Friday, June 25, 2010

Édouard Goerg’s vision of suffering

I’ve mentioned the etcher, lithographer and painter Édouard Joseph Goerg in several previous posts, but never really focussed on his work. Born in Sydney, Australia in 1893, to French parents (his father was a champagne merchant, with whose bourgeois ethos Édouard remained deeply at odds), Goerg was a very powerful artist, whose distorted figures and phantasmagorical compositions express a deep-seated sense of dread and apprehension. Goerg’s anguished soul is reflected in the texts he chose to illustrate, which include Dante’s L’Enfer (1950, etchings), Villiers de l’Isle Adam’s Nouveau contes cruels (1946, colour lithographs), and the Apocalypse (1945, black and white lithographs).

Édouard Goerg, lithograph for Baudelaire, 1947-52

Goerg’s majestic two-volume edition of Baudelaire’s poems, Les Fleurs du Mal (1948) and Tableaux Parisiens (1952) is often cited as his major work. It’s certainly a monumental achievement, containing 269 monochrome lithographs, all designed to surround and interact with the text. I have just one of the Baudelaire lithos, from one of the 30 suites in black of the lithographs without the text (there were also 10 suites in sanguine and 10 suites in black of the first state of the lithos). It’s one of the 33 double-page images, but without consulting the book I can’t say for sure which poem it relates to.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

As a piece of bookmaking, the Baudelaire may well be Goerg’s masterpiece, but in terms of printmaking, the images don’t really work on their own without the text. My own favourite series of Édouard Goerg prints is the set of etchings he made in 1946 for Le Livre de Job. There are 24 large etchings, printed hors-texte, and a further 7 small etchings integrated with the text. The Book of Job with its poetic vision of suffering was the perfect inspiration for Goerg, and he rises to its challenges with what for me is his best work. The etchings for Job inevitably invite comparison with Marc Chagall’s etchings and lithographs for the Bible. But whereas Chagall’s essential nature is sunny and outgoing, Goerg’s is dark, brooding, and introspective.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Pierre Mornand and J.-R. Thomé write of Édouard Goerg in Vingt Artistes du Livre (1955) that “le tragique hante l’âme d’Édouard Goerg”—tragedy haunts his soul. Goerg was indelibly marked by the horrors of the First World War, in which he was mobilized and saw active service in Greece, Turkey, and Serbia. Later he witnessed the terrible rise of fascism in Europe. After the fall of France, Goerg’s first wife, who was Jewish, went into hiding, and died because she could not get access to medical care. Édouard Goerg fell into a deep depression, for which he was treated with electroconvulsive therapy. It was out of this darkness that his haunting etchings for the Book of Job (and his equally intense and disturbing etchings for Dante’s Inferno) arose.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Mornand and Thomé write of etchings for Job, “Goerg uses all the alchemy of etching to evoke the profound meaning of the enigmatic Book of Job, whose obscure and troubling lamentations are a prophecy of future calamities.” They compare his mastery of light and shade in these etchings to both Méryon and Rembrandt.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Comparisons of Goerg to others are never easy, just as it is hard to identify him with any particular school. He is most often classed as an Expressionist, but in French terms that is really just a term for the artists who don’t seem to fit anywhere else, such as Goerg or Henry de Waroquier. There is some influence from James Ensor, some from Odilon Redon, some from George Grosz. I think one can also see that Goerg looked closely at the work of both Chagall and Modigliani. There’s also a deep-rooted debt to Flemish masters such as Bosch and Breughel.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Goerg’s teachers at the Académie Ranson from 1913-1914 were Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis, and there is certainly a direct influence from Denis in his work; later Goerg was to be involved with Denis’s Atelier de l’Art Sacré.
Édouard Goerg, etching for Le Livre de Job, 1946

Goerg was also, of course, influenced by his direct contemporaries and friends, most notably Marcel Gromaire, Gus Bofa, the “Prince of Montmartre” Jules Pascin, and Pascin’s close friend Per Krohg.
It was Jean-Émile Laboureur who introduced Édouard Goerg to etching in early 1920s. I have two important series of Goerg’s etchings from this period—a rare suite of his etchings for Knock ou le Triomphe de la Médicine by Jules Romains (1926), and his 14 etchings for Frédéric Boutet’s Tableau de l’Au-Delà (1927). Both exhibit a lively strain of black humour.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Knock, 1926

Édouard Goerg, etching for Knock, 1926

I only have the suite of 12 etchings for Knock, not the book. There were 39 suites of the etchings in their final state.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Knock, 1926

Édouard Goerg, etching for Knock, 1926

Tableau de l’Au-Delà (Portrait of the Beyond), with its witty depictions of various seekers after the supernatural, shows the early Goerg at his satirical best. It was published in an edition of 347 copies.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Tableau de l'Au-Delà, 1927

Édouard Goerg, etching for Tableau de l'Au-Delà, 1927

In the 1920s, Édouard Goerg was a member of Jean Cocteau’s circle, and had well-documented problems with opium; I am indebted to a reader of this blog, Benoît, for the information that Goerg kept his supply of opium stashed in his paintbox. Opium dreams may account for the hallucinatory quality of his work.

Édouard Goerg, etching for Tableau de l'Au-Delà, 1927

Édouard Goerg, etching for Tableau de l'Au-Delà, 1927

I also have a very rare suite of 28 etchings with remarques, printed in sanguine, of Édouard Goerg’s 1947 edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s L’Ange du Bizarre (in Baudelaire’s translation, of course). There were 275 copies of the book, and 25 suites. According to Luc Monod, these suites were printed in black, so either he is mistaken, or there was also an even smaller number printed in sanguine.

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

The Poe etchings are very striking (Mornand and Thomé speak of their “extraordinary power”). Dreamlike and mysterious, they seem to hover at the very edge of intelligibility. The remarques, added to the plate with a drypoint needle, essentially provide 28 further images, sometimes closely related to the original image, sometimes seemingly disconnected from it.

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

In 1949, Goerg won the important Prix Hallmark for a painting of the Nativity. In the same year he was appointed professor of printmaking at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. In 1950 he won the Prix de Gravure de Lugano, but in fact his career as a printmaker was virtually at its end. He re-married, and his second wife encouraged him to return with renewed vigour to painting. His colourful paintings of sensual and decadent “filles-fleurs” from this period earned him renewed popularity. He became the president of the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, and in 1965 was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg, etching with drypoint remarque for L'Ange du bizarre, 1947

Édouard Goerg died at Callian in the Var in 1969, at the age of 76. According to his Wikipedia entry, Goerg was planning to leave his wife, and his death was “mysterious”. This seems appropriate for an artist whose work is always suffused with a sense of mystery. He was truly, as Mornand and Thomé say, a “poète fantastique et magicien de l’irréel—poet of the fantastic and magician of the unreal.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

A new book on Chas Laborde

I have already posted here about the great between-the-wars etcher and illustrator Chas Laborde. Now Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, the man behind the excellent Chas Laborde and Gus Bofa websites, has kindly sent me a copy of his new book, which is a survey and celebration of Chas Laborde's art. The title is Chas Laborde: Un homme dans la foule (Chas Laborde: A man in the crowd), referring to Laborde's keenly observational account of street life not just in Paris but also in London, New York, Moscow, Madrid, and Berlin. Chas Laborde's most important works were the series of etched livres d'artiste he created under the generic title Rues et visages,  beginning with Rues et visages de Paris in 1926.

Emmanuel Pollaud-Dulian, Chas Laborde: Un homme dans la foule
Paris: Michel Lagarde, ISBN 978-2-916421-22-3, €19

Chas Laborde, Rue Ménilmontant
Etching reproduced on p.15, I believe this comes from Rues et visages de Paris

The book is a very handsome production, well illustrated and researched, and modestly priced. It's so easy for an artist such as Chas Laborde to fall from view, and anything that keeps his name alive is very worthwhile. In many ways he was like a French version of George Grosz, if you can imagine a Grosz who observed his subjects with a tender and sympathetic humour, rather than savagery and scorn. There is an exhibition to coincide with the publication of the book, at l'Atelier An. Girard, Paris, from 20 May to 17 July.

Chas Laborde, Henri
Etching for La belle journée, 1925

Chas Laborde, Notre Dame at night
Etching for Juliette au pays des hommes, 1926

Chas Laborde, Fashionable Young Men
Etching for Juliette au pays des hommes, 1926

Chas Laborde, Traffic Jam
Etching for Juliette au pays des hommes, 1926

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seven variations on El Desdichado

Following yesterday's post, Jane Librizzi of The Blue Lantern asked for illumination on the texts incorporated in the engravings by Henri-Georges Adam. They are all from the 1853 sonnet sequence Les Chimères by Gérard de Nerval, the man who used to take his pet lobster for walks on a lead in the gardens of the Palais Royal. These are densely allusive, complex poems, and although it occurred to me to try to translate one, good sense prevailed. But in the spirit of "Be careful what you wish for", here is the original French text of Gérard de Nerval's best-known poem, El Desdichado (famously quoted by T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land), plus 7 English versions, the fashioning of which has gently whiled away a summer's morning.... The first version is a bare literal translation, the second an attempt at a rhymed equivalent, and the remainder wander steadily further and further from the source text. I would have just posted Martin Bell's translation, which I remember from 40 years ago, but I couldn't put my hand on the book! And for those of you who come to this blog for prints not poems, there are two further engravings by Henri-Georges Adam.

Henri-Georges Adam, El Desdichado (texte)
Engraving, 1950


Je suis le ténébreux, - le veuf, - l’inconsolé,
Le prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, - et mon luth constellé
Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du tombeau, toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où la pampre à la rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phébus? . . . Lusignan ou Biron?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la reine;
J’ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la syrène. .  .

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron:
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fée.

Henri-Georges Adam, El Desdichado
Engraving, 1947



I am the shadow man, the widower, the unconsoled,
The Prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins:
My only star is dead, and my constellated lute
Bears the Black Sun of Melancholy.

In the darkness of the tomb, you who consoled me,
Restore to me Posilipo and the Italian sea.
The flower that so pleased my desolate heart
And the trellis where the vine twined round the rose.

Am I Love or Phoebus? Lusignan or Biron?
My forehead is still red from the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamed in the cave where the siren swims.

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron:
Modulating in turn on the lyre of Orpheus
The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fairy.


I am a man of shadows; disinherited.
A prince defeated in a ruined tower.
From the black sun of sadness the light has fled.
My lute is silent; dead my only star.

In the close tomb, the darkness thickens.
Console me with Posilipo and the Italian sea,
The flower that heals a heart so stricken,
With memories of you and me.

Am I Eros or Apollo? Melusine’s husband, or Lord Byron?
My forehead imprinted with a queen’s desire,
I have dreamed of swimming with the siren.

Twice I have crossed the river of death
And all the while Orpheus twanged his lyre
To the sighs of a saint, a fairy’s breath.


Shadowman. Widower. I am inconsolable.
The lost prince of a burned-out tower.
My guiding light is gone, and my starry lute
resounds to the thud of a sad black sun.

In the blackness of my tomb, you who consoled me,
give me back Posilipo and the bay of Naples—
the flower that restored my desolated heart,
the trellis where the rose and the vine entwine.

Am I Eros or Apollo? . . . a lover or a warrior?
My brow is stamped red by the kiss of a queen—
my head swims with dreams of the siren’s cave.

And I have swum twice across the waters of death—
and at each stroke Orpheus strummed his lyre
to the whimpers of a saint, and a fairy’s cries.


I lurk in the shadows. Bereft. Inconsolable.
The disenchanted prince of a tower that never was.
My lodestar extinguished, and my star-pocked lute
thrumming to the beat of a sad black sun.

You who comforted me in the darkness of the tomb,
lead me back to Virgil’s cave and the bay of Naples—
garland my shattered heart with flowers,
entwine it with roses and rambling vines.

Am I Eros or Apollo? . . . Roland or Tam Lin?
My brow tattooed by the kiss of a queen—
my head awash with dreams of sirens.

And I have twice tamed the waters of Acheron—
as Orpheus wrung from his rippling lyre
the tears of a saint, and a fairy’s cries.


Having lost everything, I live in the shadowland,
a dispossessed prince in his fallen tower.
My star has died, and my lute is branded
with the black sun of everlasting grief.

What consolation is it in the lightless tomb
to recall the bright sun glancing off the sea
to dapple a posy of heartsease
or twine the rose around the vine?

Am I love’s fool? When a queen’s red kiss
Burned onto my brow, my dreams were all
of swimming with the mermaids beneath the waves.

Twice now I have crossed the forbidden river
while Orpheus shaped his melodies
from the moans of a saint, and a fairy’s cries.


I skulk in the black hole of my imploded dreams,
a prince who can’t accept his tower has fallen down.
The starshine that once fell on my guitar
flattened by the rays of a dead black sun.

In this dark night of my soul, comfort me
with memories of Italy  and the sea,
when you were coming into bloom
and we forgot whose limbs were whose.

Your lipsticked kiss still throbs on my face—
I could have been whoever you wanted me to be
that night we spent in the mermaid’s cave.

Once more I have reached the river of forgetfulness
and the echoes of your cries still fill the air.
I tune my guitar to the sound of your despair.


I live in the shadows cast
by a blackened sun.
The music of the stars
is the sound of time imploding.

Speak to me of Skenfrith,
give me back the walk along the Isis
The Wind in the Willows
and the first true day of spring.

Neither the heart nor the head can help us now—
the wave is coming
to drag us down to the mermaid’s lair.

How many times have we walked the line
between life and death? The air thrilling
with unearthly yelps and cries.

copyright © Neil Philip 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dynamic forms

Henri-Georges Adam was born in 1904 in Paris, where his father was a jeweller and goldsmith in the Marais district. Adam worked in his father's studio while taking art classes in the evening, before entering the École des Beaux-Arts. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Untitled, 1957
Engraving included in the 500 copies of Adam, Oeuvre Gravé

Initially working as a painter, in the early 1930s, following an accident, Henri-Georges Adam changed direction. He took up engraving (the rudiments of which he had learned from his father), and abandoned painting for sculpture. He also designed monumental tapestries, always in shades of black and white. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Le Christ aux Oliviers
Engraving, 1947

As a printmaker, Henri-Georges Adam also insisted on the purity of black and white, and only used one tool, the engraver's burin. An anarchist and a pacifist, Henri-Georges Adam first distinguished himself as an engraver with a series of prints expressing his outrage at the Spanish Civil War, Désastres de la guerre. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Anteros
Engraving, 1947

In 1936 he joined the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, along with Maurice Estève, Alfred Manessier, Édouard Pignon, and Arpad Szenes. It may have been Pignon who brought Adam to the attention of Picasso, who encouraged him, and after WWII lent him his studio in the rue des Grands-Augustins and a house near Gisors. In 1943 Adam, Pignon, and Manessier were three of the founders of the clandestine Salon de Mai, which was in effect the artistic wing of the French Resistance. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Vers dorés
Engraving, 1947

In 1959 Henri-Georges Adam was appointed Professor of Engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was later also made Professor of Monumental Sculpture. In 1966 there was a major retrospective of Adam's work at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. The following year, still at the height of his powers and productivity, Henri-Georges Adam died of a sudden heart attack, near Perros-Guirec in Brittany. He is buried in the cemetery of Mont-Saint-Michel. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Artemis
Engraving, 1950

At his death, Henri-Georges Adam left unpublished a major series of engravings, designed to illustrate Les Chimères by Gérard de Nerval. Executed between 1947 and 1950 for a proposed edition to be published by Bordas, this abandoned project was eventually published posthumously in 1971 by Les Bibliophiles de Provence, in an edition of 200 copies plus 40 suites. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Le Christ aux Oliviers V
Engraving on three cut-out plates, 1950

Henri-Georges Adam, Anteros
Engraving on seven cut-out plates, 1950

Some of the plates are pure illustrations, while others brilliantly incorporate the text of Les Chimères as an integral part of the design. For some, Adam has cut the copper plates into significant shapes, and juxtaposed as many as seven plates on the page to make a single image. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Delfica
Engraving, 1947

The dynamic forms and intense cross-hatched blacks of Henri-Georges Adam's nearly-abstract engravings incorporate the lessons of cubism and surrealism seamlessly into the long history of the furrowed line.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fantastic vision of the Machine Age

The painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramicist Gio Colucci (sometimes known in France as Géo Colucci) was born in Florence (one source says Cairo) in 1892, and died in Paris in 1974. He studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, after which he went to Egypt to practice as an architect in Cairo. It was in Cairo that he gradually moved over from architecture to fine art. His older brother was the writer and publisher Guido Colucci, born in Naples; Guido and Gio collaborated on a number of books to which Guido furnished the texts and Gio the illustrations.

Gio Colucci, Bonheur du monde I
Etching, 1929
From copy 74/105
Printed by Paul Haasen on Arches wove paper

As a printmaker, Gio Colucci produced both etchings and wood engravings. From 1921 he showed his etchings at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and also showed work at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Surindépendants alongside Gleizes, Herbin, Delaunay, and others. 

Gio Colucci, Bonheur du monde II
Etching, 1929

Gio Colucci's work in the 1920s was in an expressive late-Symbolist style, akin to that of Henry Chapront, who wrote of Colucci in Papyrus, March 1930: Ses eaux-fortes, outrancières et bien mordues, sont parfois surchargées de symbolisme. Ses compositions pour Bonheur du monde de François Turpin, révèlent une vision fantastique du machinisme. "His etchings, daring and deeply bitten, are sometimes laden with symbolism. His compositions for Bonheur du monde by François Turpin reveal a fantastic vision of the Machine Age."

Gio Colucci, Bonheur du monde III
Etching, 1929

I'm not sure if daring is quite the right translation for outrancières in this quote (which I found in Marcus Osterwalder's useful Dictionnaire des illustrateurs) - it means something like extreme or perhaps outrageous. There's certainly a powerful sense of almost Orphist or Futurist energy in the four etchings for Bonheur du monde, especially the last two.

Gio Colucci, Bonheur du monde IV
Etching, 1929

Besides Bonheur du monde, Gio Colucci made memorable series of etchings for works by Barbey d'Aurevilly, Pierre Loti, Maupassant, and Octave Mirbeau. Gio Colucci took up ceramics in 1929, and concentrated on pottery during WWII, which he spent in Provence after being demobilized in 1941. In 1956 Gio Colucci and Gino Severini founded the École d'Art Italien. There was a retrospective of the art of Gio Colucci in New York in 1959, in which year he also exhibited at the Quadriennale in Rome. Despite this success,  he died in poverty. The contents of his atelier were auctioned at Drouot-Richelieu in 1994.