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).