Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Falling between two schools

One of the tricks art history plays on us is to maintain the fiction that artists fall neatly into schools – this one an Impressionist, that one a Symbolist, etc. Of course these movements exist, as tides in the history of art, and of course artists do ally themselves to them. Some artists cause the tides, others are swept along by the current. But life is never quite as neat as history, and one of the results of this way of categorizing art is that artists who fall between two schools tend to get unfairly ignored.

This is true of the two artists I intend to discuss today, who also happened to be close friends, Edmond Aman-Jean and Albert Besnard. It was Aman-Jean and Besnard who founded the Salon des Tuileries, in 1922. The art of both is alternately described as Symbolist and Impressionist, without either label being really satisfactory. In Achille Segard’s Peintres d’aujourd’hui (1914), Aman-Jean and Besnard are treated in a volume entitled Les Décorateurs, alongside other hard-to-classify artists - Vuillard, Denis, La Touche, Chéret, Baudouin, and Henri Martin.

Aman-Jean is celebrated especially as a painter of women, whom he represented as withdrawn and mysterious, rapt in their own thoughts and ultimately unknowable. Both of the recent books on him have the word “femme” in the title: Patrick-Gilles Persin’s Aman-Jean, Peintre de la Femme (1993), and Baligand et. Al., Aman-Jean, Songes des Femmes (2003). Aman-Jean’s friend Ernest Laurent depicted women in a similar dream-like and withdrawn manner.

Ernest-Joseph Laurent, Soir d’Octobre, lithograph, 1898

Edmond François Aman-Jean was born in Chevry-Cossigney (Seine et Marne). His real name was Edmond François Jean Amand. Orphaned at the age of 10, Edmond Aman-Jean was taken in by an uncle in Paris. He commenced his art studies in the atelier of the sculptor Justin Lequien; one of his fellow pupils was Georges Seurat, and the two became close friends. In 1878 Aman-Jean and Seurat moved on to the Paris Beaux-Arts together, to study in the atelier of Henri Lehmann. Aman-Jean, Seurat, and fellow-student Ernest Laurent fell under the spell of Impressionism at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition of 1879, and resolved to leave the Beaux-Arts. Although closely associated with Seurat, Edmond Aman-Jean was more influenced by Symbolism than Pointillism, perhaps because of his close friendships with the Symbolist poets Mallarmé and Verlaine (of whom he made a ghostly lithographic portrait in 1891).

In 1881, Aman-Jean discovered the work of Puvis de Chavannes, and from 1883 he worked with Puvis on the grand "Bois Sacré" that decorates one wall of the staircase of the Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Aman-Jean produced his first lithographs around 1890, encouraged by Léonce Bénédite. My lithograph Sous les fleurs, from 1898, is typical of Aman-Jean’s colour lithographs; it was published by L’Estampe moderne.

Edmond Aman-Jean, Sous les fleurs, lithograph, 1898

Edmond Aman-Jean took up etching in 1908 under the influence and tutelage of his close friend Albert Besnard. Aman-Jean etched between 20 and 30 plates, starting with sketches of dogs and geese, then studies of his children and Besnard's, and ending with a series of studies of a female model. Aman-Jean seems to have made these etchings for his own pleasure without any intention of publishing them; he pulled a few proofs of each subject and set them aside.

Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne, exemplaire XI

In 1926, André Dezarrois, editor of the monthly Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne, interviewed Aman-Jean about these etchings, and chose one to publish in the Revue. This etching, La femme à la corbeille (Woman with a basket of fruit), an astonishing tour-de-force, showing the influence of the Fauves. Aman-Jean told Dezarrois, "Les autres planches que vous aimez sont faites d'après un modèle assez beau, que j'avais à l'époque. Oui, on le reconnaît bien avec ses fruits, ses corbeilles." La femme à la corbeille is so far as I know the only one of Aman-Jean’s etchings to be formally published. I don’t know how many copies were printed; I would guess the Revue had a print run of 500 or so. There were also about 20 special copies printed for the Revue’s Comité de Rédaction (6 members, including Dezarrois and Bénédite) and Comité de Patronage (8 members). These were exemplaires nominatifs, with a special title page, numbered in sequence and named to a specific person. They also had the original graphics in two states, the extra plate usually being printed on better paper, and often hand-signed by the artist. I’ve been lucky enough to acquire one of these, with the Aman-Jean etching printed on Japan paper and hand-signed in pencil. Because he was so casual about them, signed Aman-Jean etchings are almost non-existent, so this is a true rarity.

Edmond Aman-Jean, La femme à la corbeille, 1908

After mastering the art of etching with such enthusiasm, Aman-Jean then abandoned it, fearing it would distract him from his painting. Before WWI Aman-Jean had considerable success as a painter, in the United States as well as in France. The Salon des Tuileries mounted an exhibition of his work in homage in the year after his death. More recently there was a retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris in 1970, and another in Douai, Carcassonne, and Bourg-en-Bresse in 2003-4.

Albert Besnard, Étude de nu, etching, 1905

Albert Besnard was born in Paris and studied at the Beaux-Arts under Cabanel. Besnard made his debut at the Salon of 1868 at the age of just 19. As an etcher, Albert Besnard was influenced by Whistler and also by his friend Anders Zorn. Besnard’s etchings were intensely admired in his day, with a 1920 catalague raisonné by André-Charles Coppier, Les Eaux-fortes de Besnard. This was just one of at least 8 monographs on Besnard published between 1913 and 1933, but I can find only one subsequent work, Albert Besnard, L’oeuvre grave, published by the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1949. So he is an artist absolutely ripe for rediscovery.

Albert Besnard, Portrait de Madame Roger-Jourdain, interpretative etching by André-Charles Coppier, 1900

Besnard, like Aman-Jean, was particularly known for studies of women. One of my Besnard etchings is an interpretative etching by André-Charles Coppier after Besnard’s 1886 portrait of the Society hostess and famed beauty Henriette Roger-Jourdain, which is now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Mme Roger-Jourdain was also painted by John Singer Sargent and by Giovanni Boldini.

Albert Besnard, Femme nue, etching, 1911

My original Besnard etchings include two nudes, in a style not far from that of Renoir, and a very striking study of a girl with dishevelled hair, wrapped in a blanket; she could have stepped out of a Toulouse-Lautrec.

Albert Besnard, Étude, etching/aquatint, 1906

Besnard lived in London in the 1880s, where he was friendly with Whistler and Tissot. It was at Besnard’s London home that Tissot, grieving for his mistress and model Kathleen Newton, asked the famous medium William Eglinton to hold a series of séances to try to contact her. On the night of May 20th 1885, Eglinton fell over in a trance. Clouds of luminous smoke formed around him, which materialised in the form of a woman. One contemporary claimed that this was really a model who worked for Besnard, but Tissot was convinced it was Kathleen; he recorded the experience in an oil painting and a mezzotint. Tissot also later etched a portrait of Eglinton for a biography by the lexicographer and pornographer J. S. Farmer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A great etcher before God

Before Impressionism shook everything up, the printmakers of the French etching revival had two icons. The first was Rembrandt. Many etchers – for instance Norbert Goeneutte – started out by copying Rembrandts. Rembrandt’s mastery of light and shade, and his masterly use of the drypoint needle to add intricate detail to the etched plate, were the model to be followed, and his very name had a talismanic quality.

Lisière d’un bois Vendéen
Etching after Victor Hugo by Henri Guérard, 1876

The second icon was the writer Victor Hugo. Etchers found in Hugo’s prose the exact literary equivalent of an etching plate, deeply bitten, fiercely cross-hatched, brimming with tension and possibility. Artists such as Célestin François Nanteuil found a never-failing well of inspiration in Hugo’s work.

This veneration of Hugo reached its apogee in the short-lived weekly journal Paris à l’eau-forte, which was published between 1873-1876. In 1876 its editor, Richard Lesclide, pronounced Victor Hugo the greatest etcher of the century. He argued that, “It is not necessary, to be a great etcher before God, to produce etchings.”

Hugo was in fact a keen amateur artist – many of his drawings now hang in the Maison de Victor Hugo in the Place des Vosges. But he never did take up etching. To make up for this deficiency, Lesclide commissioned the great etcher Henri Guérard to produce two etchings after drawings made by Hugo while working on his novel Quatre-vingt-treize.

Une forêt dans le bocage
Etching after Victor Hugo by Henri Guérard, 1876

These are very powerful works, both showing woodland scenes. Guérard, as well as producing fine work in his own right, was highly-regarded as an interpretative etcher; he was for instance entrusted with the task of making etchings after paintings by Édouard Manet.

When Paris à l’eau-forte failed, Richard Lesclide became Victor Hugo’s secretary; the Boswell to his Johnson.

Autograph hunting

One of the first things anyone said to me when I started buying prints is that, “Unsigned prints are worthless.” Now it is true that a print hand-signed by the artist is going to be worth more than an unsigned print, but there are many other elements that define the worth of a print beside a mere signature. Aesthetic value, subject, rarity, and above all authenticity, play their part. By authenticity, I mean this: if a print is supposed to be signed, it should be signed; if it is not supposed to be signed, it should, in general, not be signed.

I have, for instance, a set of Picasso linocuts issued as Picasso Linogravures in 1962. These are magnificent things, but they are immaculate facsimiles, authorised and approved by Picasso, not original Picassos. The linocuts were first issued in signed editions of 50 by Galerie Louise Leiris, printed by Arnéra. Because of the reduction method invented and used by Picasso, which uses just one plate of linoleum instead of a separate one for each colour, it would have been impossible to make any more prints from the original plates. Instead, new linoleum plates were made at 42% of the original size, and it is from these that my linocuts were made.

Pablo Picasso, Bacchanale au taureau, 1959 - unsigned facsimile linocut

Because they are so beautiful, and so obviously genuine relief prints rather than reproductions, they are frequently offered for sale without any of the above information being pointed out, and, mysteriously, with the signature of Pablo Picasso in pencil in the bottom right. Now if anyone seriously believes that Picasso sat down and religiously signed each plate in Picasso Linogravures they are welcome to do so, but I prefer my copies unsigned, as they were issued.

Oskar Kokoschka, Mädchenbildnis, 1920 - signed original lithograph

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. An obvious one is my Oskar Kokoschka lithograph, Mädchenbildnis (Portrait of a girl). This was one of the original prints included in the 1923 edition of Die kunst des radierens (The Art of Printmaking) by Hermann Struck. This book was published by Paul Cassirer, who was also Oskar Kokoschka’s dealer. The lithograph is initialled OK “in the stone”, and that is how it was issued. But I was surprised and delighted to discover that my copy had also been hand-signed in pencil by Kokoschka, with his distinctive zigzagged signature, and the inscription, “Orig. lithographie Oskar Kokoschka 1920”. I have no doubts as to the authenticity of this signature, or the date, which sets this work back three years into the heart of Kokoschka’s most creative and vital phase. Kokoschka may have signed some copies in Cassirer’s office; or perhaps he signed this for a friend; whichever way, I am glad he did.

Henry Detouche, Le Toucher, 1904 - original etching with aquatint, signed in the plate

The convention of having the artist hand-sign and justify each copy of a print only evolved in the early twentieth century, anyway. Before that, a signed print would probably be a “bon à tirer” proof, signed as a guide to the printer as to how each subsequent proof should look, or possibly an individual gift from the artist to a friend, usually with an inscription. Nineteenth century prints may be signed or initialled within the plate, or credited in type below the image; they are not generally hand-signed. I have, for instance, a copy of an exceptionally scarce portfolio of Art Nouveau etchings with aquatint, Les Cinq Sens by Henry Detouche, published in 1904 in 60 numbered copies. Mine is one of a small number of additional artist’s copies, marked Exemplaire de Présent. It is very warmly inscribed on the title page and signed by Henry Detouche, but even though there are only five etchings, I don’t believe it occurred to him to hand-sign the individual prints. They are signed H. Detouche in the plate; to add a hand signature would have been superfluous.

Because many of my print acquisitions have been sets of prints rather than individual images, I have many examples where the individual prints are signed in the plate or completely unsigned, but the justification page that states the limitation of the edition, and specifies the printer, the paper, and the publisher, is hand-signed by the artist. In my view, a copy of this provided with the print supplies much of what a collector really wants, which is a cast-iron guarantee of the rarity, quality, and authenticity of the print.

Otherwise, print collecting becomes just a branch of autograph hunting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The secret art of Albert Marquet

Albert Marquet, Figures on the Pont des Arts, lithograph, 1950

Think of the Fauve artist Albert Marquet and you think either of his iconic views of the Seine, leaden under a lowering sky, or of his bright and optimistic North African scenes. I have original prints by Marquet in both these modes – lithographs of Paris, and engravings of Algeria.

Albert Marquet, Minarets, engraving, 1947

But I also have a portfolio of lithographs of quite a different and unexpected order. Its innocent-sounding title is L’Académie des Dames: Vingt Attitudes. The nature of the contents is only given away by the insouciant made-up address of the publisher: New York: Sixty-ninth avenue. The portfolio was actually published in Paris, the name of the publisher being given as Éditions des Quatre-Chemins Éditart.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

The portfolio contained 20 lithographs (I only have 19 of these) portraying two nude female models in a variety of erotic postures. It was issued in 25 copies on Japon imperial and 300 on vélin d’Arches, of which mine is no. 281. The work is definitely by Marquet – not just because the title page says so, or because the lithographs are signed in the stone with his initials, but because the freedom of line chimes completely with, say, the lovely quick sketches he made to illustrate Bubu of Montparnasse. It’s not the style but the subject matter that surprises.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

If you look at photographs of Albert Marquet – sitting, for instance, in the beautiful light studio at 19, quai Saint-Michel that he took over from Matisse – he looks respectable and buttoned-up. You might take him for a successful small shopkeeper. You certainly wouldn’t expect him to have a portfolio of explicit lesbian lithographs tucked under his arm.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

The portfolio isn’t dated. However, Le Dessin Fauve: 1900-1908, the catalogue of a 2002 exhibition at the Musée Cantini in Marseille, reproduces on page 130 two drawings by Marquet that are clearly linked to the Académie des Dames lithographs, showing the same models in similar poses. Another stylistically similar lewd drawing by Marquet reproduced in Le Dessin Fauve, dated 1905, shows the painter Charles Camoin with a nude model, in an attitude that suggests the young Fauves were enjoying a period of sexual freedom and louche behaviour at this time of artistic and personal self-discovery. Although the lesbian drawings are not precisely dated, this allows us to suggest a date c.1905 for the lithographs. Marquet would therefore have been a young man of about 30 when he made them. On the other hand I see that Wikipedia, which isn’t always wrong, dates “the illustration of a work on lesbian lovers” to 1910-1914. Whichever date is correct, we can certainly assume that the lithographs are pre-WWI, and pre-Marquet’s marriage.

In 1923 Albert Marquet married Marcelle Matinet, who wrote books under the pen-name Marcelle Marty. I suspect Mme Marquet would have taken a dim view of any further hot girl-on-girl modelling sessions. So the daring Académie des Dames lithographs, with their lithe, supple line and their tender sense of shared intimacy, remain perhaps our best chance to get to know the respectable artist as a passionate, young, unmarried man.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

Like the rest of the Fauves, Pierre Léopold Albert Marquet came from a humble background. He was born in Bordeaux, where his father worked on the railways. When he was 15 it became clear that the boy should study art, drawing being his only interest, so mother and son went to Paris, where Marquet’s mother and her neice opened a dress shop to bring in enough money to fund his studies. It was at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs that Marquet met his lifelong friend Henri Matisse. When the two went on the Beaux-Arts to study under Gustave Moreau, they widened their circle to include Henri Manguin, Henri Evenepoël, and Charles Camoin.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mariette Lydis and Suzanne Ballivet

Mariette Lydis, Nude - hand-coloured drypoint, 1949

Several websites make the claim that the Buenos Aires-based artist Mariette Lydis also worked under the pseudonym Suzanne Ballivet, both for clandestine erotica and for risqué trade publications. Because Ballivet's Initiation Amoureuse claims to have been printed in Buenos Aires in 1943, and because although Ballivet’s work is cruder and more hurried, there are definite stylistic affinities between the two women, for some time I thought that this identification was quite likely. After all, it's hardly likely that there could have been two different French women artists obsessed with lesbianism and erotic transgression living and working in Buenos Aires at the same time. And the pseudonym would have given Lydis the opportunity to have a second crack at commercially-attractive texts by writers such as Baudelaire and Louys.

However, it turns out that Lydis and Ballivet are, in fact, two completely different women. Suzanne Ballivet was an artist in her own right, who studied at the Beaux Arts de Montepellier in the 1920s, where she met the illustrator Albert Dubout, whom she was to marry in 1968. Initiation Amoureuse was actually published in Paris by Georges Guillot around 1950; the Buenos Aires claim is just a piece of flim-flam of the kind beloved of clandestine publishers.

Mariette Lydis, Nude torso - hand-coloured drypoint, 1949

Both Lydis and Ballivet worked with Georges Guillot around the same time, which is another possible source of the confusion between the two. I have an edition of Verlaine's Parallèlement published by Guillot in 1949, illustrated with original drypoints by Mariette Lydis. There were 520 copies, of which 190 had the drypoints (plus 5 planches refusées) delicately hand-coloured by the publisher's wife, Nadine Guillot. My copy also has one of 90 additional suites of the drypoints in black.

Édouard Chimot and Les Éditions d'Art Devambez

Édouard Chimot, Perfection - etching/aquatint for L'Enfer, 1921

The French etcher and lithographer Édouard Chimot (1880-1959) was one of those artists who carried the Symbolist aesthetic forward into the age of Art Deco. Chimot’s heyday was the 1920s. This was when his own art was at its most powerful and original. But in addition to this, this was when Chimot’s influence was strongly felt throughout the Parisian art world. As Artistic Director of the fine press Les Éditions d’Art Devambez, Édouard Chimot worked closely with artists such as Pierre Brissaud, Edgar Chahine, Tsuguharu Foujita, Drian, Jean Droit, Henri Farge, and Alméry Lobel-Riche.

Édouard Chimot, Conchita - etching/aquatint with remarques, for La Femme et Le Pantin, 1928

Typically, books published by André Devambez under the direction of Chimot were illustrated with original prints, in strictly limited editions of a few hundred copies. These books are now rare and sought-after, both by bibliophiles and print collectors.

Les Éditions d'Art Devambez, signed and dedicated by Édouard Chimot

I have managed to acquire a copy of a lavish catalogue published by Devambez in an edition of 100 and given to his chief collaborators and preferred clients, containing extra proofs from all the books published from 1923-1929. Each copy of this catalogue was numbered and signed by Chimot to a named recipient. As almost all the books are already listed as out-of-print and unobtainable, the catalogue is not a sales pitch, but a record of achievement. To make the 100 books, the publisher bound up existing proof pages, to distribute to those most interested. ‘Ce n’est pas un catalogue de reproductions que nous lui offrons, mais les précieux défets des livres eux-mêmems: les eaux-fortes du triage et les feuilles typographiques du tirage, imprimées sur les différents papiers employés pour chaque edition.” In order to construct a catalogue in this way, all copies of the book must be unique in their content.

William Ablett, Greek scene - etching/aquatint for La Variabilité du Gout dans les Arts by Léon Arnoult, printed and published by Devambez "À l'enseigne du masque d'or", 1921

Devambez – himself a painter, printmaker, author, and printer, as well as publisher – may have regretted the extra expense involved in creating this exquisite calling card, as the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Depression must have devastated his market. No one would be buying, or bankrolling, projects such as these in the 1930s. There were a number books still in the pipeline, but the glory days of the Chimot/Devambez partnership were over.

Pierre Brissaud, Two Young Men in a Bar - etching for La Vie en Fleur, 1924

The first book under Chimot’s direction was an edition of Le Petit Pierre by Anatole France, illustrated with colour etchings by Pierre Brissaud. The second was La Vie en Fleur, also by France, also illustrated with colour etchings by Brissaud. Pierre Brissaud later illustrated a third book for Chimot, an edition of Daudet’s Contes de Lundi, again illustrated with colour etchings. What is interesting about these projects is to see Brissaud, famous for his fashion plates and illustrations using the pochoir technique of hand-stencilled colour, achieving similar effects in conventional etchings. The colours are very rich, and the etchings deeply bitten.

Drian, Le sixième mariage de Barbe-bleu - etching for La Canne de Jaspe, 1924

Then follows the first of three titles illustrated with original etchings by Drian, La Canne du Jaspe by Henri de Régnier. Drian is another interesting Art Deco artist. He was born Adrien Desiré Étienne, into a peasant family in Lorraine. The chatelaine of the village took an interest in the talented boy, but was horrified by his desire to be an artist. So when Adrien Étienne went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, he took the pseudonym Drian – his own first name, as his contemporaries heard it in his slurred Lorrain accent. He is often listed as Adrien Drian or Étienne Drian, but both are incorrect: the name Drian stands alone, like Erté.

Édouard Chimot, Soir près du feu - etching/aquatint for Les Chansons de Bilitis, 1925

Édouard Chimot himself was the most prolific supplier of original prints to Les Éditions d’Art Devambez, illustrating with etchings Les Chansons du Bilitis, Les Poésies de Méléagre, Les Belles de Nuit, La Femme et le Pantin, and (subsequently) Le Jardin de l’Infante and Verlaine’s Parallèlement.

Tsuguharu Foujita, Two Japanese women - etching for La Troisième Jeuness de Madame Prune, 1926

The next artist represented is the Japanese master Tsuguharu Foujita, known in France as Léonard Foujita. Foujita illustrated Loti’s La Troisième Jeunesse de Madame Prune with 17 original colour etchings.

William Walcot, The siege of Carthage - etching for Salammbô, 1926

The English/Russian artist William Walcot, who studied in St. Petersburg and Paris, made etchings for Flaubert’s Salammbô and Hérodias.

Henri Farge, Visite au Bosphore - etching for L'Homme qui Assassina, 1926

Henri Farge provided vivid colour etchings of Istanbul in the 1920s for L’Homme qui assassina by Claude Farrère.

Edgar Chahine, Cirque - etching for Novembre, 1928

The etcher Edgar Chahine, who was born in Vienna, of Armenian origin, and brought up in Istanbul, brought his intimate impressionistic style to La Mort de Venise by Barrès and (later) Mitsou by Colette.

Henri le Riche, Dancer - etching for Les Nouvelles Asiatiques, 1927

Henri Le Riche (Hirné) illustrated Les Nouvelles Asiatiques by the Comte de Gobineau, also with original etchings.

Jean Droit, L'agonie de la Sémillante - etching for Lettres de Mon Moulin, 1927

Also in 1927 came an edition of Daudet’s Lettres de Mon Moulin, illustrated with original etchings by Jean Droit. Droit is remembered today for his Art Deco posters for the 1924 Olympic Games. He was also one of the pioneers of the Scout movement in Europe, under the pseudonym Loup-Bavard, Chatterbox-Wolf.

Auguste Brouet, Fishing boats - etching for Le Livre de l'Émeraude, 1927

Auguste Brouet, who as a young man worked alongside both Whistler and Degas, provided etchings for three titles, including a life of El Greco by Barrès.

Jean-Gabriel Domergue, Venetian beauty - etching for La Nuit Venétienne, 1928

The last artist featured in the catalogue is Jean-Gabriel Domergue, with colour etchings for La Nuit Vénitienne by Alfred de Musset. Domergue, whose “seductive and perverse” portrait of Gina Maletti was much admired by Apollinaire, claimed to be the inventor of the pin-up. “Ma première pin-up date de 1912,” he proclaimed. Most of my prints by Jean-Gabriel Domergue are colour lithographs from his 1956 portfolio La Parisienne, so I am very pleased to have 2 much earlier works from La Nuit Vénitienne of 1929.

There my fascinating Devambez catalogue runs out. There were still works to come from artists such as Henri Jourdain, Tigrane Polat, Louis Jou, and – perhaps most notably – Alméry Lobel-Riche’s reading of Wilde’s Salome. But those must wait for another day, and a deeper pocket.

An inspirational teacher

Gretl Hanus, Mutter mit kind

Under the name of Franz Cisek, the Idbury Prints website has eight Viennese Expressionist linocuts and wood engravings dating from 1919-1922. But Cisek was not the artist; he was the teacher. A member of the Wiener Sezession, Cisek (Austrian, 1865-?) was hired by the artist Baron Felician Myrbach von Rheinfeld to teach at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule. There Cisek established a thriving youth class, and invented the linocut as a cheap and easy way of making relief prints. The extraordinarily accomplished works created in this class by young artists Ine Probst, Gretl Hanus, Auguste Richter, Willy Obransky, Alfred Schildee, and Hellmut Stanzel are testimony to a figure as important in the development of art education as Herbert Read, Marion Richardson, or Viktor Lowenfeld. So far as I know none of these young artists went on to a career in the fine arts.

Ine Probst, Wirthausgarten

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mr. Knife Miss Fork

Max Ernst, Photogram for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, 1931

The photogram was invented by Max Ernst and Man Ray as a means of making a photograph without a camera or lens. Essentially it is a development of the earlier cliché-verre printmaking technique, which was briefly popular with the Barbizon School artists.

Max Ernst’s photograms are among the most important works of a long career in which he was one of the leading figures in two artistic revolutions, Dada and Surrealism. They were made by combining line drawing and frottage (textural rubbings) on pieces of thin translucent paper, and then using those pieces of paper as photographic negatives to create a reverse image (white on black) on photosensitive paper. Each photogram had to be individually made from the original drawing.

The best of Max Ernst’s photograms were his images for the book Mr. Knife Miss Fork, published in 1931 in an edition of 255 copies. I don’t have a copy of this, but I do have one of the photograms for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, separately printed for the specialist typographical journal Arts et Métiers Graphiques. In some ways this photogram stands alongside the contemporary fashion for white line wood-engraving, but the innovative technique employed sets it apart, as does the sublime confidence of Max Ernst’s image-making.

Max Ernst, Composition, lithograph, 1958

I also have several original lithographs by Ernst, but it is the photogram that stands out as a truly original and groundbreaking work of art.

The tide is high

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée IV

Cinemagoers of a certain age will remember the short film La Marée (The Tide), which was incorporated as the first of Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales, released in 1977 when Borowczyk was still an arthouse darling. It tells the story of a young man who uses the hypnotic rhythm of the incoming tide to seduce his cousin. The film was based on a novella by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, a writer associated both with the nouveau roman and with Surrealism. Like so many French writers, Mandiargues had many artist friends (and was married to an artist, Bona de Mandiargues). Among these friends was the American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning, who in 1970 created a suite of etchings with colour aquatint inspired by La Marée.

90 copies of a limited edition of the Tanning version of La Marée were published by Éditions Georges Visat, with the etchings printed on Arches. In addition, 90 suites of the etchings were printed on Japon nacré, hand-signed and justified by Dorothea Tanning.

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée V

I’ve been lucky enough to acquire one of these suites of Dorothea Tanning etchings, and they seem to me to rank among her finest work. She doesn’t try to illustrate the text in a direct way. Instead she responds to it, with a matching blend of eroticism, tension, and longing. Many of the images are almost abstract. Figures of a young man and a young woman merge with rocks and waves. And of course what a photograph can’t show is the sheer physicality of the prints themselves.

Dorothea Tanning, La Marée VII

I’ve only got one other Dorothea Tanning print, a lithograph related to her series En chair et en or, which was a 1973 suite of etchings with aquatint, in which distorted orgiastic forms further explore the surrealistic recesses of sexuality. These are very powerful works, but I prefer the more tender, even romantic, quality of her etchings for La Marée.

Dorothea Tanning, Untitled (En chair et en or)

Dorothea Tanning was Max Ernst’s third wife (after Marie-Berthe Aurenche and Peggy Guggenheim). Tanning has been rather wittily called “the oldest living Surrealist widow”; she was born in 1910, so she is fast approaching her centenary.

Flowers of evil

Alméry Lobel-Riche, Charles Baudelaire, 1921

It would be possible to argue that France’s two greatest poets – Charles Baudelaire and Guillaume Apollinaire – were also her two greatest art critics. Whereas in England the visual and literary worlds are quite separate, French writers and artists have been engaged in an intimate dialogue since at least the time of Victor Hugo.

The work of Baudelaire has continued to cast an hypnotic glamour over French artists. Baudelaire has inspired many great artists – Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, Kees van Dongen, Henri Héran, Armand Rassenfosse, Charles Despiau - and some of the epic journeys of 20th-century bookmaking, such as Édouard Goerg’s massive 2-volume edition of Les Fleurs du Mal, illustrated with 269 original lithographs.

I can’t count the number of prints I have that are inspired by Baudelaire – mostly by Les Fleurs du Mal, but also by Le Spleen de Paris, Les Paradis Artificiels and the Journaux Intimes.

Arnaud d'Hauterives, Qu'est-ce qu l'amour?, 1991

Most of these prints can be classed as Symbolist, with elements of Surrealism and Hyper-realism creeping in over the course of time. But even an artist such as Arnaud d’Hauterives, influenced by these later movements, is essentially extending the Symbolist aesthetic in his work. The influence of his teacher and friend Balthus is very evident in the art of Hauterives, but so too is that of earlier masters of shadow and light such as Odilon Redon and Georges Seurat. The concerns of the Symbolists, that complex interweaving of death, decadence, and desire, still speak powerfully to us even though Symbolism as a movement in art and literature is more than a century past its peak.

Arnaud d'Hauterives, Les Bijoux, 1985

Hauterives is not very well known outside France, though within it he is a venerable figure. He was born in Braine (Aisne) in 1933. He was taught printmaking by Édouard Goerg at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Arnaud d’Hauterives was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1984, serving as its President in 1987, 1991, and 1996, when he was also elected its Secrétaire Perpétuel. In 1986 Hauterives became curator of Monet’s collection at the Musée Marmottan.

Hauterives’ own artistic direction was powerfully shaped by Balthus, with whom he first came into contact after winning the Premier Grand Prix de Rome in 1957. The two artists share an ability to imbue a scene with a disquieting sense of dislocation and suppressed sexuality. They are both painters of atmosphere rather than appearance.

Arnaud d'Hauterives, Le plus beau des amants, 1991

I have been able to acquire suites of signed lithographs by Arnaud d’Hauterives inspired by Les Paradis Artificiels (1974; one of 72 copies), Les Fleurs du Mal (1985; one of 155 copies), and Les Journaux Intimes (1991; one of 68 copies) and count them among the jewels of the collection – erotic, ambiguous, unsettling. They are technically complex, too. I have a set of progressive proofs of one lithograph, Madrigal triste, showing that it required no fewer than 14 colour passes, in various shades shades of pink, magenta, and purple. The result is incredibly rich, with endless undertones and overtones of colour.

Arnaud d'Hauterives, Two doves, 1974

I suppose as I’ve started with Hauterives I should go on to discuss other recent artistic interpreters of Baudelaire, before I dive back in time. I have suites of lithographs by three comparable modern artists – Bernadette Kelly, Michèle Battut, and Claude Serre. All four of these artists, in fact, were commissioned by the same publisher, Philippe Lebaud.

Bernadette Kelly, Les bienfaits de la lune, 1979

Bernadette Kelly is the most warm and intimate, bathing her interiors in candlelight and wreathing her exteriors in mist. I admire her work very much, and am surprised her talent isn’t more widely recognized. I have a catalogue for her 1973 show at the Bateau Lavoir (the show that brought her to the attention of Lebaud), at which she showed intimiste paintings and prints of nudes and interiors. Her Baudelaire lithographs, inspired by Le Spleen de Paris, were published in 1979; I have one of 25 signed suites on Auvergne paper. Work by Bernadette Kelly comes up at auction every now and then, and is evidently sought after when it does, but there haven’t been the books and retrospectives you might expect for a male artist of comparable achievement. Her name sounds Irish, but Kelly is a French artist, born in Bousquet d’Orb in the Hérault.

Bernadette Kelly, Laquelle est la vrai?, 1979

Michèle Battut, a female artist contemporary with Bernadette Kelly (Battut was born in 1946, Kelly in 1933) provides a much cooler and more distanced account of Baudelaire. There’s a sense of Magritte in her highly-finished surreal/hyper-real lithographs for Les Fleurs du Mal, of which I have one of 155 suites, dating from 1988.

Michèle Battut, Les bienfaits de la lune, 1988

Battut's lithographs for Baudelaire seem catalogues of absences rather than depictions of presences. There was a retrospective exhibition of Michèle Battut’s lithographs at the Musée de Bourbonne des Bains from May to September 2007 – another show I missed but would have loved to see.

Michèle Battut, Le crépuscule du soir, 1988

Claude Serre is the fourth of my artists commissioned by Philippe Lebaud. As an artist, Claude Serre is underrated because he was good at too many other things. He was a painter, an illustrator, a cartoonist, a craftsman in porcelain and glass. I have one of 65 signed suites of his 1982 lithographs for Les Fleurs du Mal, which reveal a strong sense of composition and a mastery of the sensuous and the macabre.

Claude Serre, The Albatross, 1982

With apologies for all this leaping about in time, I also have many prints nearer in date and aesthetic sensibility to Baudelaire himself. The most authentically Symbolist of these is probably a portfolio of etchings and wood engravings by Henry Chapront illustrating the poem Le Voyage. Chapront was born in 1876, and enrolled at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris at the age of just 16. He was welcomed into the decadent world of the Symbolists, becoming friends with Alfred Jarry and mixing with writers such as Verlaine, Huysmans, and Remy de Gourmont, and artists such as Félicien Rops, Modigliani, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Although Henry Chapront lived until 1965, his work as whole is completely imbued with the glamorous decadence of the fin-de-siècle.

Henry Chapront, Mermaids, 1922

Chapront’s edition of Le Voyage was published in 1922 in an edition of just 100 numbered copies and 5 artist’s copies lettered A-E. The total edition was 7 on Japan ancien à la forme, 16 on Japan imperial, and 72 on vergé d’Arches. All the etchings and wood engravings were hand-printed by Chapront, while the text was printed by Robert Coulouma. My copy is one of the 5 hors-commerce copies (copy B), one of the 7 on Japan ancien. It was the personal gift of Henry Chapront to Robert Coulouma, and is brimming with extra proofs of each print in 3, 4, or 5 states, all signed, with limitations from 12 to 100. The proof of the frontispiece etching (a portrait of Baudelaire) in its final state is charmingly inscribed, “à Monsieur Coulouma maître-imprimeur, cordiale & sympathique homage de l’imprimeur Henry Chapront”.

Henry Chapront, Charles Baudelaire, 1922

The notorious sequence of poems excluded from Les Fleurs du Mal on the grounds of obscenity have, of course, attracted artists. The first was Armand Rassenfosse in 1903. Les Pieces Condamnées was the first book of Jean-Gabriel Daragnès, published in 1917 I have one of 42 separate suites of these exquisite small wood engravings, printed in both black and brown, some signed, some not.

Jean-Gabriel Daragnès, Les Bijoux, 1917

Two other Symbolist artists who were fascinated by Baudelaire were Édouard Chimot and Alméry Lobel-Riche. Chimot’s etchings with aquatint for Le Spleen de Paris were issued in 1926, in an edition of 705 copies. As usual with Chimot, the etchings mostly depict sensuous nudes, in a style that verges on Art Deco – these are definitely 20s flappers rather than fin-de-siècle seductresses.

Édouard Chimot, L'horloge, 1926

My etchings by Lobel-Riche were issued in 1921 to illustrate Le Spleen de Paris; there were 352 copies. The art of Alméry Lobel-Riche (whose real name was Alméric Riche) is characterized by a troubled and troubling atmosphere of decadent sensuality, and is very much the artistic counterpart of the poetry of Baudelaire and de Musset.

Alméry Lobel-Riche, Le Spleen de Paris, 1921

In 1921, Lobel-Riche also issued 40 etchings in 4 or 5 states to illustrate Les Fleurs du Mal; there were only 24 copies, so I don’t expect to see one any time soon.

Alméry Lobel-Riche, La Belle Dorothée, 1921

Mariette Lydis and Léonor Fini are two of the most remarkable women artists of the twentieth century, both in their work and their lives. Both lived lives of extraordinary adventure and sexual intrigue. Mariette, Comtesse Govone, was born Marietta Ronsperger in Vienna in 1887 (or, depending on which source you believe, 1890, 1892, or 1894). She married Jean Lydis in 1922, but left him for the Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, who took her to Paris. In 1928 Mariette Lydis married the art publisher Comte Giuseppi Govone. Lydis had a great artistic success in 30s Paris, starting with a solo show at the Galerie Bernheim Jeune, after which she became a member and a juror at the Salon d’Automne. Mariette Lydis fled the Nazi invasion of France with her lover Erica Marx, taking refuge in the sleepy Cotswold town of Winchcombe, before making a perilous voyage to Buenos Aires. Lydis lived in Argentina for the rest of her life.

Mariette Lydis, Portraits de maîtresses, 1948

Often unashamedly erotic, Lydis is not afraid to be sentimental or grotesque when that is appropriate. There is always an edge of ambiguous sexuality and danger in the art of Mariette Lydis, well-represented in her sometimes alarming 1948 copper engravings for Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose, of which I have one of 132 separate suites printed in red-brown on Lana paper.

Mariette Lydis, Un cheval de race, 1948

Lydis issued a portfolio of 10 etchings for Les Fleurs du Mal in 1928, in an edition of 125 copies, and an illustrated edition of the same text in the same year in an edition of 353 copies; in 1937 she issued 33 Dessins pour Les Fleurs du Mal, which are colour reproductions of her drawings rather than original prints. She also illustrated Les Paradis Artifiiciels with original lithographs in 1955.

Léonor Fini was born in Argentina to an Argentinan father and Italian mother, and raised in Trieste, Italy. Her mother dressed her as a boy, supposedly to thwart kidnap attempts by her father. This early gender-bending may have added one element to the alarming, predatory sexuality of Léonor Fini's work. Early allied to the surrealists through her friendship with figures such as Ernst, Dalí, and Bataille, Léonor Fini always shrugged off the label "Surrealist", writing simply that, "I paint pictures which do not exist and which I would like to see." She lived most of her life in France, surrounded by cats and lovers (the latter including the painter Stanislao Lepri).

Léonor Fini, Lesbos, 1964

My Baudelaire prints by Léonor Fini are one of 500 suites of colour lithographs for Les Fleurs du Mal, published in 1964. As well as Les Fleurs du Mal, Léonor Fini illustrated Baudelaire’s La Fanfarlo with original colour lithographs (1969)

Mario Avati, Edgar Allan Poe, 1950

I also have a set of aquatints by the Monaco-born artist Mario Avati that, like the works of Lydis, concentrate on the spooky and uncomfortable in Baudelaire – what one might call the incipient Surrealism. I believe these to be extremely rare. According to Luc Monod, although the publisher intended to print a much larger run, no more than 150 copies were actually printed, so that Avati’s Les Plus Belles Pages de Charles Baudelaire is “de la plus insigne rareté”.

Jacob Epstein, The Cat, 1940

Lastly, my lithographs by Jacob Epstein, printed by Fernand Mourlot from the stone in an edition of 1500 copies, must be the most visceral and ferocious illustrations ever inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire. They marry the sculptural and spiritual heft of William Blake with the transgressive distortions of the Symbolists.

Jacob Epstein, A Mournful Madrigal, 1940

Simply breathtaking.