Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Art Deco elegance: the art of Jean-Emile Laboureur

The founder of the group Les Peintres-Graveurs Indépendants, Jean-Émile Laboureur was one of the most successful and influential printmakers of his day, and a man who rode the waves of successive art movements, creating 794 prints. Laboureur was born in Nantes in 1877. He went to Paris in 1895, studying at the Académie Julian. His mentor, the Nantes industrialist and art collector Lotz-Brissoneau, introduced him to the printmaker Auguste Lepère, who taught him the art of wood engraving. Lepère published Laboureur's first woodcut, Au Luxembourg, in L'Image in July 1897. In that same year, Laboureur made his first etchings, and also created his first lithographs under the watchful eye of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whom he met at l'imprimerie Ancourt.  Lautrec's influence can be seen in his work over the next decade. Another strong influence on Laboureur's early woodcuts was Paul Gauguin, but neither Lautrec's vivacity nor Gauguin's primitivism truly reflected Laboureur's inner nature, as shown by the speed with which Laboureur was seduced by the sophistication of Cubism. I believe Jean-Émile Laboureur was the first printmaker to be strongly influenced by Cubism (around 1913), though his Cubist aesthetic soon mutated into an elegant, almost dandy-ish Art Deco world of languid elongated hedonists.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Broadway, New York
Etching, 1907

My prints by Jean-Émile Laboureur  include etchings, copper engravings, and wood engravings, made between 1907 and 1928. The earliest, an etched view of Broadway in New York, published by the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, is one of the products of Laboureur's early years in the United States, where he taught at the Art Student's League in New York, and made some striking etchings of both New York and Pittsburgh. In the period 1899-1911 Laboureur lived in Dresden, the USA, Canada, London, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, before returning definitively to Paris.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Sur la Marne
Engraving, 1924

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Sur la Tamise
Wood engraving, 1924

Once back in Paris, Jean-Émile Laboureur made friends with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the artist Marie Laurencin, becoming Laurencin's tutor in printmaking. It was at this period that he really developed his own artistic style, though a catalogue of 1909 already lists 171 prints. In 1916 he turned to copper engraving, and this became his most distinctive and individual means of expression. His early wartime engravings, Petites images de la guerre sur le front britannique, made while serving as an interpreter for the British troops at the Western Front, are wonderfully-observed, and very much studies in manners rather than depictions of warfare. In style they are not unlike his 1924 engraving Sur la Marne, though of course the subject matter is entirely different. From the same year I have another scene of indolent pleasure-seekers disporting on a river, this time on the Thames. Both river scenes were published in Byblis.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Paysage
Wood engraving, 1922

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Le Cinéma
Wood engraving, 1924

The two small-scale wood engravings above were made for the annual almanachs of the Société de la Gravure sur Bois Originale, in which French wood engravers strove to impress each other with their virtuosity. The almanachs were issued in editions of only 160 copies.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Falling out of bed
Engraving, 1925

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Venice in the rain
Engraving, 1925

My 1925 engravings of Venice come from one of 75 separate suites without text of Laboureur's illustrations for The Devil on Love by Jacques Cazotte. They were printed on Hollande van Gelder paper by Stanley Morison.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Fernand Fleuret
Engraving, 1928

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Restif de la Bretonne
Engraving, 1928

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Scene in a brothel
Engraving, 1928

These 1928 engravings were made for Fernand Fleuret's Supplément au Spectateur Nocturne, and include portraits of both Fleuret (another friend of Apollinaire) and the author to whose work he was supplying a modern twist, Restif de la Bretonne.

Jean-Émile Laboureur, Walk in the park
Engraving, 1928

There were major retrospectives of the art of Jean-Émile Laboureur in 1991 and 1996, both in his home town of Nantes. For much of the information above I am indebted to Janine Bailly-Herzberg's invaluable Dictionnaire de l'Estampe en France.


Jane Librizzi said...

Laboureur was even more prolific than I thought. He seems to have found more geunuine pleasure in cubism than some other artists, who made it look like a doctrinaire exercise - rather like twelve tone composition. A collapsing bed frame, if that's what happens in "Falling Out of Bed", is downright funny. Always like to see more Laboureur.

Neil said...

Jane, one of the things I nearly wrote in the original post is that the WWI engravings are actually very funny - not making fun of the war, or of suffering, but enjoying the absurdities of life in crisis.

Vincent Nappi said...

great stuff!

thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Sylvain Laboureur, the son of Jean-Emile Laboureur published the complete "Catalogue Raisonne" from his father :
Catalogue complet de l'oeuvre de Jean-Émile Laboureur / Sylvain Laboureur. - Neuchâtel : Ides et calendes, cop. 1989cop. 1991. - 3 vol. (826, 663, 515 p.) : ill. en noir et en coul. ; 21 cm.
Comprend : Tome 1, Gravures et lithographies individuelles ; Tome 2, Livres illustrés ; Tome 3-4, Peintures, aquarelles et gouaches; (4) Documentation
4 tomes en 3 vol. - Bibliogr. Index
ISBN 2-8258-0026-0 (vol. 1). - ISBN 2-8258-0032-5 (vol. 2). - ISBN 2-8258-0034-1 (vol. 3).

Neil said...

Thanks, Vincent.

Neil said...

Intaglio - Unfortunately I've never managed to see Sylvain Laboureur's catalogue. The Bodleian Library - my nearest research library - has earlier catalogues by Boutet-Loyer and Lombardini, but not the definitive 3-volume one compiled by Laboureur's son.

Haji baba said...

He manages to make the Isis look like the Grand Canal. And it's very unusual for anyone to master copper engraving and etching and wood engraving (though I must say I don't think he achieves very much with the latter). But the tone of those copper engravings is what is so superb.


Neil said...

Charles - There's no doubt that engraving on copper was Laboureur's liberation and fulfillment as an artist. Without it, he may not be remembered. But I like his other work too - the wood engraving of lazy pleasures on the Thames (or Isis, as I too think of it), but also the 1920s Art Deco cinema with a cowboy film unfolding before the enraptured audience...

Neil said...

Charles - I just re-looked at the image, and see how cleverly Laboureur has made the hand of the punter into the stern of a gondola, which I guess echoes the origin of the motif on gondolas - it's the fingers of the gondolier's hand. What a witty conception, and how clever of you to notice it.

Ravilious and Bawden Blog said...

Nice post Neil. It's very interesting to compare Laboureur's cinema with Edward Bawden's late 1920s line drawing "Pictures" for London Transport. I wonder if EB was influenced by or aware of J-EL...

Neil said...

Tim - This is from Malcolm Yorke, Edward Bawden and His Circle, p. 44, discussing Bawden's early engravings, and beginning with a quote from Douglas Percy Bliss: "'His work is technically akin to that of Laboureur in that he is economical on line, but is less sweet and witty in style, harder, more caustic at bottom that that of the Frenchman.' Jean-Emile Laboureur was indeed somebody Bawden was enthusiastic about, having seen reproductions of his prints in such magazines as Artwork." Because Laboureur spoke perfect English, he had a lot more to do with the English scene than many of his contemporaries - he was commissioned by various English publishers, including the Golden Cockerel Press. My prints for The Devil in Love are a case in point; Laboureur had illustrated this text for a French publisher several years previously, but the engravings for the English edition are quite different.

Unknown said...

If you like Laboureur's works,have a look at this :

Be careful with the "Catalogue complet de l'oeuvre de Jean-Émile Laboureur" by Sylvain Laboureur. There are many mistakes with the illustrated books.

Neil said...

Thanks, Monsieur de Bougrelon. I now have a copy of volume 2 of Sylvain Laboureur's catalogue, the one that lists the illustrated books. I'm not surprised if there are mistakes and omissions - no book of this scope would ever be perfect - but I am finding it useful.

Unknown said...

Dear Neil,
if you're looking for the others volumes I can have them.
Just tell me.
Christophe Sudre

thhq said...

Without a doubt I have collected more Laboureur illustrated books than any other artist. The best paper for his slim lines was used for the Sterne novels (Golden Cockerel), but I like his bold Nabi and cubist woodcuts best. The early style is very much like Vallotton, and he still used it from time to time up until the 1920's. There were excellent reviews of his work published in AMG and The Fleuron at the height of his popularity.

Neil said...

thhq - I envy you your collection of Laboureur books. I too like his bolder woodcut style.

Adrian Money said...

I have the etching "La Fille au littre" although mine is smaller than the usual one - the plate is about 70mm by 120mm - and it is signed with a single L in the plate (not dated). It does not appear to be signed in pencil (unless under the mount). Any ideas about when published? (haven't listed it yet in my gallery as I want to make sure I describe it as accurately as possible.


Neil said...

Hi Adrian - You'd really need to check the catalogue raisonné, but I believe La fille au litre was published in two sizes. The third and final state of the "grande planche" was issued in 1921 in a signed numbered edition of 65. catalogued as L.217. The petite planche served as the frontispiece for the 1921 edition of Le Nouveau Keepsake (edited by Laboureur and Boulestin), signed only with the L in the plate. It is catalogued by Sylvain Laboureur in tome II of his catalogue, Livres illustrés. He dates it to 1920, and mentions 17 signed proofs before the addition of the monogram and the title, and then a total of 22 proofs on blue paper, plus 651 for the Nouveau Keepsake. There was a further printing of 126 copies on pink paper in 1990, for the exemplaires de tête of the catalogue (numbered 1-100 and A-Z), after which the plate was cancelled. La Fille au Litre (Petite Planche) is L.197, so this plate preceded the larger work.

Neil said...

Adrian, By the way, La fille au litre is an engraving rather than an etching. Confusingly there's also a woodcut of the same subject, La fille au litre (deuxième petite planche), of which 700 copies were published in 1923 in a catalogue of L'Art et le papiers de Montval.