Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An obscure English woodcut artist: Felix Henry Eames

I offer the robust woodcut A Breton Déjeuner by F. H. Eames to my readers with all my best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015. May your tables overflow with food, wine, and the laughter of friends.

Felix Henry Eames, A Breton Déjeuner
Woodcut, 1930

I really like this highly-accomplished work, which was contributed to The London Mercury in 1930. Around this time Eames was also contributing woodcuts or wood engravings to another London literary and artistic revue, The Town Crier. So I was surprised when researching him to find almost nothing about F. H. Eames, either in standard reference books or on the internet. I did manage to expand the initials to two given names, Felix Henry. I also discovered that he was born in Matlock, Derbyshire, in 1892, and that he died in 1971. And that is about the sum total of my knowledge.

From the Breton subject-matter of A Breton Déjeuner and the Post-Impressionist aesthetic of the piece I would suspect that Felix Henry Eames was one of those artists still drawn to Pont-Aven in the 1920s and 30s, in the footsteps of Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven of the 1880s and 90s. For instance in the 1930s the painter William Scott, his wife the sculptor and painter Mary Lucas, and their friend Geoffrey Nelson ran the Pont-Aven School of Painting there, to attract just such artistic pilgrims.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A major artist in a minor field: the wood engravings of Gwen Raverat

I suppose I've been aware of Gwen Raverat's wood engravings for most of my life, though without ever knowing how to pronounce her name: the final "t" is silent, so the correct pronunciation is more like Raverar. Her husband, the artist Jacques Raverat, was French, and Gwen and Jacques lived in Vence from 1920 until Jacques' early death from multiple sclerosis in 1925. It was in Provence that Gwen created what for me are her most perfect works, from a lifetime total of nearly 600 engraved woodblocks.

Frances Spalding, Gwen Ravert: Friends, Family & Affections
Cover design incorporating an oil self-portrait, c.1910-11

Gwen Raverat was born in Cambridge in 1885. Her eccentric family were part of the intellectual elite of Cambridge. Charles Darwin was her grandfather, and late in life she wrote a brilliant childhood memoir, Period Piece, which brings the family dramas of the Darwins to life. She would be an interesting person simply for her Darwin heritage, her close involvement in the Cambridge Neo-Pagans led by Rupert Brooke, and her tangential but intimate entwinement with the Bloomsbury Group, if she herself had never produced any original art. But she did, and it is art of such quality that Joanna Selborne in the monograph and catalogue raisonné Gwen Raverat: wood engraver describes her as "a major artist in a minor field".

Nightmare, or Cauchemar, or Flight
Woodcut, 1909

Gwen Raverat's work developed very quickly from her first woodcuts made while she was a student at the Slade in 1909, cut with a knife into softwood, along the grain. Even these are full of vitality, and one of the best is Nightmare, with its striking sense of existential angst and its strongly Expressionist aesthetic.

Sir Thomas Browne, state 1
Wood engraving, 1910

Within a year Gwen had moved from the woodcut to the wood engraving, made on the end grain of a boxwood block - the technique pioneered by her childhood hero, Thomas Bewick. She remained true to Bewick's small-scale perfection throughout her career, and she also shared his sly sense of humour. The  frontispiece she designed for Geoffrey Keynes's Bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne in 1910 is a brilliant piece of fun, with Death guiding the hand and mind of the author of Urn Burial. This impression is the first state of the engraving, before the artist filled in the blank background behind the figure of death with wood panelling, and altered the anachronistic sash window. I prefer the stark authority of this first state to the slightly cluttered feel of the second, finished state.

The Dead Christ
Woodcut, 1913

The Nativity
Wood engraving, 1916

As a Darwin, Gwen was raised a freethinker, but between 1912 and 1914 she went through an intensely religious phase. She and Jacques were friends and fellow-students of Stanley Spencer, and also friends with Eric Gill. Jacques dreamed of creating a temple to be decorated by the four of them, a project that never happened, though it came to a kind of fruition in Spencer's chapel at Burghclere. The Raverats and Gill also planned to publish an illustrated Gospels, a plan which fell apart over Gill's insistence on using the Catholic Bible. However the engraving The Dead Christ, engraved by Gwen after a drawing by Jacques, gives a flavour of what such a book would have been like. The resemblance to Eric Gill's work of the period is quite striking. Gwen's tender Nativity of three years later is less graphic and more intimate; the luminous sense of the play of light in the stable gives an indication of the impressionistic course that Gwen Raverat's art would take in the following years.

The Sleeping Beauty (La Belle au bois dormant)
Wood engraving, 1916

The Sleeping Beauty, from the same year, is one of Gwen Raverat's most attractive images; although the print was editioned in black-and-white, Gwen hand-coloured at least one copy, which can be seen on the website of the Raverat Archive here. All of the pieces illustrated in this post come from the Raverat Archive, by permission of the artist's grandson William Pryor, the author of the fascinating Virginia Woolf & the Raverats.

Olive Pickers
Wood engraving, 1922

Street by Moonlight, Vence, I
Wood engraving, 1922

Jeu de Boules, Vence, II

As I mentioned earlier, it is Gwen's Provençal engravings that speak most strongly to me, and all the rest of the images here come from that vivid period in Vence, where Gwen nursed the dying Jacques while also nourishing her own art.  The wood engravings Gwen made in Vence are among her loveliest; unfortunately the Provence climate played havoc with the woodblocks, so these exquisite works can never again be printed direct from the block.

La Place en Hiver
Wood engraving, 1923

La Place en Été
Wood engraving, 1923

Old Women, state 1
Wood engraving, 1924 

Gwen Raverat's long and influential career as a wood engraver was cut short by WWII. In her British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940, Joanna Selborne writes of Gwen Raverat, "Apart from Lucien Pissarro, she was virtually the only practitioner in the early days of the revival to apply the lessons of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and to retain an interest in light effects throughout her work."

The Balcony, state 2
Wood engraving, 1926

In addition to the books above, I strongly recommend the biography by Frances Spalding, Gwen Raverat, a really compelling read.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rilke and Slevogt: The Panther

As soon as I saw this etching by Max Slevogt of a black panther, I thought of Rainer Maria Rilke's 1902 or 1903 poem Der Panther, written as a response to Rilke's friend Rodin's urging to work directly from life. So as I had a bit of time on holiday this week, I tried to make my own version of Rilke's poem. I wouldn't call it a translation, as apart from retaining the four quatrains, I have ignored the form of the original - the metre and the rhyme. The best proper translation I know is that of my late friend Stephen Cohn in Neue Gedichte: New Poems (Carcanet, 1992). I didn't have this with me while I sat and struggled with the hilarious responses of Google Translate, but I did have the sensitive translation of Susan Ranson from Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems (OUP, 2011). Back home I have taken the precaution of checking Google's grasp of German with the literal prose translation of Patrick Bridgwater in Twentieth-Century German Verse (Penguin, 1963). Any boo-boos remain, of course, my own.

Max Slevogt (1868-1932), Schwarzer Panther
Etching (with three extra panthers as drypoint remarques), 1914

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His barred eyes have grown so tired
of pacing, they have emptied out.
As if there were a thousand bars
and beyond those thousand bars, a hollowness.

The supple flexure of his paws,
revolving in an ever-tightening gyre,
creates a passionate dance around
the still centre of his fierce, numbed will.

Just sometimes, the shutter of his lens
lifts, without a sound.
An image enters, pulses through the coiled spring of his sinews,
and winks out in his heart’s great silence.

translation © copyright Neil Philip 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Jules Bastien-Lepage

Jules Bastien-Lepage was born in Damvillers, Meuse in 1848. After studying under Cabanel at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Bastien-Lepage became a ground-breaking plein-air painter of realistic rural scenes, influenced by Courbet and the Barbizon School. Essentially a painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage only made 5 etchings himself, under the tutelage of Léopold Flameng, one of which is Retour des champs. In works such as this, Bastien-Lepage updated Millet's spiritual admiration of the peasant class into an unflinching reportage.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Retour des champs
Etching, 1878

Most etchings of the art of Bastien-Lepage are, like this portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, interpretative etchings by others after Bastien-Lepage paintings. In addition to his landscapes, Bastien-Lepage was a sought-after and very accomplished portraitist, though I feel his heart was in his rural scenes.

Ricardo de Los Rios, Sarah Bernhardt
Etching after Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

Jules Bastien-Lepage influenced Manet and the Impressionists, and was especially important to the British plein-air painters who have become known as the British Impressionists, such as George Clausen, Henry Herbert La Thangue, Stanhope Forbes, and James Guthrie.

Henry Herbert La Thangue, A Study (Boy holding a calf)
Lithograph, 1903

Jules Bastien-Lepage made an enormous contribution to art in his short lifetime. He died in 1884, at the age of just 36, a fact which may explain his relative obscurity today.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Eugene Boudin

Eugène Boudin actually took part in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, but he has never been regarded as one of the Impressionists. He did play a key role in the development of the movement, though, as mentor to his friend Claude Monet. It was Boudin who encouraged Monet to paint, and it was while painting alongside Boudin at Honfleur that the 18-year-old Monet received the revelation of his artistic vision. After Boudin had set up his easel and begun to paint, Monet wrote, "I looked on with some apprehension, then more attentively and suddenly it was as if a veil was torn away; I had understood, had grasped what painting could be; by the sole example of this painter absorbed in his art and independence of effort, my own destiny was made clear." Boudin was born in Honfleur in 1824, so was sixteen years Monet's senior. The two men remained close until Boudin's death in Deauville in 1898; it even seems likely that the word "Impression", which so infuriated the critics when Monet used it, was borrowed from Boudin, whose notebooks and letters are full of the need to work "when the impression is fresh". Boudin's kindly and modest nature is well-caught in Paul Helleu's drypoint portrait of him sketching on the harbour at Deauville in 1894.

Paul Helleu, Eugène Boudin
Drypoint, 1894

The seaside towns of Normandy - Honfleur, Deauville, Trouville - were Boudin's home territory, and the primary subject of his art. Even though he spent every winter in his Paris studio, he never painted a single city scene. Boudin is particularly remembered for his relaxed and evocative beach scenes, which from the 1860s on documented the new fashion for beach holidays, with female holidaymakers in crinolined dresses and men in suits and bowler hats. But he was interested in everything to do with the sea, and his canvases are full of yachts and fishing vessels, sailors, fish markets, and washerwomen.  Boudin was an astonishingly productive artist, creating over 4,000 oil paintings and 7,000 drawings, watercolours, and pastels. But he only made three prints: two unimportant lithographs, and a single etching. The etching is a dramatic seascape with many different vessels - sailing ships, fishing wherries, rowing boats - evidently very quickly sketched onto the surface of the copper plate, which has been quite lightly bitten. Boudin would have made this etching in the atelier of Alfred Cadart, having accepted membership of Cadart's Société des aquafortistes in 1864. But it was never published by Cadart, and Boudin seems to have laid it aside and forgotten all about it. It wasn't published until after his death, when it was first editioned by L'Estampe et l'Affiche in December 1899. There were 50 copies on Chine, with no text, and larger edition on laid paper with the words Boudin inv. et sculp., and usually the blind stamp of L'Estampe et l'Affiche. A third edition of 300 copies (20 on Japon and 280 on wove paper with no lettering) was published the following year by H. Floury in Gaston Cahen Eugène Boudin, sa vie & son oeuvre.

Eugène Boudin, Marine
Etching, c.1864
Delteil 3, Melot 3

On the evidence of this one lively "essai d'eau-forte", it seems a shame that Eugène Boudin did not pursue his interest in etching further, and given the etching fever of the time it is also quite surprising. But I am very pleased to have a copy of his only etching, from the Floury edition. The same publication contains a further eight etchings after Boudin, by Loÿs Delteil. Delteil (1869-1927) is better known today as a cataloguer of the etched work of others in his multi-volume work Le Peintre-Graveur illustré, but he was also a talented etcher in his own right.

Loÿs Delteil, Temps d'orage
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Chez la Mère Toutain
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Eugène Boudin's primary artistic principle was his commitment to working direct from the motif, en plein-air. This doesn't mean he never worked up his ideas in the studio - that was how he spent the winter months in Paris. But he was convinced that "everything painted directly and on the spot has a strength, a vigour, a vivacity of touch that can never be attained in the studio." He passed this conviction on to Monet. Boudin in turn had been converted to plein-air work by the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), who was on friendly terms with artists of the Hague School, the Barbizon School, and the Impressionists, without, like Boudin, being subsumed into any of these groups. Boudin, too, was on very good terms with Barbizon artists such as Corot, Troyon, and Daubigny.

Loÿs Delteil, La plage de Trouville
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Campoux, environs de Brest
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

The best place to see Boudin's art is on the Normandy coast where it was created. There are wonderful collections of his work at the Musée d'art moderne André Malraux in Le Havre and the Musée Eugène Boudin in Honfleur, mostly works donated by the artist's family, at his request, after his death.

Loÿs Delteil, Un marché au Faou
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Barques à marée basse
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Pardon dans l'église de Hauvec
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

The critic Gustave Geffroy wrote in 1883 that Boudin was "together with Corot and Jongkind, one of the immediate precursors of Impressionism. He shows us that impenetrable black does not exist and that air is transparent."

Auguste Marie Lauzet, Le port de Trouville
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1892

I'm indebted for information and translations to Vivien Hamilton's excellent book Boudin at Trouville.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Adolphe Appian

I intend this post to be first in a short series about the important fore-runners or precursors of Impressionism. Although the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 is regarded as an earthquake moment in the history of art, there had been plenty of warning tremors in the years leading up to it. The roots of Impressionism lie most obviously in the plein-art painters and printmakers of the Barbizon School, and I shall in due course be looking at Barbizon artists such as Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Charles-Émile Jacque, Jean-François Millet, and Théodore Rousseau. The Barbizon artists were inspired by the example of the English painter John Constable, just as the Impressionists were inspired by J. M. W. Turner. There were also plenty of artists working outside Barbizon with similar aims of capturing fleeting sensations of light and shade and representing the landscape as our minds actually apprehend it. Most of these had some contact with the Barbizon group, and my first subject, Adolphe Appian, is a case in point.

Adolphe Appian, L'étang de Frignon à Creys
Etching, 1962
Curtis & Prouté 1 (II/III)

Adolphe Appian was born in Lyon in 1818; his birth name was Jacques Barthélémy or Barthélémi Appian, and he first exhibited under the pseudonym Adolphe at the Salon de Paris in 1835. He studied drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts de Lyon under Jean-Michel Grobon and Augustin Alexandre Thierrat. Appian was both a musician and a painter, and did not fully commit himself to the visual arts until 1852. This was the year Appian met Corot and Daubigny, both of whom profoundly influenced his style and approach; after this, while remaining based in Lyon, he made numerous trips to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint alongside the Barbizon artists. Michel Melot, in his exhibition catalogue for the centenary show of L'estampe impressioniste at the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1974, writes of Appian's wish to resolve the problems of changing light, and to render visual sensations (air, water, leaves) in etching. If you look closely at the kinds of marks Appian uses to describe skies, reflections, or seas, you will see that these are not conventional notations, but freely expressive responses, designed to evoke rather than delineate.

Adolphe Appian, Le champ de blé
Etching, 1863
Curtis & Prouté 2 (III/IV)

Although Appian remained a provincial artist, working almost always in the region of Lyon, he did make his mark on the art world, exhibiting at the Salon de Paris from 1835 and the Salon de Lyon from 1847 (and regularly at both Salons from 1855), contributing etchings to L'Artiste and the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, and most importantly publishing etchings with the firm of Cadart. Appian was a prominent member of the Société des Aquafortistes from its foundation by Cadart in 1862 until its dissolution in 1867, and remained loyal to Cadart and his widow Célonie-Sophie until the collapse of the business on 12 January 1882.

Adolphe Appian, À gorge de Loup
Etching, 1863
Curtis & Prouté 5

The 1878 Cadart catalogue advertises a Collection de 25 Eaux-Fortes (Paysages et Marines) by Adolphe Appian for the sum of 50 francs. This title, Landscapes and Seascapes, does convey in simple terms Appian's ostensible subject-matter. But the truth is that for Appian, as for the Impressionists, the true subject of art is the play of light. This is very evident in his etchings, and even more so in his monotypes. He made around 33 of these, some true monotypes (painted directly onto the plate and printed only once), others painted on top of an already-etched plate. Most of these monotypes, from the Atherton Curtis collection, are housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris; Melot's catalogue reproduces the etching Un Rocher dans les communaux de Rix alongside the same plate printed "en manière de monotype". The fact that the monotype was printed on the first state of the etching proves that Appian was already experimenting with monotype by 1865, three years before Paul Huet explored this technique and ten years before Degas. Appian was probably encouraged in his trials of different ways and intensities of inking an etching plate by Auguste Delâtre, who printed Appian's etchings from 1863 to 1869.

Adolphe Appian, Flotille de barques marchandes (Monaco)
Etching, 1872
Curtis & Prouté 34 (II/II)

Adolphe Appian made his first etching in 1853. Between then and 1896 he produced some 90 etchings, 4 lithographs, and around 33 monotypes. This is quite a serious printmaking output for someone whose main work was as a painter, and this is reflected in the fact that nowadays Appian is much more fêted for his etchings than for his paintings. The paintings tackle the same subjects as his etchings, with a strong preference for "contre-jour" motifs; these extravagant contrasts of light and dark show the influence of another artist loosely affiliated to Barbizon, Appian's friend Félix Ziem. After he discovered the light of the Mediterranean, Appian's palette lightened and his style became looser and more impressionistic.

Adolphe Appian, Environs de Martigues (Bouches de Rhone)
Etching, 1874
Curtis & Prouté 39

Adolphe Appian, Barque de pecheurs
(Barques de cabotage, Côtes d'Italie)
Etching, 1874
Curtis & Prouté 40 (II/III)

There is a good further selection of etchings by Adolphe Appian at Old Master Prints. The standard reference work is Atherton Curtis and Paul Prouté, Adolphe Appian, son oeuvre gravé et lithographié (1968).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Roger Vieillard: The Architecture of Time

I’ve posted before about some of the great names of twentieth-century French engraving—Jean-Émile Laboureur, Henri-Georges Adam, Ferdinand Springer. And there are more to come, such as Pierre Guastalla, the founder of La Jeune Gravure Contemporaine. Today I want to look at the man who, in my view, took the art of engraving to its dizziest heights, Roger Vieillard, born in Le Mans in 1907.

Roger Vieillard, Économie dirigée
Engraving, 1934
Guérin & Rault 11 (state v/v)

Vieillard devoted himself to the engraved line almost from the moment he entered Stanley Hayter’s famed Atelier 17 in 1934. He soon established himself as a master of copper engraving, specializing particularly in surreal mythological/architectural scenes, realized with great fluidity and imbued with a sense of mystery. He believed that engraving was capable of effects impossible to achieve in drawing or painting. The Surrealist atmosphere that prevailed at Atelier 17 in the 1930s is thoroughly ebedded in Vieillard’s work, though he seems to have avoided the factions and cliques of the Surrealist movement.

Roger Vieillard, Cité du Lac
Engraving, 1935
Guérin & Rault 97 (state vi/vi)

Interestingly. Vieillard’s wife, the American painter Anita de Caro, specialized in brightly-coloured abstracts, so the pair divided art up between them like Jack Sprat and his wife, he taking the line, and she the colour. A joint exhibition of the pair at the Propriété Caillebotte, Yerres, in 2008 was titled La Trait et la Couleur.

Roger Vieillard, Villes (Babylone)
Engraving, 1935
Guérin & Rault 86 (state iii/iii)

At Atelier 17 Vieillard studied alongside John Buckland-Wright, remaining on friendly terms with him. In England, the art of Roger Vieillard was also championed by the great expert on the livre d’artiste, W. J. Strachan, author of The Artist and the Book in France. Walter Strachan was influential in arranging two important exhibitions: a retrospective at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 1993 (with an excellent catalogue by P.M.S. Hacker, Gravure and Grace: The Engravings of Roger Vieillard) and the 1994 V&A exhibition Modern French Book Illustration: Vieillard, Flocon, Krol.

Roger Vieillard, Âge de fer
Engraving, 1948
Guérin & Rault 184 (state xvii/xvii)

There is a wonderful two-volume catalogue of Vieillard’s engravings by Anne Guérin and Virginie Rault: Roger Vieillard, Catalogue Raisonné, Oeuvre Gravé 1934-1989. This lists and illustrates 662 engravings, including those made for artist’s books, and also describes and usually illustrates all known “states” of each engraving. These can be quite numerous—some of Vieillard’s engravings go through over twenty states before reaching the “état definitive”.

Roger Vieillard, Fantaisie architecturale
Engraving, 1978
Guérin & Rault 605 (state v/vi)

The portfolio Architectures was published by Vieillard in 1980, “à la demande d’un groupe d’amateurs d’estampes”, in an edition of just eleven copies, of which nine were numbered 1-9 and two artist’s copies were marked A and B. It gathers together 14 engravings on architectural subjects, dating from 1934 to 1978. The engravings in the nine numbered copies are numbered out of the originally-envisaged editions of 30, 40, or 60, the artist never having printed the entirety of the stated editions. They were printed on very large sheets (in-folio raisin, 66 x 50 cm) of handmade Moulin de Larroque wove paper, in the atelier of the specialist taille-doucier Georges Leblanc. The small amount of type was hand-set and printed by Marthe Fequet and Pierre Baudier. My copy of Architectures is an out-of-series exemplaire de collaborateur, warmly inscribed by Roger Vieillard to Monsieur Baudier et Mademoiselle Fequet; the individual engravings are signed, titled, monogrammed, and marked “ép. col.”, collaborator’s proof. Presumably there was another exemplaire de collaborateur presented to Georges Leblanc, bringing the true number of copies of Architectures to thirteen.

Justification page of Architectures, inscribed by the artist

Roger Vieillard’s fascination with architectural forms persists right through his career. Some of his architectural fantasies are as complex as anything by Piranesi; equally he enjoyed simplifying these down to their essential structures, in what he called a “reprise linéaire”. I have three examples of this. Tour de Babel I was executed in 1935, while the reprise linéaire, Tour de Babel II, was created forty years later in 1975 (with the date 1935-1975 incised in the plate, in recognition of this engraving’s long gestation).

Roger Viellard, Tour de Babel I
Engraving, 1935
Guérin & Rault 28 (state vii/vii)

Roger Vieillard, Tour de Babel II
Engraving, 1975
Guérin & Rault 593 (state ii/vi)

My second example is also a Biblical subject, and again one that had haunted the artist for many years. It has its origins in a 1937 engraving of the blinded Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Chute du temple. In 1975 Vieillard engraved a new version of this, Ruine du temple (the major difference being the excision of a running female figure in the bottom right of the original composition, and a revised image of the god Dagon above the altar). His reprise linéaire of Ruine du temple is entitled Moment architectural.

Roger Vieillard, Ruine du temple
Engraving, 1975
Guérin & Rault 590 (state viii/viii)

Roger Vieillard, Moment architectural
Engraving, 1975
Guérin & Rault 591 (state iii/iii)

Lastly, Atelier and Espace d’atelier, both from 1973, envisages the artist’s working environment both as a hub of complex activity and as a tranquil negative space.

Roger Vieillard, Atelier
Engraving, 1973
Guérin & Rault 556 (state vii/ix)

Roger Vieillard, Espace d'atelier
Engraving, 1973
Guérin & Rault 557 (state iii/iii)

Two very interesting engravings from Vieillard’s later years are the almost abstract view of Manhattan, and the fully-abstracted Pyramide extrême. Manhattan is embodied by the Platonic idea of the skyscraper; I don’t think any individual buildings can be identified, and yet the place can be. Pyramide extrême similarly takes the idea of a pyramid to a state of geometric perfection. This engraving is printed from five plates—the central image and four long narrow rectangles along the sides.

Roger Vieillard, Manhattan
Engraving, 1966
Guérin & Rault 483 (state vi/vi)

Roger Vieillard, Pyramide extrême
Engraving, 1970
Guérin & Rault 513 (state iii/iii)

In a short foreword to Architectures, Vieillard sets out the reasons behind his fascination with buildings. He writes, Dès ses aurores, l’homme a conçu l’ARCHITECTURE comme le prolongement de sa vie brève et fragile, à la mesure de ses besoins et de ses songes, et l’a insérée dans une nature à lui offerte mais qui ne convenait pas à tous ses besoins. Elle fut d’abord son habitat, puis le décor des civilisations successives, le témoin de son passage et de ses modes de penser. “Since the dawn of time, man has conceived of architecture as a way of extending his brief and fragile life, by the measure of his needs and dreams, and has inserted it into a nature that was offered to him but did not meet all his needs. It was first of all a habitation, then the décor of successive civilizations, the witness of his time and of his way of thinking.”

Roger Vieillard, Cathédrale de Paris
Engraving, 1945
Guérin & Rault 130 (state vii/viii)

Beside Architectures, I have another rare set of engravings by Roger Vieillard, his Suite pour Déméter. This is one of twenty suites printed in bistre on Japon paper of a set of six engravings inspired by the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Hymne à Déméter was printed in an edition of 250 (20 on Hollande and 230 on Lana), with 20 suites in bistre on Japon and 70 suites in black on Hollande. Mine is suite 6/20. The engravings were printed by Philippe Molinier on the hand press of Roger Lacourière. There are strong echoes of Surrealism in these really beautiful and graceful interpretations of the myth of the abduction of Persephone by Hades, the desperate search of her mother Demeter, the cyclical release of Persephone for the spring and summer, and the founding of the Mysteries of Eleusis.

Roger Vieillard, L'Enlèvement de Persephone
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 139 (state iv/iv)

Roger Vieillard, La Poursuite de Déméter
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 140 (state vi/vi)

Roger Vieillard, La Royaume des Morts
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 141 (state iii/iii)

Roger Vieillard, L'Incantation de Déméter
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 142 (only state)

Roger Vieillard, Éleusis
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 143 (state ii/ii)

Roger Vieillard, Vie & Mort de la Déesse - Les Saisons
Engraving, 1946
Guérin & Rault 144 (only state)

Roger Vieillard died in 1989. Like T. S. Eliot and Kenneth Grahame, he combined his artistic life with a successful career in banking, working at the Banque nationale pour le commerce et l'industrie (for which he was for many years the chief financial analyst, and latterly deputy director) in order to secure his financial independence and give himself complete artistic freedom. The exceptional purity of his artistic vision is perhaps partly due to this liberation from financial pressures.