Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace and happiness to everyone

In sending everyone who reads this all my best wishes for the holiday season and the year to come, I thought you might like to see a few of the 51 drypoints made by Hermine David for an edition of Sagesse by Paul Verlaine, published in 1943 by Creuzevault, Paris. Apart from the cover, frontispiece, and two full-page images, all of these drypoins were small vignettes in the text; but alongside the total of 450 copies of the book, there were also 100 separate suites of the prints, 50 in black, and 50 printed in colours à la poupée (i.e. the colours hand-applied to the plate for each impression), on thin China paper. The printer was the master taille-doucier Georges Leblanc. My images are from one of the 50 colour suites (I only, in fact, possess the suite, and have never seen the book).

Weirdly, the same publisher issued another copy of the same text, the same year, with completely different illustrations by the same artist, not something I have come across before. The alternative edition was published in 550 copies, illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings.

Hermine David was born in Paris in 1886, and studied at the Académie Julian and at the École des Beaux-Arts. She made her debut at the Salon des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs in 1904, subsequently exhibiting at the Sales des Artistes Français, the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Tuileries.

Hermine David was married to the artist Jules Pascin, and his influence can be seen in her technique. As a printmaker, Hermine David specialised in etching and drypoint. She died in 1971.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anywhere out of the world

Who on earth was Jean Mohler? Does anyone know?

Jean Mohler, Le Spleen de Paris
Original etching, 1946

Because I collect fine illustrated editions of Baudelaire, I recently acquired a copy of Le Spleen de Paris, illustrated by this obscure artist. I can’t find him listed in any reference book, and know nothing about his dates of birth and death, origins, studies, or mature associations. Yet I think his 16 full-page, hors-texte etchings for Le Spleen de Paris are absolutely brilliant.

Mohler’s etchings are essentially rooted in the freely-drawn, expressive realism of the between-the-wars School of Paris. His work shows the influence of major artist-illustrators of the 20s and 30s such as André Dignimont and Gus Bofa. Both of these would have been a generation older than him, I would guess, for the first evidence of Mohler’s existence I can find is the publication in 1943 of his edition of Sous la lumière froide by Pierre Mac Orlan (an author frequently associated with Dignimont and Bofa). Mohler also illustrated the novel Jésus-la-Caille by Francis Carco, another author often linked with Dignimont and Bofa.

Jean Mohler, Chacun sa chimère
Original etching, 1946

Jean Mohler’s three major livres d’artiste, all illustrated with original etchings, appeared in quick succession. An edition of Ben Jonson’s Volpone was published by Éditions de la Nouvelle France in 1945, under the artistic direction of Hervé Baille, in an edition of 395 copies. It looks as if Baille was trying to marshal talent for Éditions de la Nouvelle France in the 40s rather as Édouard Chimot had for Devambez in the 20s, but the times were far from propitious. So far as I can see the whole project fizzled out after a handful of books, including La Légende de Don Juan by Albert t’Serstevens, illustrated with original lithographs by Gaston de Sainte-Croix in 1944, and the wonderfully titled Les Moments Perdus de John Shag by Gilbert de Voisins, illustrated with copper engravings by Hervé Baille himself in 1945.

Jean Mohler, L'horloge
Original etching, 1946

Mohler’s second important book came the following year, with the edition of Le Spleen de Paris under discussion. A total of 359 copies were published: one on Japan, 3 on Arches, 8 on B.F.K. Rives, 93 on Lana, 245 on vélin pur fil du Marais, and 10 hors-commerce copies on unstated papers. There were no separate suites of the etchings, but the first 32 copies had varying numbers of rejected plates, up to a total of 6 in the unique copy on Japan paper. In this case the art director was Jean Baudet, rather than Hervé Baille. As with Volpone, Mohler’s etchings were printed by the specialist taille-doucier Manuel Robbe.

Mohler’s last major work was an edition of Racine’s Cantiques Spirituels, published in 1947 by Pierre Gaudin, in an edition of just 160 copies. My internet searches have turned up a few further minor contributions to books, up till 1952, and after that, nothing. Mohler seems to emerge from thin air and vanish back into it, after a mere decade of activity.

Jean Mohler, Eros, Plutus et la Gloire
Original etching, 1946

So I’m left wondering what prevented Mohler enjoying a long and distinguished artistic career. His etchings for Baudelaire nod both to Surrealism (in, for instance, Chacun sa chimère), and to Cubism (in the Picasso-esque figure of La Gloire in Eros, Plutus et La Gloire). This shows a keen awareness of the main artistic movements of the day, and along with his technical accomplishment suggests that Jean Mohler had studied at art school. My immediate though was that he probably studied etching under Édouard Goerg at the Beaux-Arts, Paris. Several of his plates, for instance L’horloge and La Belle Dorothée, remind me of Goerg both technically and stylistically. But looking up the dates, it appears Goerg was only made a professor at the Beaux-Arts in 1949. He may have had an atelier at some other institution in the 1930s; further research is needed.

Jean Mohler, La Belle Dorothée
Original etching, 1946

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief account of all the things I don’t know about Jean Mohler – and if anyone could add any further facts or thoughts, I’d be very grateful.