Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some forgotten post-Impressionists

All the etchings below were published by the revue of art and literature L’Artiste in the 1890s. L’Artiste had been going since 1831, and had been a second home to Delacroix and Baudelaire, and the staunch champion of the Barbizon School of artists. It ceased publication in 1904. Received opinion has it that by the 1890s the journal was in terminal decline, but at least in terms of the quality of the original graphics I believe this to be a harsh judgement. The original plates published in the 1890s – mostly etchings or lithographs – represent the current artistic movements of Symbolism and post-Impressionism with remarkable images, many by artists who are hardly remembered at all today. The major names contributing original work in these years are Félicien Rops (see my last post), Rops’ pupil Louis Legrand (about whom I’ll write separately), Henri Fantin-Latour, Charles Cottet, Alexandre Lunois, Edmond Aman-Jean, and Eugène Carrière. But for me the real surprises have been from the unknowns. For the first of these, William Julian-Damazy, author of a stunning impressionistic etching of the Place de la Concorde, I don’t even have a date of birth or death.

William Julian-Damazy, Place de la Concorde
Etching, 1892

Julian-Damazy is an incredibly shadowy figure. He was active from the 1880s to the 1920s, but I haven’t been able to turn up any background except that he was born in Paris.

William Julian-Damazy, La danse
Etching after Jules Chéret, 1892

François Courboin was born in 1865 and died in 1925. He seems to have been most active as an original artist in the 1880s and 1890s, after which he turned his attention increasingly to documenting the history of French printmaking. His Sur la plage is a beautiful little etching, harking back to the beach scenes of Boudin, which so inspired Claude Monet.

François Courboin, Sur la plage (Trouville)
Etching, 1892

Among other important works, Courboin wrote and compiled a massive four-volume Histoire illustré de la gravure en France, which was published between 1923 and 1929, the last volumes appearing posthumously. But looking at his lovely Étude of a Belle Époque lady with a chignon revealing a tantalising glimpse of the creamy nape of her neck, one can’t help regretting the triumph of the scholar over the artist.

François Courboin, Étude
Drypoint, 1894

Eugène Decisy is a slightly more substantial figure in art history. Born in Metz (Moselle) in 1866, Decisy studied under Boivin, Bouguereau, and Robert-Fleury. His Étude is an original aquatint, a study for the aquatint Bouillie d’avoine (“Porridge”) which he exhibited to acclaim at the Salon du Champ de Mars in 1892, and also at L’Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles in 1897. The study shows a young woman in a traditional Breton headdress; in Bouillie d’avoine this same women is shown cooking.

Eugène Decisy, Étude
Aquatint, 1892

Decisy was a member of the Société des Artistes Français, and exhibited at their Paris Salon from 1886. In 1898 he was also elected a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He died sometime around 1936.

Eugène Decisy. Hiver
Aquatint, 1895

The name of Eugène Delâtre (1864-1938) is one frequently mentioned in studies of French prints, but generally as a printer rather than a printmaker. The Delâtre family were “taille-douciers”, running perhaps the finest specialist studio for printing intaglio plates on a hand press. Eugène took over the studio from his father Auguste.

Eugène Delâtre, Parisienne
Colour etching, 1893

As an artist, Eugène Delâtre trained under his father and under the artist John Lewis Brown (who despite being saddled with a name “si terriblement anglais”, was in fact a Frenchman of remote Scottish descent). Eugène Delâtre in turn taught printmaking techniques to a host of modern artists, including Picasso.

Victor Vignon, Nature morte
Etching and aquatint, 1894

My final artist rescued from obscurity is Victor Vignon. Of them all, his is the most surprising disappearing act, for Vignon, known for landscapes and still lifes, is one of the direct links between the Barbizon School and the Impressionists. Victor Alfred Paul Vignon was born in Villers-Cotterets (Aisne), and died in Meulan (Yvelines). Vignon was a pupil of Corot around 1869. In 1874-1876 Vignon was living in Auvers-sur-Oise, in intimate companionship with Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne; like them, Victor Vignon no doubt had the freedom of the etching studio in the house of Dr Paul Gachet, who collected Vignon's prints. Victor Vignon's close association with various of the Impressionists, including Renoir, Degas, and Guillaumin as well as Pissarro and Cézanne, led to his exhibiting with the Impressionists in 1880 and 1886. In 1884 Vignon's own solo exhibition was a great success. Victor Vignon was also a friend of both Theo and Victor van Gogh. Original prints by Victor Vignon very rarely come on the market; none has been offered at auction since 1995.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My carnal life I will lay down

I’ve always been fascinated by the Shakers, and so was pleased to come across this etching of a female Shaker at the piano, leading the congregation in song – A Handful of Gospel Love, perhaps, or Walk Softly; Simple Gifts, or Come Life, Shaker Life. It could be any one of scores of haunting Shaker songs. It’s a softground etching (vernis mou, in French) with additional drypoint, and I think it a very powerful piece of work. The combination of the elongation of the woman’s body, the spidery agility of her fingers, and the transfixed intensity of her stare, combine to convey a sense of spiritual rapture and otherworldliness.

The artist has scratched the placename Buffalo and the date 88 in the plate with the drypoint needle. He has also etched in his own initials, F.R. And this is where this post takes a weird turn, because the author of this scene of joyful austerity is none other than Félicien Rops, the Belgian Symbolist known for his decadent and Satanic images of absinthe drinkers, prostitutes, and lost souls. I wasn’t even aware that Rops had visited the USA, never mind contrived to visit a Shaker community.

Félicien Rops
Une pianiste Shaker
Etching, 1888
ref: Exsteens 274 iii/iii

When published in its third and final state in the revue L’Artiste in 1893 (with the alternative title Diseuse de psaumes chez les Shakers), the etching was accompanied by a letter from Rops dataed 12 avril 1893 to “Mon cher Alboize” describing his experience. I won’t transcribe the whole letter, but here is the most relevant part:

Les dames qui aident les Shakers à reproduire leur sous-genre, passent leur dimanche à chanter des terribles psaumes, tristes à faire pleurer les oiseaux, et qui célèbrent les futurs voluptés et les petites folies d’outre-tombe. C’est moins gai que le Moulin-Rouge, mais à Philadelphie c’est déjà de la “festivité”.
Je suis arrive, avec l’astuce particulière des aquafortistes, à pénétrer dans un de ces salons piétistes, et j’en ai gardé une mélancolie que la lecture des articles du joyeux Brunetière n’a pu dissiper, depuis.
J’y ai croqué la Chanteuse de psaumes, car cela se chante, ou bien on les dit “mélopéiquement” comme à la Comédie-Française, et cela n’en est pas plus jolie. Voilà tout!

The rather wonderful word mélopéiquement means, I believe, in recitative.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The source

After my recent post on the various Secessions, I can’t resist posting this perfect representative of the art of the Vienna Secession. I particularly love the way the lettering is incorporated in the image. It’s an etching with aquatint by the German Symbolist Max Klinger, created in 1889. Two years earlier, Klinger (1857-1920) had met the older Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), and this etching is a kind of tribute or homage to Böcklin. Essentially it is a playful reinterpretation of one of Böcklin’s classic images, the 1875 painting Flora. But Klinger uses Böcklin’s painting simply as a starting point, finding it necessary, among other adjustments, to remove the lady’s clothes.

Max Klinger
Die Quelle
Etching with aquatint, 1889

So this is no simple interpretative work, copying the original as closely as possible; it is a completely new work of art, wittily and gracefully commenting on its model. The title is Die Quelle (The Source), and it is item 325 in Hans Singer’s catalogue Max Klinger: The Graphic Work. The lettering etched in the plate reads, Die Quelle, mit benutzung eines bildes von Arn. Boecklin. Which in my translation means, The Source, with apologies to a painting by Arnold Böcklin. Benutzung literally means “making use of”.