Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rediscovering Albert Varadi

I first came across the Hungarian artist Albert Váradi in the Parisian art revue Byblis. In 1924 he contributed a wonderfully raffish and dandified etched portrait of the editor of Byblis, Pierre Gusman (himself a distinguished printmaker). There was an accompanying essay on Váradi by Loÿs Delteil, and a catalogue raisonné of his etchings to date. Starting in 1920, Váradi had produced 64 etchings and drypoints by summer 1924, plus a further 15 etchings that appeared in two books, Boccaccio's Das Liebeslabyrinth and Heine's Die Harzreise. As both of these books were published in Germany, it would appear that Váradi was one of many displaced artists from Eastern and Central Europe who settled in the West after WWI, usually gravitating to Paris, but often via some other country first. I was intrigued, and decided to find out what I could about this talented artist. As it turns out, the Byblis article by Delteil and the accompanying catalogue seem to be the best information available, though there is also a substantial entry on Váradi in Marcus Osterwalder, Dictionnaire des Illustrateurs 1905-1965.

Albert Váradi, Portrait de Pierre Gusman
Etching, 1924

Albert Váradi was born in Nagyvárad in Transylvania on 16 October 1896; his birthplace, then in Hungary, is today known as Oradea and is now in Romania, so both Hungary and Romania may lay claim to him. Váradi started his studies at the Budapest Academy and then continued at the Budapest School of Decorative Art. Drawn to printmaking after five years concentrating on sculpture, Váradi went to Munich in 1920 (or late 1919) to learn the art of etching under Peter Halm. That he showed immediate promise in this new field is evidenced by the fact that his etchings for Boccaccio were published in an edition of 250 copies by Hesperos Verlag in 1921, and those for Heine in an edition of 350 copies by Paul Stangl Verlag the following year. My copies of the Heine etchings are, rather surprisingly, each individually hand-signed by Váradi, presumably for a friend.

Albert Váradi, Title page for Das Liebeslabyrinth
Etching, 1921

Albert Váradi, Etching for Das Liebeslabyrinth
Etching, 1921

Albert Váradi, Etching for Das Liebeslabyrinth
Etching, 1921

Albert Váradi, Etching for Das Liebeslabyrinth
Etching, 1921

In April 1923 Váradi moved to Paris, where he first exhibited in that year's Salon d'Automne. He produced etchings of Paris street scenes, beaches in Normandy, and portraits, which Loÿs Delteil thought his strongest work. Váradi did not make preparatory drawings, but drew directly onto the copperplate, like Paul Helleu and Marcellin Desboutin. Most of Albert Váradi's etchings were issued in tiny editions 10 or 30 copies, though two were more widely distributed: his portrait of Eugène Delâtre appeared in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (c.1500 copies), and his portrait of Pierre Gusman was published in Byblis, Miroir des Arts du Livre et de l'Estampe (700 copies).

Albert Váradi, Title page for Die Harzreise
Etching, 1922

Albert Váradi, Etching for Die Harzreise
Etching, 1922

Albert Váradi, Etching for Die Harzreise
Etching, 1922

Albert Váradi, Etching for Die Harzreise
Etching, 1922

Sadly, Albert Váradi died in Paris in 1925, his promising career cut short at the age of just 28, having only been etching for five years. What the final total of his etchings was, I do not know, but the total of individual works, even counting the etchings for Boccaccio and Heine, is almost certainly less than 100.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tender agony: the tragic fate of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon and Constance Mayer

In his day, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823) was one of the most famous and successful artists in France. His art is poised between the strict neo-classicism of David and Ingres and the lush romanticism of Delacroix and Géricault. While the others were a generation younger, David (1748-1825) and Prud'hon were almost exact contemporaries and therefore rivals. The older David despised the softness and sentimentality of Prud'hon's work, but it was precisely these qualities that appealed to the ladies of Napoleon's court (including both of his Empresses, Josephine and Marie-Louise). Prud'hon's openness to emotional content also pleased Delacroix and Géricault, who both admired and were influenced by his art. Prud'hon came from humble origins. He was born plain Pierre Prudon in Cluny in Burgundy, the thirteenth child of a stonecutter. The Pierre-Paul part of his working name was intended to suggest artistic kinship with Peter Paul Rubens; the fancified surname gives the vague suggestion of a landed or noble background.

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, L'enfant au chien
Lithograph, 1822

Prud'hon hardly qualifies as a prolific printmaker. He made two etchings, and three authenticated and two attributed lithographs, and that seems to be it. Of the three undoubted original lithographs, I have one, a work of great style and authority. Entitled L'enfant au chien, it depicts the son of Maréchal Gouvion Saint-Cyr, and relates to a painting of the same subject exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1822. The lithographic stones for this and another lithograph entitled La lecture were acquired in 1864 by M. Galichon for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, which issued new editions (although possibly the works were never formally editioned prior to this). La lecture was included in the Gazette in 1870; although L'enfant au chien bears a credit to the Gazette as well as to the printer Bertauts, I can't find any record of it actually appearing in the revue. It is not listed in Pierre Sanchez and Xavier Seydoux's thorough and scrupulous catalogue, Les Estampes de la Gazette des Beaux-Arts. If anyone has access to the Gazette for 1869 and 1870, I would be grateful for any enlightenment as to whether L'enfant au chien is in there or not.

Alfred Taiée, Tombeau de Mlle C. Mayer et de Prud'hon
Etching, 1879

The date of 1822 is a notable one, because it means this tender study of a boy and his dog was executed while Prud'hon himself was suffering intolerable agony. Prud'hon had married at the age of 19. The marriage was unhappy, although the couple had six children, and his wife was eventually admitted to an insane asylum. From 1803, Prud'hon's intimate partner in both life and art was his ex-pupil Constance Mayer. There's a good post on their relationship here, at The Jade Sphinx. Supposedly, on her deathbed, Mme Prud'hon begged him never to re-marry, and he vowed that he would not. When Constance Mayer heard the news, she went to Prud'hon's studio, picked up his cutthroat razor, and slit her throat. Prud'hon was devastated by Mayer's death, sank into depression, and died himself in 1823. The lovers were buried in the same tomb in Père Lachaise; I have an etching of this by Alfred Taiée.

Engraving by an unknown hand after a drawing by
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon of Constance Mayer, c.1805

The remaining images in this post are etchings after Prud'hon, Mayer, or Prud'hon and Mayer combined. One of the puzzles with Prud'hon is exactly where his work stops and Constance Mayer's starts. He seems to have enjoyed drawing more than painting, and left a good deal of the execution of his large allegorical paintings to her; so much so that some authorities now credit the works to both artists. Constance Mayer was also an artist in her own right, with her own studio and her own pupils, and her work under her own name is certainly very similar to that of Prud'hon.

Léopold Flameng (1831-1911), etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Vénus au bain, ou L'innocence

Adolphe Lalauze (1838-1906), etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon and Constance Mayer, L'innocence préfère l'amour à la richesse

William Barbotin (1861-1931), etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, L'amour et l'innocence

Arthur Mayeur (1871-1919), etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Nymphe et amours

Prud'hon began to study drawing at the age of 16, at the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Dijon under François Devosge. In 1780 he entered the Royal Academy, then based in the Louvre. Two years after that, he won the a Burgundian three year scholarship to live and study in Rome. The years he then spent in Italy were crucial to his artistic development. According to the J. Paul Getty Museum biography, "his experience in Italy from 1784 to 1787, when he absorbed the softness and sensuality of Correggio's works and Leonardo da Vinci's sfumato, gave his art its distinctive style." His mastery of tonal effects in academic figure drawing has never been equalled.

Achille Gilbert (1828-1899), etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Portrait de Millevoye

Jules G. Romain, etching after
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Portrait de Mlle Pierre de Vellefrey

There's a good essay on Prud'hon by Fred Stern here, relating to the Prud'hon exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1998.

Eugène Gaujean (1850-1900), etching after
Constance Mayer, Le rêve de bonheur

Constance Mayer (full name, Marie-Françoise-Constance Mayer La Martinière) was born in Paris in 1775, seventeen years Prud'hon's junior. Like him, she had a meteoric rise in the art world, first exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1796. She studied under Joseph-Benoît Suvée and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and admired Prud'hon's artistic adversary Jacques-Louis David. Why in 1803 she would need to enrol as a pupil with Prud'hon is not immediately apparent, and it seems likely that the status of élève was a convenient mask for their affair, rather than a full master-pupil relationship. It was Constance who suffered from this subterfuge, because it meant that she was always viewed in the shadow of the master. No one knows how many drawings and paintings now attributed to Prud'hon are actually the work of Constance Mayer. Her 1805 painting Vénus et l’Amour endormis caressés et réveillés par les Zéphirs, ou Le sommeil de Vénus, for instance, initially bought by the Empress Josephine, when it passed into the collection of Sir William Wallace, had Mayer's signature removed and replaced by that of Prud'hon. Apart from anything else, a nude by a female artist was not to be thought of. The painting remains in the Wallace Collection, now reattributed to Mayer, though their description still maintains that Prud'hon provided the "initial ideas": i.e. he did the preparatory drawings and Mayer merely painted his design.

Augustin Mongin (1843-1911), etching after
Constance Mayer, Portrait de Mlle Sophie Lordon

Constance Mayer killed herself in Prud'hon's Paris studio on 26 May 1821. He withered without her, and died of consumption on 16 February 1823.