Friday, June 27, 2008

Artists You've Never Heard Of: Tony Minartz

This is the first Artists You’ve Never Heard Of blog, the male equivalent of my Neglected Women Artists strand. The artist I have chosen is the post-Impressionist painter-etcher Tony Minartz – and if you have already heard of him, award yourself a gold star.

Tony Minartz

His full name was Antoine Guillaume Minartz. He was born in Cannes in 1870 (or possibly 1873). He was essentially self-taught, though he did benefit from advice and guidance from the Impressionist printmaker Paul Renouard. Minartz first comes to the attention of art history in 1896, when he exhibited with the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He showed with this and other Paris Salons up until 1914. What happened to him in the First World War, I don’t know. But after the war he seems to have ceased sending work to the Salons. From my limited knowledge of his work, the Parisian subjects mostly date from pre-WWI, while the post-WWI subjects tend to be of fashionable life on the Côte d’Azur. He died in Cannes in 1944.

Paul Renouard, Figurante du théatre de Drury Lane, à Londres (May Belfort?)
Original drypoint, 1905

No one would have been less suited than Tony Minartz to be a War Artist. His whole attention was focussed on life and vivacity. Death and despair – even hunger and want – are nowhere to be seen. His eye was attracted by bright lights, beautiful women in outrageous gowns and hats, and all the thrumming life of a city enjoying its wealth. This may make him a shallow artist, but it also makes him one of the most acute observers of the Belle Époque.

I have four etchings by Tony Minartz, all published by La Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne. Each of them tells a little story. The first, from 1902, is entitled Le Bal. At first glance you see a swirl of dancers, their movement captured with subtle skill. Then you notice their rapt involvement with each other. And then the penny drops: every one of the dancers is a woman. There is no clue in the title, but this is a scene from Belle Époque Paris’s flourishing lesbian subculture.

Tony Minartz, Le Bal
Original etching, 1902

The second is entitled L’Avant-foyer de l’Opéra. A fashionable lady in furs and a couture dress leaves the theatre, to be greeted by a bowing man in evening dress. Their relationship is left open to question, but one thing we know: they are not husband and wife.

Tony Minartz, L’Avant-foyer de l’Opéra
Original etching, 1903

My third Minartz etching is entitled Au Restaurant. A beautiful woman in an expensive hat, languidly holding a fan, waits while the man who accompanies her orders for them both from an attentive waiter. In the background, a violinist plays, and the female half of another dining couple bends low to display her cleavage. Once again, this is high society living, but it has nothing to do with French bourgeois morality.

Tony Minartz, Au Restaurant
Original etching, 1904

The fourth and last of my etchings by Tony Minartz dates from five years later, in 1909. It is entitled La rue de la Paix. Two richly-dressed women smirk into a shop window. Behind them, a servant or porter brings up the rear, barely able to carry the purchases they have already made.

Tony Minartz, La rue de la Paix
Original etching, 1909

From these four etchings – all I have from an output described by Benézit as ‘extrêment abondant’ – I hope it can be seen that Minartz, while chronicling the life of the rich and fashionable, did so with an acute observing eye, and a certain wry detachment. I make no claims for originality or world-shaking importance in his work. His style as an etcher owes everything to Paul Renouard and Edgar Chahine; his paintings, such as ‘Leaving the Moulin Rouge’, in the Hermitage, show the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec. But in his chronicles of the nightlife of the Belle Époque and the Années Folles, Tony Minartz both observed and added to the sum of human gaiety.

Edgar Chahine, La Promenade
Original etching, 1900

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

L'Art Belge

Isy Brachot, publisher of L'Art Belge

L’Art Belge was a fine art revue published by the Brussels gallerist Isy Brachot from the 1920s. Edited by Yvonne Harvengt, it was subtitled ‘revue du mouvement artistique franco-belge’. Lavishly illustrated, it was the most important vehicle for discussion of the Belgian art of the day. Unlike many art revues, L’Art Belge did not generally publish original prints. However, I have acquired a most unusual copy of the 1933 ‘numéro jubilaire’ (which was actually published in 1934). Purchasers of ordinary copies of this number would have been well-pleased with this large-format publication, hundreds of pages long, and stuffed full of interest. There are articles such as ‘Cent ans de peinture Belge’ by the critic Louis Dumont-Wilden, and hundreds of illustrations in colour and black-and-white, including important series of colour plates by Allard L’Ollivier and Camille Barthélémy. There is also a beautiful Art Deco colour lithograph on the cover by the artist Anto Carte (1886-1954), the founder of the Nervia group of Walloon artists.

Anto Carte, L'Art Belge
Original lithograph, 1934

However my copy holds a treasure-chest of secrets. It has a specially printed half-title page, which reads, ‘Cet exemplaire hors-commerce portant le numéro XVII a été specialement imprimé pour Monsieur Louis Dumont-Wilden qui a bien voulu accorder sa collaboration au present numéro de “L’Art Belge”’. How many of these special not-for-sale copies were made up is impossible to say, but I would guess around 20. What makes them special is that Isy Brachot and Yvonne Harvengt tipped into them 20 signed original etchings by major artists of the day, protected by tissue guards. As these etchings were not intended as part of the revue, there is no printed list of titles or of artists, and it has taken some interesting detective work to firmly attribute each etching; in one case I am still at a loss, and in a second still in doubt.

Yvonne Harvengt, editor of L'Art Belge

The artist I don’t recognise is the first. The etching is a fairly undistinguished portrait of a young man. The swashbuckling pencil signature is I’m sure immediately obvious if you already know it, but is impossible to read if you don’t. It might be something like Carlus. So far so disappointing.

Note added 3/5/13: Thanks to the detective work of Wally at the etsen blog, I now know the artist is Henri Mortiaux (1890-1965).

Henri Mortiaux, Portrait of a young man
Original etching, 1934

The sky begins to brighten with the next etching, a self-portrait by Isidoor Opsomer (1878-1967), really beautifully worked, rather in the manner of Anders Zorn. What seem like random loose scribbles coalesce into a haunting portrait of a man looking middle age straight in the eye. I particularly love the hat. And it’s helpfully signed I. Opsomer in a clear readable hand. Isidoor Edmond Henri Opsomer was born in Lier. His career was made at the age of 25 when he won the prestigious Prix Godecharle. In 1926 he became director of the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers. In 1940 he was made a baron.

Isidoor Opsomer, Self-portrait
Original etching, 1934

The next etching is an even greater hit with me, because it an impressionistic Brusssels street scene with dramatic light and shade in the Belgian Luminist manner. It too is signed with an immediately legible and recognisable name, that of Henri Logelain (1889-1968). Logelain was born in Ixelles. He studied Auguste Oleffe at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Oleffe left a lasting influence on his style. The art of both men was shaped by their admiration for the Impressionists and the Fauves.

Henri Logelain, Vue de Bruxelles
Original etching, 1934

The next etching, so big that it is barely contained within the pages of the revue (which is 310 x 240 mm, or 12 and a half by 9 and a half inches), is a powerful study of a man hauling a barge, with a more Modernist feel. It is signed P. Paulus, identifying it as the work of Pierre Paulus (1881-1959), who was a member of the Nervia group, and a professor at the Institut Supérieur d’Art d’Anvers. Like many Belgian artists, Paulus spent WWI in London. Like Opsomer, he was ennobled, becoming Pierre, Baron Paulus de Châtelet.

Pierre Paulus, Le haleur
Original etching, 1934

The fifth print is a quietly contemplative etching with aquatint of a young woman with a traditional veil headdress, signed L. Buisseret. This was a much harder signature to read, but I got there in the end, helped by the fact that Louis Buisseret (1888-1956) was also a member of the Nervia group, alongside Carte and Paulus. He won the Prix de Rome for etching in 1920, and from 1929-1949 was the director of the Académie de Mons. And now I have just found elsewhere in L’Art Belge a reproduction of a painting by Louis Buisseret entitled Mater Beata, dated 1931; this etching is evidently a study for the central figure.

Louis Buisseret, Femme au voile
Original etching, 1934

Louis Buisseret, Mater Beata
b/w reproduction of an oil painting, 1934

Next is a study of two lay sisters or beguines. Written beneath in pencil are the words ‘par Alfred Delaunois’. I suspect that ‘par’ means that this was written by someone other than the artist, even though the signature resembles the sample signature in Benézit. However, it’s not a flamboyant signature, and it’s possible that many Belgians educated at the same period would have had similar handwriting, so I have to accept the balance of doubt. Alfred Napoléon Delaunois (1876-1941) studied under Constantin Meunier, and specialised in interiors, often of churches. He was director of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Louvain.

Alfred Delaunois, Beguines
Original etching, 1934

The seventh etching is a decorous (and Deco) nude, printed in sanguine, and signed both in the plate and below in pencil by William Ablett (1877-1937). Ablett was born to English parents in Paris. Although he became a member of the Royal Academy in London, Ablett is essentially a French artist. He is best remembered today for his boudoir prints of fashionable Art Deco ladies.

William Ablett, Seated nude
Original etching, 1934

Next is another poser. It’s a stunning etching with aquatint showing a canal – quite possibly a scene in Venice, but possibly somewhere in Belgium or the Netherlands. The vendor from whom I bought this copy of L’Art Belge identified the artist as Paul Hermans (1898-1972). I would never have guessed this from the signature, and would be very grateful if anyone out there can confirm or refute it. The signature on a Hermans oil reproduced elsewhere in the revue is not unlike it, but not so similar as to settle the question.

Paul Hermans (?), Canal
Original etching, 1934

Is this the signature of Paul Hermans?

Then another easy one: a gorgeous etching of a mother nursing her baby signed and dated in the plate, Rassenfosse Nov. 1929, and stamped in the bottom righthand corner of the sheet with the artist’s studio stamp. Armand Rassenfosse (1862-1934) taught himself to draw, and learned the art of etching from an old book, before attending the Beaux-Arts, Liége. At the age of 22 he went to Paris, where he was taken under the wing of his fellow-countryman Félicien Rops. The two artists even collaborated on prints under the joint name Ropsenfosse.

Armand Rassenfosse, Maternité
Original etching, 1929

The next print offers another conundrum. It is an etching with aquatint of a landscape, and is annotated ‘par Marc Henry Meunier’ in pencil lower right. Now Marc-Henry Meunier, also known as Henri Meunier, died in 1922, so he certainly wasn’t around to hand-sign this proof in 1933 or 34. For this reason I’ve decided that this inscription was most probably not written by Meunier himself (which maybe raises another doubt about the Delaunois). I’ve listed both prints as ‘unsigned’ on Idbury Prints, to be on the safe side. Marc-Henry Meunier (1873-1922) was the son of an etcher, Jean-Baptiste Meunier, and the nephew of the sculptor Constantin Meunier.

Marc Henry Meunier, Paysage
Original etching, 1934

Another problem follows. The next etching is by the Belgian Luminist Marcel Jefferys. Jefferys died in 1924, so the same argument should apply here as with Meunier. But I can’t for the life of me see anything wrong with the pencil signature on this proof. Jefferys’ signature is very distinctive, and this looks exactly right. So the only thing I can think is that Isy Brachot must have had a stock of signed Jefferys prints, which he used to enrich the special copies of this issue of L’Art Belge. This time I’ve been able to list the print as ‘signed in the plate’, as it is signed with the artist’s Whistler-inspired monogram in the plate. But I do believe the signature is genuine. The subject is a typical one of Jefferys’ later years, showing the river Thames shrouded in fog. This melancholy scene reflects both the influence of Monet and Whistler, and Jefferys’ inner grief at the loss of his son in WWI. Marcel Jefferys (1872-1924) was born in Milan, to an English father and Belgian mother. Like Émile Claus, who greatly influenced him, Marcel Jefferys spent the war years in London, where I believe he remained until his death. Despite the puzzling matter of the signature, this etching with aquatint is my favourite of all the prints in L’Art Belge. It shows very strongly the influence of Nabis artists such as Bonnard and Vuillard.

Marcel Jefferys, Promenade
Original etching, 1934

Signature of Marcel Jefferys

The next print, an etching with aquatint depicting fisherfolk on a beach, poses no problems. It is clearly signed both in the plate and in pencil below by Manuel Robbe. Robbe (1872-1936) was taught how to etch by Eugène Delâtre. Many of his etchings were published by Edmond Sagot.

Manuel Robbe, Scène portuaire
Original etching, 1934

The next etching is Victor Mignot (1872-1944), a portrait of an old man, clearly signed and monogrammed in the plate. Here too the pencil signature reads ‘par Mignot’, so I have to assume it is not in the artist’s own hand; it looks like the same handwriting as the Meunier attribution. I’m not sure what the old man is carrying or selling; it looks like mistletoe.

Victor Mignot, Vieillard
Original etching, 1934

Then comes another poser. The vendor offered no attempt to identify the author of this etching of boats at harbour, and for a long while I was completely stumped. Then I had a brainwave and, realising that the signature in the plate was reversed, I looked at the etching in a mirror and discovered that it was by Auguste Oleffe. Oleffe (1867-1931) was one of the Brabant Fauves, He specialised in seascapes and port scenes. As a professor at the Institute Supérieur des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers, Auguste Oleffe had a huge influence on younger Belgian artists. There’s no pencil attribution on this proof, presumably because Oleffe’s reversed signature was familiar enough to make the artist’s identity obvious.

Auguste Oleffe, Marine
Original etching, 1934

Next is my second favourite print, an etching with aquatint of a canal. The signature below is that of Armand Apol (1879-1950), another of the Belgian Fauves. This wonderfully loose image has a mix of improvisation and observation that reminds me strongly of Raoul Dufy.

Armand Apol, Le canal
Original etching, 1934

Actually, is the Apol my second favourite? I’m not sure, because it has to complete with this elegant woman with her pearls and cigarette, and the pencil signature of Henri Thomas. She is the 1920s personified. Henri Joseph Thomas (1878-1972) was, like Rassenfosse, hugely influenced by Félicien Rops. The other etchings with aquatint that I have by Thomas were inspired by the risqué verse of Rops’ friend, Théo Hannon.

Henri Thomas, Femme à la cigarette
Original etching, 1934

The next etching, of two old men sitting on a bench, is by Kurt Peiser (1887-1962), a realist whose art was deeply imbued with his empathy for the poor and oppressed. It is signed in the plate and dated 1932, and also hand-signed below.

Kurt Peiser, Trimardeurs
Original etching, 1932

Next comes an etching of an Arab or Berber horseman out hawking, pencil-signed by Gustave Flasschoen (1868-1940). Flasschoen studied under Stroobant at the Académie de Bruxelles.

Gustave Flasschoen, Cavalier arabe
Original etching, 1934

Then an etching by Maurice Flament (1884-1968), signed by the artist who has also written the title, Impasse, and justified the etching 28/200. This justification intensifies my suspicion that Isy Brachot was just making up these special copies of the revue with etchings that he had lying around in stock. In other words the etchings were not specially commissioned for this purpose, and if one found another special copy it might contain quite different prints. I haven’t been able to find out anything much about Flament.

Maurice Flament, Impasse
Original etching, 1934

The next artist is Camille Barthélémy, an important post-Impressionist painter and printmaker, who studied under Nester Outers, Émile Fabry, and Jean Delville at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Elsewhere in the revue is a series of seven tipped-in colour plates of oil paintings by Camille Barthélémy, Barthélémy’s pencil-signed view through an archway brings the sequence of original prints slipped into my copy of L’Art Belge to an end. After a long journey of discovery, to be afforded a glimpse into a new world is exactly what you need.

Camille Barthélémy, Le porche
Original etching, 1934

Monday, June 23, 2008

Any port in a storm

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Londres
Original etching, 1949

One of the lesser-known artists whose work I have been collecting is Louis Valdo-Barbey, also known as Valdo Barbey. He was born Valdo Louis Barbey in Velleyres in Switzerland in 1883, and studied under Georges Desvallières and Eugène Burnand. Valdo-Barbey was already well launched on his artistic career before WWI, having exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants from 1906, at the Salon d’Automne from 1909, and at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts from 1910. He joined up at the outset of the war, and was invalided out of the army after being seriously injured on 22 December 1914. While recovering from his injuries he wrote the memoir Soixante jours de guerre, probably the first eyewitness memoir of the war. It was first published in 1915, and re-published in 2004 under the title Soixante jours de guerre en 1914. Valdo-Barbey resumed his artistic career, exhibiting regularly at the Salons d’Automne and des Tuileries. He travelled widely, and among his varied works there is one theme that predominates – that of the port. His three paintings exhibited at the Salon des Tuileries in 1941 were entitled Le port, Cargo quittant Le Havre, and Port d’Anvers. One of his three paintings in the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris is Le port de Marseille.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Marseille
Original etching, 1949

This theme is carried through Valdo-Barbey’s etchings and lithographs. I have a wonderful set of etchings of seaports made in 1949, which were turned into a book with the title De Londres à Venise par New York (From London to Venice via New York), with accompanying text by Claude Farrère. This was published by René Kieffer and printed by André Steff. 538 copies of the book were printed, 9 on Japon imperial, the rest on B.F.K. Rives. There were also 88 separate suites, 9 on Japon, and 79 on Rives. I have no. 42 of 79. The suites were printed before the addition of the name of each port and the initials V. B., which were etched into the plates, usually at the bottom right. This is the only difference between the etchings in the suite and those in the book, as the latter are not bound in or attached to the text in any way; the etchings are simply loosely inserted into a double-page spread of text. So it’s a moot question whether the suite etchings are more desirable, being the earliest and rarest impressions, or the book etchings, as they bear Valdo-Barbey’s initials and identify the subject. Whatever, I love these subtly-observed etchings, which are so alive to the teeming detail of a busy port.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Bordeaux
Original etching, 1949

The viewpoint in the etchings is often from on high, giving a panoramic sweep of the life of the port. The journey of the book takes us to eighteen ports: from London to Hamburg to Rotterdam to Anvers to Paris to Rouen to Le Havre to Southampton to Brest to New York to Bordeaux to Bilbao to La Coruña to Marseille to Toulon to Genoa to Naples and finally as promised to Venice, an itinerary not without its switchbacks.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, New York
Original etching, 1949

Valdo-Barbey’s travels for my second set of prints were more sedate. These are a set of colour lithographs of Flanders and Sicily, with accompanying text by Valdo-Barbey himself. They were published the year after the etchings, in 1950 by Henri Lefèbvre, under the title Lettres à Julien, with the subtitle Flandre et Sicile. The lithographs were printed on a hand press by Louis Ravel. There were 200 copies, of which 55 had suites, all printed on B. F. K. Rives. Mine is copy 57/200, so only has one set of the 20 lithographs.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Le port d'Ostende
Original lithograph, 1950

As the subtitle suggests, the text and lithographs represent a kind of diary of Valdo-Barbey's travels in Flanders and Sicily. While not every plate depicts a port or harbour, they are certainly well-represented, with images of Ostend, San Panagia, Syracuse, and the bay of Taormina.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Le retour des thoniers à San Panagia
Original lithograph, 1950

Whereas the etchings are all about the nervous energy that can be expressed in line, the colour lithographs are about flat planes and bodies of colour. In contrast to the bustle of the etchings, the lithographs breathe stillness and serenity. They have an almost Art Deco monumentality to them.

Louis Valdo-Barbey, Le golfe à Taormina
Original lithograph, 1950

I admire both styles, and it really depends on my mood which I prefer. Both represent a late flowering of Valdo-Barbey’s talent; he had already by 1949 ceased to send paintings to the Salons, I believe. He died in 1965, at the age of 82.