Monday, February 21, 2011

Two visions of New York: Walter Pach and Adriaan Lubbers

The contrasting views of New York exhibited in the two prints in this post were made at almost the same time, by two artists who both had reasons to think they were at the cutting edge of modern art; both were published in the same art revue, Byblis. In their different ways both explore the city as a metaphor for modernity; both show how deeply what we see is affected by how we think.

Walter Pach, New York
Etching, 1928

The first is by Walter Pach. The painter, etcher and art critic Walter Pach was born in New York City in 1883. Pach studied under Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. Moving to Paris, he became part of the artistic and literary circle of Gertrude and Leo Stein. Walter Pach's achievements as an artist have been overshadowed by his enormous influence on American taste in his championing of such artists as Cézanne, van Gogh, and Diego Rivera, as well as Native American art. He was, in effect, the American version of Roger Fry, whose daring choice of art for two groundbreaking Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London in 1910 and 1912 had such a profound affect on British art of the twentieth century. In a similar vein, it was Walter Pach who (with Arthur B. Davies and Walter Kuhn at the Association of American Painters and Sculptors) organised the famous Armory Show of 1913, which is credited with decisively turning American artists towards modernism. Of the organisers, it was the Paris-based Walter Pach who had access to avant-garde artists such as the three brothers Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, whose work caused such as stir when exhibited in the Armory Show (or as it was billed, The International Exhibition of Modern Art). As an artist, Walter Pach was welcomed into the Paris art world, and the publication of this etching accompanied an appreciate essay on his art by Léon Rosenthal. Pach was also elected a member of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. For all his promotion of the avant-garde, on the evidence of this etching Pach did not himself stray far from a Post-Impressionist aesthetic. He died in 1958.

Adriaan Lubbers, The El at Chatham Square
Lithograph, 1930

The second is by the itinerant Dutch artist Adriaan Lubbers. Adriaan Lubbers was born in Amsterdam in 1892. Lubbers is particularly remembered for his paintings, drawings, and lithographs of 1920s New York, which remain one of the most evocative visual records of the city at this vibrant period. His lithograph of the elevated railway (the El, or as Byblis spells it, Le L à Chatham Square), shows a more striking modernism than Pach's. His understanding of the angles and spaces of the city has been radically affected by exposure to Cubism, Vorticism, and Futurism. This is the second of two versions of the same scene; the first, published in 1929, is on a larger scale, but otherwise the two are virtually identical. The second version was made especially for Byblis, to accompany an essay on Lubbers by Charles Terrasse. After living and travelling throughout Europe, Adriaan Lubbers was fittingly in Manhattan when he died of a stroke in 1954.

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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Two sides to every story: a copperplate of Charles Meryon

Charles Meryon was born in Batignolles, Paris, on 23 November 1821, and died in the mental hospital at Charenton on 14 February 1868, at the age of just 46. His name is indelibly associated with the city, which he depicted in etchings of incredible subtlety. Yet Meryon was a cuckoo in the Parisian nest. He was the illegitimate son of Narcisse Chaspaux, a dancer at the Paris opera house, and Charles Lewis Meryon, an itinerant English doctor. This ancestry may explain the uncertainty as to whether his surname should be spelled Meryon or Méryon—authorities differ, as they do about whether his mother was French or Spanish. Narcisse Chaspaux died insane in 1837, the year Charles Meryon entered the École navale. His naval career lasted until 1842, taking him both to Athens and to the South Pacific. In the course of these voyages he made many sketches, and eventually he resolved to become an artist. However, it soon became apparent that he was colour-blind, and that a career as a painter was out of the question. So he turned to etching, studying the art in the studio of Eugène Bléry (1805-1886), whose meticulous standards of observation Meryon maintained.

Eugène Bléry, Vue du château de Nemours
Etching, 1851

I have an interesting pair of Meryon etchings. The first is one of his Parisian scenes, Le Petit Pont. This was actually his first important work, exhibited at the Salon of 1850. My impression is from the cancelled plate. As you can see, Charles Meryon has not been content simply to mark an X from corner to corner, or make a discreet cancellation mark in the bottom lefthand corner. Instead he has attacked the plate with a drypoint needle, scratching a rhythmic welter of diagonal marks across the whole composition, as if he has lashed it with a whip. Ironically, this intended destruction of the piece has not quite worked, as to a modern eye the combination of Canaletto-like calm and expressionistic fury is rather pleasing. Meryon’s Paris seems to be being both destroyed and remade under our gaze. There is an image of the uncancelled plate in this post by John Coulthart at feuilleton.

Charles Meryon, Le Petit Pont (from the cancelled plate)
Etching, 1850

Having put Le Petit Pont beyond use, as he thought, Charles Meryon then turned the copperplate over, rotated it by 90 degrees, and used it to etch my second work, Vue de l’ancien Louvre, after a painting by the Dutch artist Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman (1623-1667). This interpretative etching was commissioned from Meryon in 1865 by the all-powerful surintendant des Beaux-Arts, M. de Nieuwerkerke, for publication by the Chalcographie du Louvre, and executed the following year. Meryon had already made four etchings after Zeeman as part of his apprenticeship, having been particularly impressed both by Zeeman’s etchings of Paris and his marine sujects. He etched the plate for Vue de l’ancien Louvre directly in front of the painting, holding in one hand the plate and a reversing mirror, and in the other his etching needle.

Charles Meryon, Vue de l’ancien Louvre
Etching after Zeeman, 1866

It was Meryon’s custom, as we have seen with Le Petit Pont, to cancel his plates after a small edition. In fact he was quite obsessive about this. In the case of the Vue de l’ancien Louvre, however, he was stymied. He marched up to the Louvre to reclaim the plate, and when this was refused flew into a temper and laid about him with his cane. After creating this ruckus, Meryon left in a state of great vexation, while for their part the authorities at the Louvre resolved never to commission work again from such a rowdy and unreasonable character. As a result, the Chalcographie du Louvre contains the only surviving copperplate of Charles Meryon, from which my impressions of the two contrasting sides were printed by Vernant in 1922, in an edition of 605 copies for Byblis. They accompanied an article by Pierre Gusman, “Histoire d’une planche de Meryon”.

The row at the Louvre was evidence of an underlying mental problem; Meryon had from May 1858 spent fifteen months in the asylum at Charenton, and he seems to have suffered from delusions and paranoia. It may be that the sense of order that dominates Meryon’s 102 etchings is evidence of a temperament that was always threatening to explode out of control, and that the excessive violence with which he cancelled the plate of Le Petit Pont shows how strongly an appetite for destruction counterbalanced Charles Meryon’s creative instinct.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


In the course of this blog, I often use the word Japonisme, as a way of encapsulating the rejuvenating, electrifying effect that exposure to Japanese art and aesthetics had on European artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist era. One of the first blogs I started to follow was Lily's Japonisme, which has remained a source of great value to me. The meaning of the word Japonisme can best be shown visually, perhaps by looking at this colour autolithograph by Henri Rivière (1864-1951).

Henri Rivière, Brume matinale (Matin de brume à Loguivy)
Lithograph, 1903

But was Japonisme a one-way street, with European artists learning from the Japanese, and the Japanese going on their own sweet way? Of course not. Japanese artists were as eager to learn from the West as European artists were to learn from the East. Here is an example of what I mean, a modernist female nude by Kiyoshi Hasegawa (Hasegawa Kiyoshi, as it should be in Japanese convention). I think this is a wonderful piece of work, a machine age nude rather than an Art Deco one.

Kiyoshi Hasegawa, Femme nue
Engraving, 1929

Kiyoshi Hasegawa was born in Yokohama in 1891. He moved to Paris alongside fellow Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita, and spent most of his life there, working in a Western style deeply influenced by the subtlety of line and feeling in Japanese art. I have to admit I don't know the precise dates at which Foujita and Hasegawa arrived in Paris, but I have a strong feeling that Foujita got there first, and that Hasegawa was always therefore second fiddle to his compatriot. Western influences on Hasegawa's work include Jean Laboureur and Jules Pascin. Hasegawa's prints are primarily engravings and mezzotints. He died in 1980. In 2005 the Yokohama Museum of Art received over 1000 items from the Paris atelier of Kiyoshi Hasegawa.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two Latvian modernists: Rikovsky and Dannenhirsch

One of the pleasures of the art revue Byblis: Miroir des Arts du Livre et de l'Estampe, of which I now possess a complete run, 1921-1931, is its occasional surveys of graphic art in far-flung corners of Europe, illustrated with original prints. The 35th issue, for instance, has an article entitled L'art graphique moderne en Lettonie by Visvalds Pengerots, and this article is the source of my entire knowledge of Latvian art. The two original prints accompanying the article are by Jury Rikovsky and Bernard Dannenhirsch.

Jury Rikovsky, Les pêcheuses (Fisherwomen)
Wood engraving, 1930

Jury Rikovsky, born in 1893, studied in Paris under André Lhote. He exhibited his first wood engravings in 1930. Rikovsky was influenced by Russian artists of the day such as B. Grigorief and J. Annenkof. I think this wood engraving a very finely-observed study in light and shade. It may be due to Parisian influence that one strap of the younger woman's dress has slipped aside so fetchingly.

Bernard Dannenhirsch, Riga
Linocut, 1930

Bernard Dannenhirsch, born in 1894, was particularly known for his wood engravings and linocuts. In the 1920s, his interest in social affairs was noticeable in cycles such as L'air et la lumière - propriété privé, and his illustrations for Bruno Jasiensky's novel Je brûle Paris. This bleak study in barbed wire and brutal architecture has, I think, an air of social protest about it.

Besides these two, Pengerots writes interestingly about artists such as S. Vidbergs (influenced by Aubrey Beardsley), Niklavs Strunke (a pupil of the Russian artist W. Maté), Romans Suta (who is compared to Grosz), Nicolas Puzirevsky (a pupil of Emil Orlik), Isaac Friedlender (who emigrated to New York), Serge Antonov (who specialised in colour linocuts), the wood engravers Indrikis Zeberinsch and Alexandre von Stromberg, the etchers Théodore Brenson and Jacob Belzens, the engraver Charles Krauze, and the lithographers Vilis Kruminsch and Eugène Klimov.