Friday, June 30, 2017

The Pre-Impressionists: Paul Huet

Paul Huet was born in Paris in 1803. was a pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros and Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, and a friend and associate of Delacroix and Bonington. He was inspired like other Barbizon School artists by the art of John Constable (exhibited in Paris in 1824). While Huet's oils are sedate and conservative, his watercolours have a freshness that really sings; if he had been a Post-Impressionist rather than a Pre-Impressionist, he would no doubt have applied the vibrant colour sense shown in his watercolours to his oils. The Impressionists  shunned brown and black; if Huet had done the same, his work would have been transformed. There's a good brief biography with selections of his art here.

Paul Huet, Vieilles maisons sur le port de Honfleur
Etching, 1866

Alongside his paintings and watercolours, Paul Huet was also a printmaker. He published his first lithographs in 1829 and his first etchings in 1834. He died in 1869, and both my examples of his etched work date from his last years (both reprinted in 1911). The first is a charming but rather conventional scene of the harbour at Honfleur.

Paul Huet, Soirée d'été - les baigneuses
Etching, 1867

The second is something else entirely. It anticipates much of the Impressionist style in its fresh, loose approach, and its fascination with the play of light and shade.  I can't help feeling Paul Cézanne must have known this etching (or the painting of the same subject displayed at the Salon of 1866), as its dreamlike scene of bathers disporting themselves in a river on a summer's evening seems to anticipate his own treatment of similar scenes.