hidden meaning of this strange and powerful print.

Gerrie said...

Never heard of Quillivic before but he is really nice, especially his wink to Hokusai's Wave. Great!

Neil said...

Gerrie, I don't think he's very well-known now outside of Brittany.

Jane Librizzi said...

I found a Quillivic woodcut that I reaaly admire - 'The City of Ys' -that I've been saving for a couple of years. It's from the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Thank you for the information about him.

Neil said...

Well, Jane, you can't get more Breton than the drowned city of Ys! Seeing this image on your site, with the sea depicted very much as in my La vague print, makes me think the two may be quite similar in date - my copy of La vague was published in Byblis in 1929, but the block may well have been cut earlier, closer in time to the 1924 date of the Ys engraving.

Dave Rudin said...

These are wonderful, Neil, but "La vague" especially so!

Neil said...

Dave - the more I look at them, the more I want to know about Quillivic - at the moment I don't even know if he continued making woodcuts after the 1920s. A visit to Brittany may be called for...

TG said...

Très beau, La vague me fait penser au peintures de Delacroix sur le même thème… Thank you

Neil said...

Interesting comparison to Delacroix, Thomas - I wouldn't have made the connection, but I can see what you mean.

david said...

wonderful images... can't wait to hear if you learn any more... David