Etching: The Creative Process

Britany Salsbury

In the catalogue essay for an exhibition of prints held in 1891 at Paris’s popular Galeries Durand-Ruel, the critic Roger Marx effusively wrote of etching’s status at that time: “Was it ever more desirable, more deserving of museums’ attentions, of collectors’ searches? The late nineteenth century … will remain for original etching a turning point, a period of absolute efflorescence.”1 As Marx’s words suggest, etching underwent a revolutionary transformation during the second half of the nineteenth century. Historically, the medium was practiced by artists including Rembrandt van Rijn and Jacques Callot, but interest had waned by the early 1800s, as other printmaking techniques such as engraving and lithography grew in popularity. Around mid-century, the publisher Alfred Cadart and printer Auguste Delâtre initiated what became a full-scale revival of etching, arousing an interest among printmakers that has lasted to this day.

Above all, the nineteenth-century etching revival was centered on technique. New manuals and treatises on the process allowed artists to teach themselves how to etch, and the ready availability of tools and personal presses facilitated work in the privacy of a studio rather than in a print shop. More than ever before, artists could produce and print their own work without the intermediation of a trained master printer or expensive equipment. This new availability of technical information, more broadly, encouraged artists to work creatively with etching; with all the necessary materials at their disposal, they could freely and actively experiment. The private conditions in which their prints were produced, viewed, and collected encouraged artists to pursue new formal effects as well as subject matter that might have been difficult to realize in more public media, such as painting. This publication focuses on the creativity and experimentation that proliferated in these years, during and after etching’s revival, and the centrality of process in this important shift.

The practice of etching began to fundamentally change around 1862, when a group of artists formed an organization called the Société des Aquafortistes. Supported by Cadart and Delâtre, the group aimed to transform the public perception and artistic practice not only of etching, but of the graphic arts in general. At the time of the group’s formation, printmaking was used mostly as a means of producing affordable copies of paintings for middle-class audiences. These prints were often made either using engraving, whose practitioners required long and specialized training, or lithography, which required materials and equipment only available in specialized shops. The artists, publisher, and printer who formed the Société des Aquafortistes hoped to counter this use of printmaking as a reproductive art form and reestablish its originality. To do so, they looked to past masters of the medium, especially Rembrandt, who they saw as the ultimate example of a “painter-printmaker”—a practitioner focused on making prints as a means of formal exploration and personal expression, rather than entrepreneurial gain. A design by the artist Léopold Flameng for a letterhead used for invoices by Delâtre2 clearly suggests the printer’s ambitions for the organization in its decorative depiction of an artist who etches, paints, and prints his own work. The Parisian cityscape makes up the background, with portrait medallions of Dürer and Rembrandt decorating the foreground.

A dramatic revival of etching followed the formation of the Société and lasted into the 1870s. At the organization’s headquarters, artists, printers, publishers, dealers, collectors, and critics gathered to share their enthusiasm, obtain training in the medium, and view or purchase newly produced works by members. Cadart and Delâtre also regularly published albums presenting a selection of prints either by an individual artist or by a group of member artists—such as Voyage by Boat, a set of etchings by Charles François Daubigny depicting the path of two travelers.3 Their publication of the portfolio Eaux-fortes modernes similarly offered collectors a preselected group of prints, accompanied by essays on the medium by prominent critics and writers. Easily circulated among collectors and dealers, these projects, as well as the sense of community created through the organization’s physical space, successfully reestablished the status of etching during the 1860s.

Although the etching revival and the contributions of the Société des Aquafortistes are often seen as turning points for the medium, less attention has been devoted to the years that followed and the important continued impact that the movement had during that time—especially regarding the greater availability of technical information. One of the revival’s most important contributions included member artist Maxime Lalanne’s Treatise on Etching,4 which continued to be reprinted and revised in the decades following its publication in 1866, each time offering greater encouragement for artists interested in an experimental and independent approach to etching. An etcher of highly detailed cityscapes,5 Lalanne was known less by his art and more by his manual. His text took the form of an informal conversation between the author and a novice student, and its accessible, nontechnical approach was seen as a vast improvement upon the handbook previously used most, Abraham Bosse’s On the Manner of Etching with Acid and with a Burin, and of Dark-Manner Engraving,6 published two centuries earlier. As the critic Charles Blanc described in a preface to the first edition of Lalanne’s text, “Abraham Bosse wrote for those who know, while [Lalanne writes] for those who do not know.”7

Lalanne’s original text provided an overview of etching from start to finish, introducing topics from a theoretical discussion of the “definition and character” of the medium to preparing the plate, biting, and printing, as well as the various materials that could be used in etching. In addition, the author addressed an extensive list of accidents that could take place during the process, advising the reader on how to work through them. On a methodological level, Lalanne also encouraged a new and specific approach to etching, promoting a free and expressive line and emphasizing the importance of aligning subject and technique.8 The eight later editions of the treatise gradually placed greater emphasis on working independently, including printing one’s own work.9 The translated edition of 1880, for example, offered an addendum section of notes with a precise description of setting up to print at home.10 The treatise offered new possibilities for self-instruction and, as a book, was circulated widely, allowing artists worldwide, both those connected to and disparate from the etching revival in Paris, the knowledge to begin making prints.

Once they had learned the basics of etching, artists could benefit from the new availability of personal and easy-to-use tools and materials. Cadart sold a boîte complète pour la gravure à l’eau-forte (etching kit) from his Parisian shop. The modest sum of sixty francs could buy an organized and portable package containing tools such as a burnisher, needle, and roulette, as well as wax ground and aquatint.11 A deluxe version was also available for 100 francs.12 This kit allowed artists to work on etchings in virtually any location, and to prepare their own plates. Artists were soon also able to undertake their own printing. In the same year of Lalanne’s manual, the British artist and critic Philip G. Hamerton published his Etchers and Etching, which asserted that “every one [sic] who etches ought to have a press in his own house.”13 Hamerton himself designed a small personal press that became available in 1870. Around the same time, Cadart began to sell a similar portable press,14 which artists could fit and work with in their own studios, for the affordable cost of one hundred fifty francs.15 An announcement published in the journal Union des Arts described these new resources, saying that “those who have the desire to try [etching] … will find at Cadart and Luquet everything they could ever need … they will happily show anyone who stops by … all the different processes that form the basis of etching.”16 Legislation passed in 1881 abolished a requirement that such equipment be registered and authorized, further encouraging artists to acquire their own presses, and artists began to work more independently than ever before.17 By 1890, the critic Philip Burty would write, “Today, almost all etchers have taken up printing their works, to vary the effects of printing, all owning their own presses in their studio.”18

Etchers were also encouraged by the growing interest in their work among collectors during the late nineteenth century. In comparison to the market for paintings, modest prices bolstered the demand for etchings, and a number of dealers soon began to cater to it. Edmond Sagot, for example, transformed his bookshop into a gallery for prints19 in 1884 and corresponded extensively with enthusiastic collectors about his holdings and the relative merits of various artists.20 Like several other dealers at the time, including Gustave Pellet and Victor Prouté, Sagot circulated a catalogue listing available works, dramatically extending the geographic reach of the print market.21 In addition to visiting these dealers, many collectors purchased works from artists themselves, calling on them at their studios to discuss their work and view new prints. Collectors could also build their connoisseurial skills by studying the vast holdings of prints available in the study room of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and, nearby, at Paris’s Hôtel Drouot, an auction house that regularly held sales of prints dispersed from famous collections.22

To facilitate these interactions, a wide body of literature began to be published in the late nineteenth century to assist collectors in better understanding the market for etching, as well as key artists and aspects of technique. Beginning in the 1880s, a number of manuals—often written by print connoisseurs themselves—were published with the aim of allowing collectors to educate themselves. Issued from 1885 through 1892, Henri Beraldi’s Les Graveurs du XIXe Siècle was the first to focus exclusively on contemporary prints, providing biographical information on important etchers along with lists of their known prints and technical notes gleaned from his own collecting practices.23 Shortly after, in 1906, the collector, critic, printmaker, and occasional dealer Loys Delteil began publishing his Le Peintre-Graveur illustré, ultimately producing thirty-one volumes devoted to individual printmakers, with illustrations to facilitate collectors’ research. In addition to these books, a number of new journals catered specifically to print collectors. Periodicals such as L’Estampe and L’Estampe et l’affiche provided a centralized source on the Parisian print world, including information about dealers, exhibitions, artists, auctions, and logistics of collecting. They also encouraged interaction from readers, soliciting opinions and experiences for publication in their pages.24 This wide body of literature made etching more accessible to collectors and allowed artists to work with the knowledge of a ready and interested market.

The enthusiasm of collectors encouraged artists to experiment not only with process, but also with new and often socially relevant subject matter, such as poverty, urban transformation, and the social roles of women. Because etchings could be produced in the privacy of an artist’s studio and marketed directly to interested collectors, they could address topics that might arouse controversy in media such as painting, which was often necessarily displayed and viewed in public places such as galleries or exhibition spaces.25 With greater knowledge of technique, artists used the formal qualities inherent to etching to enhance their depiction of psychologically and politically charged subjects. For his depiction of two young female drug users in The Morphine Addicts,26 for example, Albert Besnard rendered one woman in dark tones, staring directly at the viewer, and the other in loose sketchy lines that allow her to fade distinctly into her surroundings, evoking the mental release of the drugs the pair consumes. The scene is dominated by the large feather one woman holds, mirrored by a plume of smoke encircling them. The latter was created by applying an acid-resistant varnish to Besnard’s copper plate (called “stopping out”), preventing a line from etching in that area. In his depiction of a clandestine meeting between two lesbians in Farewell at the Parc d’Auteuil, Félicien Rops likewise used process to emphasize the meeting’s concealment, experimenting with cleanly printing his plate27 and then reprinting with a thickly wiped layer of ink that envelops the pair in a deep, murky shadow,28 changing the scene’s tone literally and figuratively.

Etchers in late nineteenth-century Paris widely took up this experimental approach, seeing traditional technique as a starting point rather than an end in itself. Ludovic Lepic, for instance, developed a process—which he termed l’eau-forte mobile (variable etching)—that drew as much on painting as printmaking. By wiping ink selectively on the surface of a copper plate—an approach which had already existed and is today known as monotype—Lepic was able to create multiple unique variations on his prints. His series Views from the Banks of the Scheldt was produced from the same printing plate, which showed windmills and ships in the distant background and, in the foreground, a grassy riverbank where a man approaches a small boat. In one of the most ambitious variations,29 Lepic painted a large tree and snowbank onto the plate before printing, but also sprinkled rosin on its surface, embossing white marks that suggested falling snow. His work is notable not only for the technical knowledge it required, but also his interest in fundamentally reinventing etching by creating his own version of it.

Other artists used traditional etching techniques but dramatically altered the aesthetic of their work. Auguste Rodin was one of a number of artists who embraced the improvisatory quality of etching and the opportunity it afforded in sketching directly onto a prepared copper plate. His Portrait of Henry Becque30 was produced between creating bronze and terra-cotta versions of a sculpture that also depicted the controversial playwright, known for his unsentimentalized portrayal of contemporary social mores. Rodin’s etching is situated off-center on the sheet, giving the composition a casual tone that is enhanced by lines loosely drawn in drypoint around the subject. Becque is seen from three angles—frontally and from the left and right—suggesting the print may have been a means of rethinking the sculpture’s composition. This sense is enhanced by the depth of the lines Rodin drew, which are far darker on the back of the left figure’s head and much more lightly drawn in the front of the middle head, evoking the way light might have naturally fallen. The work allowed Rodin to use the sketchiness and freedom of drypoint to create a print that served multiple purposes for him and his viewers.

Finally, artists experimented avidly by introducing new materials and tools and modifying those that had long existed. Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, for instance, often worked with liquid aquatint—a mixture of grainy rosin and a condensed alcohol solution that was painted on rather than sprinkled from a pouch, as was the traditional method—giving their etchings a crackled and irregular tonality. Mary Cassatt used this process in her print Telling Fortunes31 to suggest the distance between two figures. At left, a woman appears enveloped in a dark tone that is enhanced by lines drawn deeply into the plate to define her form. The aesthetic of the aquatint highlights the emotional and physical space between the two women, who sit together in a private room entertaining themselves with a deck of cards but without directly engaging. The stark composition and black and white tones of the image likewise suggest an intimate but stifling situation.

The increased availability of knowledge about the etching process allowed artists to work more experimentally than ever before in the years during and after the etching revival. Whether by interacting with other etchers or interested collectors, or by reading and working alone in their studios, artists began to see etching as an accessible and rich source for artistic production. The works these printmakers undertook during the second half of the nineteenth century intrinsically linked process, creativity, and, in many cases, subject matter to give the medium a distinct appeal to artists and collectors alike. This shift set the stage for etching, and, more broadly, printmaking, to evolve into a practice that fostered formal investigation and experimentation.

1

“Fut-elle jamais plus désirable, plus digne de la publicité des musées, de la recherche des amateurs? Cette fin de siècle, tant décriée, qualifiée si volontiers de décadente, restera pour la gravure originale une époque de véritable efflorescence.” Roger Marx, Société de peintre-graveurs français, troisième exposition (Paris: Galeries Durand-Ruel, 1891), 6.

7

Charles Blanc, “Letter from Charles Blanc,” in Maxime Lalanne, A Treatise on Etching [1866], trans. by S. R. Koehler, 2nd ed. (Boston : Estes and Lauriat, 1880), xxv.

8

Jay M. Fisher, Introduction to The Technique of Etching (New York: Dover, 1981), xv.

9

For details on these editions, see Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching, 1400–2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes (London: Archetype, 2012), 421.

10

Lalanne, A Treatise on Etching, 6972.

12

Léon Rosenthal, Manet, aquafortiste et lithographe (Paris: Goupy, 1925), 21.

13

Philip G. Hamerton, quoted in Stijnman, Engraving and Etching, 103.

15

Lalanne, A Treatise on Etching, 69.

16

Janine Bailly-Herzberg, L’eau-forte de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle, la Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867), vol. 1 (Paris: Leonce Laget, 1972), 22.

17

Marianne Grivel, “La part d’ombre d’Albert Besenard: l’oeuvre gravé,” in Christine Gouzi, et al., Albert Besnard (1849–1934): Modernités Belle Époque (Paris: Somogy, 2016), 51.

18

“Aujourd’hui, presque tous les graveurs se mettent à imprimer leurs etudes, à varier les effets de tirage, tous possédant des presses commodes dans leur atelier.” Philippe Burty, Preface to Deuxième Exposition de Peintres-Graveurs (Paris: Galeries Durand-Ruel, 1890), 8.

20

This correspondence is housed at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris. For a summary, see Cécile Camart, “Note sur les archives de la galerie Sagot-Le Garrec, libraires, éditeurs, marchands d’estampes (18761967),” Les Nouvelles de l’INHA 10 (June 2002): 89.

21

For example, Catalogue d’affiches illustrées anciennes et modernes, en vente aux prix marqués (Paris: Sagot, 1891); Gustave Pellet, Libraire éditeur de gravures, catalogue mensuel, 1er partie (May 1894), Michael G. Wilson Collection of Félicien Rops letters and other material, ca. 1864ca. 1910, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Baich Art Research Library, box 5, f.1.; and Victor Prouté, estampes et livres, catalogue trimestriel 11 (November 1892), Archives Paul Prouté, S. A., Paris.

22

Joseph Guibert, Le Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliothèque nationale, histoire des collections suivie d’un guide du chercheur (Paris: Le Garrec, 1926), 18999. Philippe Burty, “L’Hôtel des Ventes et le commerce des tableaux,” in Victor Hugo, ed. Paris-Guide, vol. 2 (Paris: Librairie Internationale, 1867), 949.

23

In Beraldi’s personal copy of Les Graveurs du XIXe Siècle, for example, he inlaid archival documents used for research, including explanations from artists of their own works; questions directed to other experts on the merit of certain artists; and relevant, recently published criticism on printmakers and their exhibitions. See Département des Estampes et de la photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Réserve, YC-34 A 8. I am grateful to Valérie Sueur-Hermel for bringing this copy to my attention.

24

For example, L’Estampe published “Aux Collectionneurs,” a questionnaire for readers about collecting practices, soliciting responses that appeared in subsequent issues of the journal. See M. de l’Estampe [Charles Chincholle], “Aux Collectionneurs,” L’Estampe 15 (December 12, 1897).

25

For more on this topic, see Peter Parshall, “A Darker Side of Light: Prints, Privacy, and Possession,” in The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850–1900 (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2009), 239.

2

Léopold Flameng

French, 1831–1911

Tête de facture pour Imprimerie artistique de Delâtre, ca. 1860

Etching

23.8 x 17.8 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

3

Charles François Daubigny, designer

French, 1817–1878

Auguste Delâtre, printer

French, 1822–1907

Alfred Cadart, publisher

French, 1828–1875

Frontispiece from the portfolio Voyage en Bateau, 1862

Etching on paper

Plate: 18.3 x 13.2 cm. (7 3/16 x 5 3/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.787.1

4

Maxime Lalanne

French, 1827–1886

A Treatise on Etching, 1880

Bound book with etchings

Courtesy of Special Collections, Fleet Library At RISD, Providence, RI

5

Maxime Lalanne

French, 1827–1886

A Street in Rouen (Une Rue de Rouen), 1884

Etching on paper

Plate: 27.7 x 19.8 cm. (10 7/8 x 7 13/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke 21.023

6

Abraham Bosse

French, 1604–ca. 1676

De la Manière de graver à l’eau-forte et au burin, et de la gravure en manière noire, 1645

Bound book with engravings

RISD Museum: Gift of Mrs. Herbert N. Straus 51.004

11

Etching kit (boîte complète pour la gravure à l’eau-forte) sold by Alphonse Cadart, late 19th century

Illustrated in Janine Bailly-Herzberg, L’eau-forte de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle, la Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867), vol. 1 (Paris: Leonce Laget, 1972), 23

14

Illustration of portable press from A. P. Martial, Nouveau traité de la gravure à l’eau-forte pour les peintres et les dessinateurs, 1873

19

Georges Bottini

French, 1874–1907

The Sagot Address, 1898

Colored lithograph

Image: 11 3/8 x 7 5/16 in. (28.9 x 18.6 cm.)

Rosenwald Collection 1953.6.8

Courtesy, National Gallery of Art, Washington

26

Albert Besnard

French, 1849–1934

Morphine Addicts (Morphinomanes), 1887

Etching and drypoint on cream-colored, smooth wove paper

Image/plate: 24 x 37.3 cm. (9 7/16 x 14 11/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 81.206

27

Félicien Rops

Belgian, 1833–1898

Farewell at the Parc d’Auteuil (Les Adieux d’Auteuil), 1869

Etching, drypoint, and aquatint on white-colored, slightly textured laid paper

Image/plate: 28.8 x 17.8 cm. (11 5/16 x 7 in.)

RISD Museum: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund 78.137

28

Félicien Rops

Belgian, 1833–1898

Farewell at the Parc d’Auteuil (Les Adieux d’Auteuil), 1869

Etching, drypoint, and aquatint on cream-colored, slightly textured laid paper

Image/plate: 28.8 x 17.8 cm. (11 5/16 x 7 in.)

RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 75.049

29

Fig. 12

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839–1889)

Trunk of a Chestnut Tree, ca. 1870–1876

From the series Views from the Banks of the Scheldt

Etching with monoprint inking

Sheet: 45.5 x 81.5 cm. (17 15/16 x 32 1/16 in.)

Plate: 34.5 x 74.5 cm. (13 9/16 x 29 5/16 in.)

The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.21

30

Auguste Rodin

French, 1840–1917

Portrait of Henry Becque, 1883–1887

Drypoint on beige-colored, slightly textured wove paper

Image/plate: 15.7 x 20.3 cm. (6 3/16 x 8 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.1311

31

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844–1926

Telling Fortunes, ca. 1881

Soft-ground etching and aquatint on beige-colored, smooth wove paper of medium thickness

Image/plate: 13.3 x 21.3 cm. (5 1/4 x 8 3/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Esther Mauran Acquisitions Fund and Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2017.13.1

Britany Salsbury is the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From 2015 through 2017, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum. Her PhD dissertation focused on print series in fin-de-siècle Paris, and her research interests include prints and their collectors during that period.

Observations on Theodore Roussel’s The Port of Fowey

Brian Shure

Théodore Roussel (French, active England, 1847–1926), The Port of Fowey, 1911. Copper plate, 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.). RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.6

Let’s look closely at the copper-plate matrix1 drawn and etched in 1911 by Theodore Roussel while on holiday in the Cornish seaside town of Fowey, and the five color variations he printed from it that are in the collection of the RISD Museum.2 This sketch of a harbor with some boats was an arena for Roussel to explore not only his own interests and pleasures, but also the issues that his contemporaries were investigating, and with these simple, rather elegant color experiments he was in dialogue with his colleagues—the artists and scientists of that moment. Through these prints, the artist can speak to us about the port at Fowey referred to in the title as well as many issues that were in the air while he worked on this project.

If we look carefully at the conventional black and white version of this image,3 we see some lightly sketched clouds above the sea and this Cornish harbor entrance with a fishing village on the near left-hand side, with higher, less inhabited hills on the right. There are a few larger boats tucked in on the right and partially obscured by the foliage that occupies the right side of the image, which would appear to have been observed from a hill up above the harbor. This hill also obscures some houses in the foreground, of which we can see only parts of three roofs and the attic window on the gable-end of the nearest one. In the harbor to the left of the fishing village of Fowey are a couple dozen fishing boats. A few have their masts up, as represented by simple vertical lines, while the rest are described with a few horizontal lines. There seems to be a current running in the area of these anchored boats, presented as a lively mass of much finer lines that run generally horizontal as well.

The lines that make up this image were drawn with a steel needle through a wax ground that was thinly melted onto the surface of the copper plate. The plate was placed in an acid bath—probably a weak nitric solution—that etched into the exposed areas of the copper, creating the matrix we see here.1 After the plate was removed from the acid and the wax resist removed, the copper was coated with an oil-based ink. The surface was then carefully wiped clean, leaving the ink only in the recessed areas that were bitten by the acid. Moistened paper was placed on top of the plate and it was run through a press, beneath a soft felt blanket, with pressure exerted by a roller above. The pressure pushed the softened paper into the ink in the recesses in the plate and transferred it from the plate to the paper. Roussel used this most simple, straightforward method of making an etching to create the image on the plate, but his experimentation with printing surfaces and with color reflects his engagement with contemporary interests in light, optics, and the possibilities of new ways of creating images.

In this impression,3 like the vast majority of prints (printed in black or very dark ink onto a paper that is white or whitish) color plays little or no part in the effect of the image when the paper and ink are disregarded or taken as neutral. Yet when we look at exactly the same marks in Roussel’s color versions, particularly the versions printed in gold on toned paper,4 5 6 the details are much less immediately obvious, and the image almost dances before our eyes as we attempt to read it. In this group of prints, the same image in every case is presented in colored inks—specially prepared from pigments and powdered metals—on a varied selection of European and Asian papers. Commercially prepared inks were available, but printmakers have always had the possibility of easily mixing pigments with linseed oil that has been boiled to thicken it and speed its drying, and like many of his contemporaries, Roussel probably made his own inks in his studio. Here he shows us how the image is but one part of a print, and the substrate—in this case the paper—is an equally meaningful partner in making a statement.

These prints also make clear how the negative areas of a drawing are as active and meaningful as the drawn image. When the ink sets into a soft and absorbent Chinese paper, as seen in the example of gold ink on cream paper,5 or on the surface of a harder toned paper with many varicolored fibers, as with the gold on the harder, gray-blue paper,6 our experience of the image involves these formal qualities in a complex and pleasurable way. Roussel’s use of Asian papers and colored inks reflects the general fascination at that moment with Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock color prints, and also with the greater fidelity possible using soft, unsized papers like those, he would have noted, employed in some of the finest of impressions by Rembrandt, the preeminent master of etching, whose work Roussel was known to have appreciated and studied.

Roussel’s interest in color is clear here, even in this single image. The impression printed in a very warm iron oxide orange—perhaps Pozzuoli red—on the cream colored paper is interesting for a couple of reasons.7 Red oxides have always been ubiquitous in artists’ studios and print workshops for transferring images. The composition of The Port of Fowey is comprised primarily of sky and water, making blue an obvious color choice. Orange is the complement of blue, directly across from it on the color wheel, as far away from blue as possible. This lack of coherence to the natural palette of a harbor scene is so extreme as to require a complete suspension of our disbelief in the veracity of the image, actually allowing us to enter into it more completely as a work of art rather than merely an imitation of nature.

Another example is printed in gold on a robin’s-egg-blue paper and hinged to a backing paper of a raw umber tone that was created by printing a layer of aquatint using colored ink on white paper. A geometric pattern was then printed over the colored ink in white as a border.6 Roussel printed patterns like these on the colored-paper mats used to frame many of his later prints. A mat can highlight an image—whether a print, drawing, or photograph—by bringing it to our attention out of its surroundings, much as a frame can do with a painting. Roussel’s patterned borders seem designed to bring the image into harmony with the surrounding environment and to celebrate its objectness.

A print might be bound into a book, hung on the wall, or matted and protected in an album. A border or mat can isolate an image from its surroundings, becoming a window into another world, or it can form a transition to the room in which it’s hung or to the other images in the album or book of which it is a part. It may also, at times, achieve both these effects simultaneously. Gold ink in particular is susceptible to nuances in lighting and subtle changes in viewing angle. If we actively view an image printed in gold on a paper that is of middle value, the image jumps back and forth between being lighter than the paper and being darker, and can in different areas be both at the same time, almost as if it is animated or in movement.

When looking at these prints, as when looking at any artist’s work, it is useful to keep in mind that the artist who made them was involved in the world to a degree that may not be readily apparent in the immediate subject matter, but which may become clearer in considering the formal approach to process. Roussel experimented extensively across his printmaking practice, especially in etching. He developed his own method of registration, a necessity for fitting the border designs to the image plate and for the stencil method he used to achieve different levels of tonality. He used stencils for applying inks—somewhat like the pochoir process that became popular in the late nineteenth century—to get tonal variations that went beyond what he could achieve with aquatint, or perhaps rather because he was intrigued by the beauty and depth of the subtle tonal modeling possible with pochoir. In addition to using the standard copper and zinc plates, Roussel experimented with other materials. Like Meryon, he used tin, a harder metal that presented more resistance to the drypoint needle and so made possible a different line quality, and like Degas, he drew in drypoint on celluloid plates—also called gelatine or papier glacé. Celluloid is much softer than metal and allowed for very fine soft lines. An early thermoplastic, celluloid was developed by accident during experimentation with a colloidal photographic process in England in the mid-nineteenth century. As we see with Degas’s use of the daguerreotype plate for etching, Roussel and many artists and printmakers were fascinated by the development of photographic processes. Printmakers have always been and still are actively involved not just in image making but in the role process plays in the development of an image or idea. Any and every new material that might work in interesting ways was and is likely to be found in a printer’s toolbox.

Beyond etching, Roussel also expanded his practice into other techniques, including transfer lithography. His use of stencils and glue-based inks could again have been influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and also by European stencil printing and dyeing techniques popular in producing textiles at the time. His mentors in transfer lithography were likely Whistler and the talented lithographers Thomas Way and son, Thomas Robert Way. While Roussel did not print any of his own lithographs, he could and did print his intaglio plates. One reason he chose to do so was clearly his interest in experimenting with the inking and printing processes. As in the way nearly all artists explore their ideas in any media they can get their hands on, Roussel’s experience would naturally carry over into his painting technique, and vice versa.

Whistler’s influence, and that of Degas as well, is apparent in Roussel’s subject matter, drawing style, his peculiar convention of trimming prints to the plate mark and leaving only a signature tab—as seen in four of RISD’s five impressions—and his career-long interest in color experimentation in his prints and paintings. In addition to working out his own methods of color printing, Roussel also developed a useful modification to the French standard military rifle, sought to patent practical methods for use in dividing angles, and took out several patents for an artist’s drawing board, suggesting his widely varied interests and the scope of his innovation.

In Roussel’s prints, we have an opportunity to witness concrete visual evidence of the thought processes of a restlessly experimental artist working in early twentieth-century Europe. A scientific exploration of light waves and color was already providing inspiration for the Impressionists and Fauvists, and for many artists working further from what we now think of as the center of artistic innovation. Advances in chemistry and the understanding of light, optics, vision, and color are cited as steps that led to the development of photographic processes and eventually moving pictures. Painters and printmakers such as Roussel were actively involved in this development. Their experiments with representing movement as well as light and color gave us a new appreciation of abstraction, and they increasingly explored color not simply as a means towards verisimilitude but as a trigger for emotions and as a system for conveying sensibility. As we study Roussel’s sequence of color trials on varying papers, their cinematic quality becomes apparent.

Through these five impressions—part of a larger group of color variants printed from this plate—we can examine an array of possible options, all of them compelling and each with its own tenor. As music is a careful organization of sounds and silence, an image printed from a matrix requires non-image areas for its form to be discerned. Kasimir Malevich was working against this convention to startling effect with avant-garde geometric abstractions that were first exhibited in the same decade this plate was drawn. One of the most compelling reasons for an artist to make a print is to try an image in different voices, almost the way an actor might try her lines over and over, or a musician might play a sonata again and again until the form is found that resonates most clearly with the idea or emotion that inspires the artist to work. These prints are the result of Roussel’s exploration of a subject close to his heart and a process that he clearly found inspiring. They also offer insight into scientific and aesthetic concerns that are still being productively explored in the ongoing aftermath of modernism.

1

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Copper plate

13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.6

2
3

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Etching printed in black ink on cream-colored, smooth, thin wove paper

Image/plate: 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.1

4

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Etching printed in metallic gold ink on black-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium thickness

Image/plate: 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.2

5

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Etching printed in metallic gold ink on cream-colored, slightly textured, thin laid paper

Image/plate: 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.3

6

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Etching printed in metallic gold ink on blue, moderately textured wove paper of medium thickness, mounted on sheet, with border toned with bronzing powder and printed in white by the artist

Image/plate: 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.5

7

Théodore Roussel

French, active England, 1847–1926

The Port of Fowey, 1911

Etching printed in red-orange ink on cream-colored, slightly textured, thin wove paper

Image/plate: 13.8 x 16.8 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 1987.013.4

Author’s note: My comments are based primarily on direct observation of these prints and my interest in the relationship between printmaking and the development of cinema. For background on Roussel and his working methods, I have relied heavily on Margaret D. Hausberg’s The Prints of Theodore Roussel, A Catalogue Raisonné, published privately in 1991.

Brian Shure is a painter and printmaker living in Los Angeles. After twenty years of teaching in the Printmaking Department at RISD, he is now the workshop production manager at Gemini G.E.L.

Multiplicity in the Margins: Etching, Urban Life, and the Illustrated Press in Félix Buhot’s Winter in Paris

Ashley E. Dunn

Félix Hilaire Buhot (French, 1847–1898), Winter in Paris or Paris in the Snow (L’Hiver à Paris ou La Neige, à Paris), 1879. Third of 9 states. Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and roulette on beige-colored, slightly textured laid paper of medium thickness; image/plate: 24 x 34.9 cm. (9 7/16 x 13 3/4 in.). RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.825

Temperatures in Paris reached historic lows during December 1879.1 Severe ice and snow impeded Parisians considerably in their circulation around the city. Félix Buhot’s etching Winter in Paris or Paris in the Snow (1879) presents seven scenes that convey some of the challenges posed by the frigid conditions.2 Its composition, in which six small vignettes frame two sides of a larger cityscape, is most often cited as an example of what the artist termed his “anecdotal margins.”3 By referring to related events outside the frame of the main view, this compositional device expanded the scope of the subject presented by the print. Beyond offering additional anecdotes about the bitter weather, Winter in Paris makes a case for etching as a medium especially suited to representing the multiplicity and simultaneity of nineteenth-century urban life.

The poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire prescribed that the modern artist should act as “a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness” in order to “represent the multiplicity of life” found in the great city.4 Winter in Paris poses a response to this challenge with its proliferation of subjects and perspectives combined onto a single etching plate. In an increasingly crowded and competitive graphic culture, this kaleidoscopic strategy also served to differentiate the inherent formal and aesthetic capacities of etching compared to other media, particularly rapidly developing photographic technologies.5 With this in mind, it is constructive to consider Buhot’s elaborated margins alongside a parallel formal solution, the “scrapbook aesthetic,” adopted by the editors and wood engravers of the late nineteenth-century illustrated press.6

In the 1870s, “collaged or compendium images” became increasingly common among the pages of illustrated journals both to accommodate an abundance of visual material and demonstrate the “madeness” of the magazine.7 8 The collaged composition emphasized both the magazine’s capability of combining images from multiple sources and the artist’s editorial role in selecting and arranging numerous vignettes into a cohesive configuration. The condensation of information onto one page had the added impact of communicating the simultaneity of events as they took place across time and space. Buhot’s selection of a newsworthy subject makes comparison between his approach and that found on the pages of contemporary illustrated magazines particularly pertinent.

The influences and motivations that led Buhot to develop his marginalia are manifold.9 Among the most essential: the association of etching with the freedom of the sketch invited the artist to draw with the needle on the plate as though with a pencil in a sketchbook, as evidenced by some of his earliest attempts in the medium.10 As the most unrestricted of surfaces upon which an artist works, a sketchbook accepts numerous compositions and non-contiguous representations of space on a single page.

Buhot’s use of elaborated margins, one of the most distinctive aspects of his etching practice, emerged even more directly out of his work as an illustrator. Following in the footsteps of predecessors he admired, such as romantic artist Célestin Nanteuil, Buhot first experimented with the format in 1877 in the preparation of six plates for a new edition of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s novel L’Ensorcelée (The Bewitched).11 12 Buhot then innovated by adapting vignette-filled borders from the tradition of illustration to single-sheet etchings, such as Winter in Paris.13

The preponderance of the multi-image format in Buhot’s cityscape etchings suggests that for him it became an approach specifically attuned to urban form. Indeed, theorist Henri Lefebvre defines “the form of the urban” as “that of simultaneity, of gathering, of convergence, of encounter (or rather encounters).”14 Liberated from depicting a single cohesive scene, Buhot presents the multifaceted quality of urban life in Winter in Paris, combining the subjective and the topical, while at the same time emphasizing the very process of its making, the medium of etching.

The largest and most developed of the scenes in Winter in Paris shows the Place Bréda (present-day Place Gustave Toudouze) on December 9, 1879, as noted by the inscription. Buhot lived close by, on the Passage de l’Elysée (present-day rue André Antoine), only a five-minute walk from this triangular public square in the ninth arrondissement. In the etching, the artist places the viewer in roughly the middle of the place, looking north along the rue Bréda (now rue Henry Monnier) in the direction of his home.

In the foreground, one’s eye is drawn to three scrawny dogs scuffling over a scrap or bone. Buhot often used dogs in his compositions as a means of directing the viewer’s gaze. Here, one follows the attention of the rightmost dog, momentarily distracted by the two men approaching from the right. Heavily dressed in layers and sturdy clogs, carrying a shovel and a hatchet, they are perhaps on their way to join the group working to clear the road at left. Observers reported that the snow had compacted to such a degree that hatchets were required to unblock the streets.15 Immediately in front of the pair, faint outlines of a broom and clogged foot, pentimenti from an earlier state of the etching in which a single figure occupied this space, remain visible.16 2 Unlike pentimenti in painting, typically unintentional on the part of the painter and often appearing only gradually over time as a top layer of paint becomes more transparent, immediately upon printing this plate Buhot would have seen that he had not completely burnished out these lines and that they still retained ink. One must assume, therefore, the artist deliberately chose to preserve these subtle outlines.17 In doing so, Buhot evokes the passage of time as he worked on his plate and the potentially concurrent intensifying conditions on the Parisian streets. The partial erasure implies the almost comedic realization that a broom was insufficient for dealing with the accumulating snow, and needed to be replaced by more substantial tools.

Buhot depicts the accumulation more expressly in the lower right corner of the plate, where an area of lighter tone resembles a mound of snow.2 This lower margin conveys a visual pun of sorts by conflating the ground of the etching plate with the snow-covered ground of the Parisian street. The slim, gray-toned margins that frame the whole composition emphasize the surface of the plate, while a crowd of feet making their way across an icy sidewalk at lower center highlights the city terrain. The Place Bréda scene appears overlaid onto this ground (in both senses), cutting off at the knees the pedestrians on the Boulevard des Italiens. The fact that the caption “au Boulevard des Italiens” remains reversed—or, rather, that Buhot did not reverse it on the plate in order to render the correct orientation when printed—is yet another reminder of the process of making.

While Buhot’s print is self-referential in terms of etching practice, it is by no means inward looking; in fact, it is highly topical. Comparison with coverage in the illustrated press reveals the extent to which Buhot was interested in representing current events. For example, Parisians lamented the difficulty of identifying each other on the street: “one is uncertain of recognizing the friend whom one passes on the boulevard with the collar of his overcoat pulled up to the edge of his hat which is pulled down over his ears.”18 The wood engraving on the cover of the December 20 edition of L’Illustration portrays such a bundled Parisian.19 The figures in the upper left of Buhot’s etching go even further in conveying the anonymity of the type of encounter described above.2 The central figure with her hat pulled down over her eyes tucks her chin and hunches her shoulders in defense against the cold. Her facial features are illegible despite the relative proximity offered to the viewer. To the left, a man and woman peer at each other at such close range that their noses almost touch, humorously expressing the inscrutability of fellow passersby.

Journalists frequently commented on the compromises in fashion required by the extreme weather. The text accompanying the L’Illustration cover image describes how because of the snow, the Parisian man, typically “so svelte and elegant, who treads with a finely shod foot across the asphalt of the boulevard,” has to wear “formidable shoes” instead.20 Women too “are bundled up in big coats, their feet swollen by bulky shoes” such as the sabots or clogs sported by the men in the right corner of the Place Bréda and the pedestrian in the front of the crowd in the lower margin.21 Buhot makes a point of showing the opposite as well: the Parisienne who refuses to comprise her fashion based on the necessity of weather. The shoes worn by the stylish woman in the fur-lined coat and hat on the left side of the Place Bréda look absurdly inadequate for walking in snow. Buhot underlines this point with a poster for modish women’s shoes (“Chaussures Dames”) above the vespasienne, the kiosk-topped urinal, at right. Meanwhile, the snow is deep enough to completely cover the feet of the man standing below.

This figure, wearing a smock and carrying a portfolio tucked under his arm, appears to be an artist. His stance suggests he has stopped to read the posters, and as such encourages the viewer to do the same. Above the advertisement for women’s shoes, a poster promotes gourmet coffee and another to the right, chocolate. A photograph taken in 1877 by Charles Marville of a newly installed vespasienne of this design displays posters for the same advertisers, Café des Gourmets and Chocolate Meunier, a testament to the specificity of Buhot’s reportage.22 Directly in front of the artist, a poster announces the “Bal Murcie,” a benefit ball organized by the Committee of the French Press (Comité de la presse française) to raise funds for victims of a devastating flood in Murcia, a southeastern city in Spain. Planned initially for December 10, 1879, it was ultimately postponed by eight days because of the weather. In the meantime, the governor of Murcia insisted that the proceeds should be split to benefit the poor of Paris, who were especially affected by the dangerous temperatures that month.23 A wood engraving published in Le Monde Illustré on December 20 represents the Bal Paris-Murcie.7 The central image shows the scene inside the Hippodrome, while the upper left and lower right corners contain sketches of guests dressed à l’espagnole (in the Spanish fashion). Almost equal space on the page is given over to anecdotes detailing the challenges of getting to the ball. At upper right, a carriage tilts off its axis as it plows through the snow, and at lower center, three men attend to a distressed horse lying on its side in the snow.

Of all the inconveniences caused by extreme weather, the difficulty of circulation—and especially the misfortunes of cabs and their horses—was the most frequent topic of conversation. L’Univers Illustré reported: “The unfortunate cabs have suffered the most extraordinary tribulations, and one of the most amusing of our drawings devoted to ‘Paris under the snow,’ the one that shows a cab in distress, is also one of the most truthful. Twenty times a day this tableau has presented itself.”24 The report in Le Monde Illustré was rather more sympathetic to the horses: “the unfortunate coach and omnibus horses … painfully dragging rebel vehicles, slipping, kneeling, or succumbing to pain.”25 Buhot also thematizes this subject in his etching. The cabstand at the Place Bréda, which had space for ten vehicles, is at half its capacity.26 Four cabs stand awaiting passengers; the drivers tuck their chins down to their chests, bracing against the cold. Another carriage makes its way up the rue Bréda with the assistance of two men pushing from behind. In the left margin, two framed vignettes show horses succumbing to injury or the cold.2 In Montmartre, a driver tenderly holds his horse’s head in his lap; his cab stands abandoned in the background. Below, the driver seems more concerned with his cab, gesturing toward its off-kilter position wedged in a snow bank, while the horse in the foreground is left for dead. A small frame at lower right provides a counter to the tragedy of these scenes.2 It presents one of the only perceived benefits or enjoyments resulting from the weather: the opportunity to skate on the frozen River Seine. Buhot’s schematic sketch shows skaters in front of the Pont Neuf, an important site of convergence as one of the principal places that Parisians disposed of snow that month, reportedly dropping it by the cartload over the edge of the bridge.

Not only does Buhot’s print echo topics covered by the Parisian press, he also seems to have borrowed directly from its pages. The group of figures gathered around the chauffoir, or stove, at lower left in the etching corresponds almost exactly, only in reverse, to the group featured in the background of the December 20 cover of L’Illustration.19 2 In terms of posture and gesture, each of the figures in Buhot’s etching mirror those in the wood engraving by Albert Edelfelt and Charles Baude: one stands in profile with a shovel resting on his shoulder; another, shorter in stature, takes a wide stance with his back to the viewer. There is a slight difference with the third figure: in the wood engraving he holds a shovel with one hand and reaches the other over the fire, while Buhot has him place both hands over the fire and adjusts his attire to a hooded cloak, making him look rather more mysterious. Smoke obscures the fourth figure in both versions, but Buhot suggests a slightly more sinister character with a hood and face completely darkened. Buhot dims the scene in general, adjusting what is clearly a daytime setting on the L’Illustration cover to evoke evening in the etching. The figures appear more starkly as silhouettes against the light emitted by the stove. The installation of such stoves throughout the city was a key strategy for coping with the extreme cold that lasted throughout the month. According to Le Monde Illustré, they were “the true providence of the sergeants of the city, agents, coachmen, of all people who by profession are required to remain outside and have feet and hands half frozen.”27 That Buhot likely borrowed the motif from a published source does not preclude the possibility that he observed this or a similar scene in person, but one can easily imagine that the practical difficulty of sketching in such extreme temperatures may have encouraged the artist to draw upon other sources to refresh his memory as he composed his plate.

By placing Winter in Paris into conversation with the illustrated press of the same moment, the “plurality, coexistence, and simultaneity in the urban patterns,” to borrow Lefebvre’s terms, become especially apparent.28 The print brings together the artist’s own observations with those published elsewhere, joining his immediate surroundings with a multiplicity of experiences across the city. Buhot compiled a kaleidoscopic picture of Paris in December 1879 that reminds the viewer subtly, but insistently, of its medium of etching.

1

On December 9, 1879, a temperature of -24°C was registered—the lowest on record for the city of Paris at the time. “Revue des Sciences: Les Grands Hivers,” Journal des Débats, December 18, 1879.

3

Colles Baxter, “Some Notes on Margins: Format, Sources, Meanings,” in Félix Buhot, Peintre-graveur: Prints, Drawings, and Paintings, ed. Jay McKean Fisher (Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983), 53.

4

“[U]n kaléidoscope doué de conscience, qui … représente la vie multiple.” Charles Baudelaire, “Peintre de la vie moderne,” in Œuvres Complètes, vol. 2 (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), 692.

5

The discourse surrounding nineteenth-century etching developed in tension with photography from the early 1860s. See Janine Bailly-Herzberg, L’eau-fort de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle: La Société des Aquafortistes, 1862-1867 (Paris: L. Laget, 1972). For more on the competition and coexistence of graphic technologies, see Stephen Bann, Distinguished Images: Prints and the Visual Economy in Nineteenth-Century France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). With this point I do not deny the fact that photographers made collages in the nineteenth century. In 1857, Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson pioneered a technique of combination printing that enabled them to create one photographic print from multiple negatives. Cutting up and assembling photographs into collages was also a popular pastime, especially among Victorian women, but in each case, the goal was to create one scene from multiple sources, whereas the etching plate entertained multiple scenes simultaneously. For more on nineteenth-century photocollage, see Elizabeth Siegel, ed., Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2009).

6

Tom Gretton, “Representing the Profusion of Representation: Illustrated Magazine Page-Design and the Scrapbook Paradigm: London and Paris 1860–1900” (paper presented at the College Art Association Annual Conference, Washington, DC, February 3–6, 2016).

8

Tom Gretton, “The Pragmatics of Page Design in Nineteenth-Century General-Interest Weekly Illustrated News Magazines in London and Paris,” Art History 33, no. 4 (September 2010): 703 and 705. “Collaged or compendium images” is Gretton’s phrase.

9

Art historians have identified numerous sources of inspiration for adopting such a format, from medieval manuscripts to Japanese woodcuts, none of which I discount; however, for the most direct source I agree with Baxter that one need not look further than contemporary nineteenth-century French illustration practices. (See note 2.)

12

Jean-Luc Dufresne affirms: “[T]he first composition of this type is a drawing for the dossier of L’Encorcelée.” Jean-Luc Dufresne, ed., Félix Buhot: Peintre Graveur entre Romantisme et Impressionisme 1847–1898 (Cherbourg: Isoète, 1998), 55. The editor, Lemerre, ultimately issued the plates without the margins in the published version of the book, but he printed the suite of illustrations in their integral form in a very limited edition of twelve. For more on Buhot’s illustrations for Barbey d’Aurevilly, see Bruno Centorame, Les illustrateurs de l’oeuvre de Barbey d’Aurevilly (Cherbourg-Octeville: Isoète, 2008).

13

Buhot was not alone in experimenting with this strategy. Fellow etcher Adolphe Martial Potémont used vignette-filled marginalia, for example, in his plate devoted to the Bal Mabille, published in Paris à l’eau-forte in 1875.

14

Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, trans. and ed. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 131 and 137.

15

“Dans les rues, la neige se durcit au point qu’il faut la hache pour se frayer un chemin.” Lucien Delabrousse in Paris de 1800 à 1900, ed. Charles Simond, vol. 3 (Paris: Plon, 1901), 188. Also cited by Phillip Dennis Cate in his discussion of Winter in Paris in The Graphic Arts and French Society 1871–1914 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988), 20.

17

In later impressions, these lines do become less visible, but their presence in the edition printed for the publication L’Art in January 1881 supports my assertion that their retention was intentional.

18

“[O]n n’est pas certain de reconnaître l’ami qu’on coudoie au boulevard, sous le col relevé de son pardessus montant jusqu’au rebords du chapeau, enfoncé jusqu’aux oreilles.” Le Monde Illustré (December 13, 1879), 378.

20

“Et le Parisien … Lui, si svelte, si élégant, qui foule d’une pied si finement chaussé l’asphalte de boulevard, le voyez-vous aujourd’hui, comme l’a vu notre dessinateur et comme il nous le montre … un bonnet de loutre sur la tête, de formidable chaussons aux pieds….” L’Illustration (December 20, 1879), 390.

21

“Les promeneuses qu’on rencontre … elles sont emmitouflées dans d’épais manteaux, leurs pieds sont grossis par de gros chaussons….” Le Monde Illustré (December 13, 1879), 378.

23

“M. de Castillo, gouverneur de Murcie, vient d’envoyer au Comité de la presse une dépêche par laquelle il manifeste, au nom de son pays, l’intention de partager avec les pauvres de Paris, si éprouvés par les calamites de la saison, le produit de la fête à l’Hippodrôme, destiné aux victimes de l’inondation. Le Comité a accepté cette généreuse proposition, et a voté une adresse de remerciements aux honorables signataires de la dépêche. Nous pouvons garantir les Murciens n’y perdront rien, car la recette sera double.” Ibid.

24

“Les malheureux fiacres ont eu à subir les tribulations les plus extraordinaires, et un des plus amusants de nos dessins consacrés à ‘Paris sous la neige’ celui qui nous montre une voiture en détresse, est en même temps un des plus vrais. Vingt fois en une journée, il nous a été donné de voir ce tableau.” L’Univers Illustrée (December 20, 1879), 806.

25

“[D]es malheureux chevaux de fiacres et d’omnibus … traînant péniblement les véhicules rebelles, glissant, s’agenouillant ou succombant à la peine.” Le Monde Illustré (December 13, 1879), 378.

26

The Place Bréda, station no. 72, had space for ten coaches, as listed in Indicateur-guide contenant tous les renseignements utiles aux cochers de voitures de place et de remise, 8th ed. (Paris: Legendre, 1878), n.p.

27

“Ces braseros sont, pour le moment, la véritable providence des sergents de la ville, des commissionnaires, des cochers, de toutes les personnes enfin, qui, par profession, sont tenues de demeurer dehors et qui ont les pieds et les mains à demi gelés.” Le Monde Illustré (December 20, 1879), 394.

28

Lefebvre, 109.

2

Félix Hilaire Buhot

French, 1847–1898

Winter in Paris or Paris in the Snow (L’Hiver à Paris ou La Neige à Paris), 1879

3rd of 9 states

Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and roulette on beige-colored, slightly textured laid paper of medium thickness

Image/plate: 24 x 34.9 cm. (9 7/16 x 13 3/4 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.825

7

Fortuné Méaulle

French, 1844– ?

After M. Ferdinandus

La Répétition générale de la Fête de Paris-Murcie à l’Hippodrome from Le Monde Illustré (December 20, 1879) p. 392

Wood engraving

Bibliothèque nationale de France

10

Félix Hilaire Buhot

French, 1847–1898

Album Leaves—Remembrance of Millet’s Countryside, 1872

Etching, graphite

Sheet: 25.5 x 32.8 cm. (10 1/16 x 12 15/16 in.)

Plate: 21.8 x 27.2 cm. (8 9/16 x 10 11/16 in.)

The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.13490

Photography By: Mitro Hood

11

Félix Hilaire Buhot

French, 1847–1898

La vision, 1874–1879

Etching and drypoint

The New York Public Library

16

Félix Hilaire Buhot

French, 1847–1898

L’Hiver à Paris ou La Neige à Paris, 1879

1st of 9 states

Etching, aquatint, and drypoint

Bibliothèque nationale de France

19

Albert Edelfelt

Finnish, 1854–1905

Charles Baude

French, 1853–1935

Un Parisien—Vue prise sur le Boulevard des Italiens\ From the cover of L’Illustration: Journal Universel, December 20, 1897

Wood engraving

© The British Library Board

22

Charles Marville

French, 1813–1879

Vespasienne, rue de Rennes. Paris (VIème arr.), 1877

Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris

Crédit photographique: © Charles Marville / BHVP / Roger-Viollet

Ashley E. Dunn is an assistant curator in the Department of Drawings & Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is responsible for nineteenth-century French works on paper. She has previously contributed to exhibition publications at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, where she is also a PhD candidate.

An Icon of Collecting: Félix Bracquemond’s Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt

Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho

Félix Bracquemond (French, 1833–1914), Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt, 1881–1882. Etching on beige-colored, smooth paper of moderate thickness, most likely a type of Japanese vellum; image/plate: 51.1 x 34 cm. (20 1/8 x 13 3/8 in.). RISD Museum: Gift of Murray S. Danforth, Jr. 50.318

To this day, the Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt is considered among scholars and print lovers to be a tour de force of nineteenth-century etching, standing out for its unprecedentedly rich rendering of textures. Félix Bracquemond convincingly conveyed the feel of terra cotta, copper, gilt, porcelain, wood, cardboard, silk, skin, hair, and smoke in this seminal print. This meticulous detailing resembles Goncourt’s own literary style, and just like his novels warrant close reading, this print was meant for the sort of scrutinizing examination typical within the interiors of fin-de-siècle collectors. Only through this interpretation will we understand how this portrait was appreciated by this small circle of print devotees as their contemporary “icon of collecting.”

It was Bracquemond who, in the summer of 1879, came up with the idea of etching a portrait of his friend, the novelist, art historian, and collector Edmond de Goncourt.1 Bracquemond wanted to demonstrate that he had more to offer than “decorating dinner plates.”2 His artistic career had cooled in recent years, and so his proposal to Goncourt was an opportunity for him to return to his first love of printmaking.3 It was to be an ambitious work—unusually large and “worthy” of the prominent author.

Bracquemond was a self-taught artist who began his career as a commercial lithographer before devoting himself to original etchings. Etchings were drawn on the plates by the artists themselves, who also pulled the prints or at least had it done by a skilled printer under their close supervision. In 1882, Bracquemond co-founded, with the printer Auguste Delâtre and the publisher Alfred Cadart, the Société des Aquafortistes to promote artistic etching through monthly publications that featured them.

Bracquemond had one foot in the avant-garde and the other in the established art world.4 He showed his etchings at progressive exhibitions that independent artists, such as the Impressionists, organized with the help of progressive art dealers, but he was equally likely to take part in official salons organized by the Academy of Fine Arts. Moreover, he shared the modern view that the etching captured the artist’s personal invention and direct expression, but he believed that the same could also apply to graphic reproduction. When he showed the Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt5 at the 1881 Salon, he did so alongside his equally ambitious large-scale etching after Eugène Delacroix’s history painting Boissy d’Anglas.6 It is interesting to note how the visual language of the original and reproductive print are almost similar in detailing, variation, and finish.

Bracquemond’s hopes proved justified, since his portrait of Goncourt brought him the recognition he was seeking. He was awarded the Salon’s medal première classe for his two etchings, followed a year later by the Légion d’honneur. The work was well received at the very highest levels of patronage too, earning the artist a commission in 1887 for a portrait etching of President Sadi Carnot himself.

The etching shows the full extent of Bracquemond’s mastery of the technique, emphasized by the fact that it took him almost three years and no fewer than eight states to achieve such a refined finish.7 He began in 1879 with preliminary studies of Goncourt in his interior, in which he meticulously captured every detail. Goncourt’s diary entry for December 1 records that Bracquemond had come around for a fifth session, during which he concentrated exclusively on the fragment of the decorative mirror frame we see to the left of the author’s head.8 The fully developed monochrome drawing was completed by early 1880, at which point the artist began to work on the large copper plate.9 He drew the outlines of Goncourt’s face and hands, together with those of the most important objects in the interior, and started to fill in the skin with tiny dots. Bracquemond worked steadily in the successive states to express different textures by applying an immense variety of dots, lines, and cross-hatching, shifting his attention to the objects and materials that surrounded the novelist, such as his coat, the gilded frame, and the smoke from his cigarette. Pulling prints at the printer’s from time to time as he worked increased his control over the process and gave him a view of the balance between the dark, more heavily worked parts of the image and the lighter areas. He printed the first state in an edition of twenty, with editions of six for each subsequent state. In this way, Bracquemond shrewdly took advantage of print connoisseurs’ interest in early proofs, in which the creative process is clearly visible.10 The artist was finally satisfied with the eighth state, which he then had printed at Imprimerie Salmon in June 1881 in an edition of twenty-five copies on parchment and 150 on Japanese paper.

This drawn-out way of working seems close to that of traditional reproductive engravers and therefore at odds with the standard romantic view that because artists were able to scratch their thoughts and innermost feelings directly into an etching ground, this type of printmaking allowed the most intimate form of expression.11 Bracquemond’s highly meticulous technique was well suited, however, to his personal views on art. To his mind, visible reality ought to be captured painstakingly in the lines and tones particular to printmaking.

Bracquemond viewed etching in particular and printmaking in general essentially as an interplay of light and shade between the black ink and the white paper—an art that he himself commanded like no other.12 He sought to emulate two historical masters who placed line and form above color and emotion, namely Holbein and Ingres. Bracquemond quoted the latter in his treatise, Du dessin et de la couleur: “Sirs, everything has a form, even smoke!,” an observation he applied directly to the cigarette in his portrait of Goncourt.13

Although Bracquemond positioned himself within the tradition of classical idealists like Ingres, his own artistic method of representing Goncourt and his favorite possessions as precisely as possible made him more of a modern realist. The author himself adopted exactly the same approach in his naturalistic novels, in which he minutely dissected his subjects before distilling from these tiniest details a total image of his main characters and their environment. It is also how Goncourt worked on his most personal publication, La maison d’un artiste (1881), on which, not entirely coincidentally, he was putting the finishing touches during the portrait’s creation. Its two hefty volumes contain a meticulous description of the items in every room of his mansion in rural Auteuil. Jules Hoche, author of the book Les Parisiens chez eux, which contained similarly detailed descriptions of the interiors of prominent Parisians, argued that such accounts told readers all they needed to know:

The minute study of the interior, the examination of the objects lying around, the humble science of domestic details combine to mathematically explain the Parisian through the milieu in which he’s plunged, to decode his character, his tastes, his passions in all the things with which he surrounds himself.”14

Goncourt’s Maison d’un artiste includes detailed descriptions of the objects surrounding the author in the etching. Several of the items can also be made out in the many photographs Goncourt commissioned of his interior, and which he collected in a large album.15 Because of this rich body of written and visual sources, we can identify and retrace every object depicted by Bracquemond. On the wall to the left of the portrait he placed Goncourt’s beloved Clodion terracotta of a satyr and nymph and one of his many Japanese bronze sculptures. The enigmatic ceiling reflected in the ornate mirror turns out to be covered with a Japanese theater costume, richly decorated with embroidered monsters and lush flowers. Part of an imposing bookcase can also be seen in the mirror: Goncourt’s study was filled from floor to ceiling with eighteenth-century books. On the far right of the reflection, lastly, the artist placed an eighteenth-century porcelain vase from Sèvres which normally stood in the Grand salon.

Goncourt and Bracquemond represented these objects—one in words, the other visually—with surgical precision. Some critics felt that Bracquemond’s etching looked lifeless, or at least stifled, and that the excessive attention to all the individual elements resulted in a lack of unity.16 As far as the artist and the author were concerned, however, their methods were anything but clinical: they viewed the attention they lavished on these objects as an expression of love. The print expressed Goncourt’s written testimony of a “completely new emotion, namely the nearly human affection for objects, which at the present day make collectors of practically everyone and of me, in particular, the most passionate of all collectors.”17 This explains the care with which Bracquemond and Goncourt selected the objects from all over the house to place around the author’s likeness.18

Some of the print’s details allowed Bracquemond to showcase the novelist’s progressive tastes and the pillars of his collection, including his most cherished bibelots from eighteenth-century Europe and from Japan.19 The print stand in the foreground is another key element of the image: it is clearly visible that this edition of etchings was made by Jules de Goncourt and published by Philippe Burty in 1876.20 In this way, the artist and author were paying tribute to Goncourt’s brother, who had died in 1870. Edmond and Jules had been inseparable, and Edmond built both his own oeuvre and the collection with Jules. The homage is even more fitting when we know that it was Bracquemond himself who had initiated Jules into the art of etching in 1859.

The most fantastic element in the etching is, perhaps, the rendering of the Japanese theater costume hung on the ceiling; the costume seems even more insubstantial because of its fragmented reflection in the mirror and the darkness in which it is shrouded. It is no coincidence that Goncourt chose these embroidered motifs from a distant world to decorate his study, a private space that served as his refuge, far from the mundane and competitive life of Paris.21 Exotic objects of this kind allowed him to forget the world outside; they triggered dreams and musings, providing him with the inspiration he needed to write his novels. The author described how during a pause in his work, a cigarette between his lips, he would run his eyes over the objects that surrounded him, arousing in him an immense passion.22 Collecting beautiful things was a necessity for Goncourt, as essential as breathing. “Books, drawings and engravings mark out our life,” he wrote. “Browsing, looking, that is how we spend our life. That is our center.”23

This “center,” the heart of Goncourt’s collection, was located in his cabinet de travail, also known as a cabinet d’amateur.24 The two mainstays of his identity—writer and collector—came together here, which is why virtually all his portraits, whether painted, drawn, photographed, or etched, are situated in his study.25 A photograph taken by D. Freuler in 1890 shows Edmond sitting in this room among his beloved books in their costly bindings and his equally precious portfolios of etchings and engravings.26 He is imitating the pose in a portrait made by his brother Jules twenty years earlier. There are two more portraits behind him: a double one with Jules and the artist Paul Gavarni, which seems to have been taken from its portfolio especially for this occasion, and a large pastel of Edmond in his study by Giuseppe de Nittis. Commenting on this “complex set of self-reflexive portrait references,” art historian Pamela Warner describes how men like Goncourt “underlined their close affiliation with their cabinets in the very decoration of the room by including mirrors and often multiple portraits of themselves.” She shows how the cabinet is “the room where his identity takes visual form,” and “functions as a mirror of identity.”27

A wood engraving after Jean-Baptiste Guth similarly emphasizes a connection between Bracquemond’s portrait and Goncourt’s identity as a collector.28 Goncourt has taken his portrait by Bracquemond from the portfolio on the print stand next to him and holds it out before him with both hands. Fantastic little creatures and capricious forms loom from the stand, suggesting the presence of even more surprising prints. Goncourt, possibly inspired by Bracquemond’s activities, tentatively began to collect modern etchings in 1880. The posthumous sale catalogue—for which none other than Bracquemond wrote the preface—reveals that he owned a highly representative collection of belles épreuves. Goncourt’s portfolios contained exceptional impressions by prominent contemporary etchers such as Bracquemond himself, Albert Besnard, Félix Hilaire Buhot, Marcellin Desboutin, Norbert Goeneutte, Seymour Haden, Auguste Rodin, James McNeill Whistler, and Anders Zorn, many of them personally inscribed by the artists.29

The Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt in its different states became immediately and immensely sought after by print connoisseurs with similar collections. Collectors immediately recognized this as a key work by Bracquemond, one of the most important champions of etching as an autonomous art form. What drew them most of all, however, might have been the fact that this was an iconic portrait of the amateur on whom they all modeled themselves: Edmond de Goncourt. Goncourt’s friend and later biographer—the littérateur, amateur d’estampes, and bibliophile Alidor Delzant—was also keen to get hold of an impression for his collection.30 In 1884, he turned to Philippe Burty, who, as a leading critic on original etching and an important collector himself, was well acquainted with everyone in the world in question. Burty arranged for Delzant to choose an impression of this print from the rich collection of the American amateur George Lucas, assuring him, “You can be certain it will be beautiful!”31

As if this were not enough, Goncourt’s devoted admirer also commissioned Bracquemond in 1898 to make a large portrait etching of him as well—and in his study to boot. Bracquemond approached the work in precisely the same meticulous way that he had for Goncourt, this time taking no fewer than nine states to achieve the desired result.32 Once again, he carefully constructed the setting in consultation with the collector, asking Delzant: “What object, besides the book, should we put on the table? Look around you, there is undoubtedly a statuette, a sculpted fragment that clearly speaks of your preferences.”33

The finished etching features two small classical sculptures placed in front of Delzant on the table.34 Figurative works of this kind, like prints and drawings, were characterized by their intimate relationship with the owner, who not only viewed them in the privacy of his study but also handled them frequently.35 Bracquemond therefore placed considerable emphasis on the connoisseur’s hands in his portraits of Goncourt and Delzant.36 The collectors themselves referred on a number of occasions to the importance of their fond handling of their favorite objects.37 Goncourt went so far as to claim that it was his gentle touch that distinguished the true amateur from the less cultivated mass, while Delzant viewed it as a defining feature of collectionneurs de haute lignée (collectors of noble lineage).38

This highly elitist attitude explains Goncourt’s refusal to allow his collection to be placed after his death in “the cold tomb of a museum,” where his beloved objects would be exposed to the “imbecilic glances of the indifferent passer-by.”39 He preferred to distribute his possessions among a small circle of likeminded amateurs, the “heirs of his taste,” by whom they would be cherished and handled appropriately, hidden from the outside world.40 At the end of the day, the selection of objects with which Goncourt surrounded himself in the portrait—just like the painstakingly formed ensembles of objects from all manner of places and in the most varied of materials that decorated the author’s home—served as an aesthetic and existential framework, laying bare his soul and salvation.41 In this way, Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt offers a fascinating glimpse of the closed yet immensely rich interior world of the French connoisseur at the end of the nineteenth century.

1

Bracquemond wrote to Goncourt on August 22, 1879: “You have given me great pleasure by accepting [ … ] I would like to make a large print of you. It must be worthy: you are a master, and as for myself, I would like to show that I can do more than decorate dinner plates.” Quotation and illustration in Jean-Paul Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt (Gravelines: Musée du Dessin et de l’Estampe originale, 2004), 22 and 24. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by Ted Alkins.

2

Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt, 22 and 24.

3

The literature on Bracquemond tells how a lack of money forced him to take a job in 1872 as decorator at a porcelain factory. Although he held the decorative arts in high esteem and he made a significant contribution to their artistic revival with his celebrated Service Rousseau, his artistic ambitions lay first and foremost in the graphic arts.

4

See, for example, Jean-Paul Bouillon, Félix Bracquemond, le réalisme absolu: œuvre gravé, 1849–1859, catalogue raisonné (Geneva: Skira, 1987) and Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt.

7

For an account of the drawn-out working process, see Robert H. Getscher, Felix Bracquemond and the Etching Process (Wooster, OH: College of Wooster Art Museum, 1974) and Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt.

8

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, Journal (Monaco: Éditions de l’Imprimerie Nationale, 1956) 55.

10

Philippe Burty was the first to praise these unique artists’ prints, made prior to the main edition, to which he gave the name belles épreuves. To his mind, and that of many other connoisseurs eager to find uniqueness in a multiple medium, these were the only impressions worth collecting. See Philippe Burty, L’eau-forte en 1874 (et en 1875): Trente eaux-fortes originales et inédites (Paris: Alfred Cadart, 1874) and Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Prints in Paris: From Elite to the Street (Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2017).

11

Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1862 that etching “expresses the personal character of the artist so well [ … ] it would be difficult for the artist not to describe on the plate his most intimate personality.” He viewed it as a medium that directly captured the “arabesques of the imagination, every hatching of caprice”; Charles Baudelaire in Jean-Paul Bouillon, La promenade du critique influent: Anthologie de la critique d’art en France, 1850–1900 (Paris: Hazan, 1990), 116.

12

Bracquemond’s clearly formulated ideas about printmaking can be found in Bracquemond, Étude sur la gravure sur bois et la lithographie (Paris: Henri Beraldi, 1897); see for example p. 7, and Bouillon, Félix Bracquemond, le réalisme absolu.

13

Félix Bracquemond, quoted in Getscher, Felix Bracquemond and the Etching Process, 10.

14

Jules Hoche, quoted in Pamela Warner, “The Competing Dialectics of the Cabinet de Travail,” in Interior Portraiture and Masculine Identity in France, 1789–1914, ed. Temma Balducci, et al. (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011), 164–65.

15

Album Maison des Goncourt, Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection, Paris (inv. AL-2). See also the reconstruction in Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt, 25–28

16

Paul Leroi, quoted in Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt, 47; and Alidor Delzant, Les Goncourt (Paris: Charpentier, 1889), 6–7.

17

Edmond de Goncourt, Maison d’un artiste (Paris: Flammarion, 1880), 9.

18

The Japanese embroidery was displayed in the study, followed later by the Clodion, which was initially located in the vestibule. The mirror was hung in the Oriental cabinet, but can subsequently be made out in photographs of the Grenier. See Goncourt, Maison d’un artiste; the Album Maison des Goncourt, Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection, Paris (inv. AL-2); and Bouillon, Bracquemond/Goncourt, 25–28.

19

Sabatier defined a bibelot as “a small art object, refined and perfect; a small eighteenth-century print; a bronze [ … ] Sèvres porcelain; Clodion’s terracotta; a Diaz landscape; a satin-toned kakemono; it is in a word—an entire delicate oeuvre one can handle, move around, caress and contemplate; and the viewing of which is restful. Above all, the bibelot must be pretty; for it is not necessary that it be beautiful; in fact it is essential that it not be of too imposing a beauty, which would preclude familiarity. One must have discovered the bibelot oneself, so as to love it all the more, because its effect is almost that of a child. It has grace; it has charm; it mingles with a man’s thoughts, because the man has bestowed his thought upon it for a moment. It has become the companion of men of letters and artists.” It is striking that Sabatier should have picked precisely those examples from Goncourt’s collection that we find in the portrait. See Pierre Sabatier, L’esthétique des Goncourt (Paris: publisher unknown, 1920), 129.

20

An interesting detail is that Edmond de Goncourt later glued the print series in a large album bound in black leather, to which he added a copy of Bracquemond’s etched portrait as frontispiece. The album is currently at the Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection, Paris.

21

As Edmond de Goncourt described it in his diary on November 4, 1875, in Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, Journal des Goncourt: Mémoires de la vie littéraire 1872–1877, vol. 5 (Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1891), 229. For Goncourt’s interior as refuge, see also Goncourt, Maison d’un artiste, 7, and Beurdeley and Maubege, Edmond de Goncourt chez lui, 107.

22

Goncourt, Maison d’un artiste, 39.

23

Jules de Goncourt, quoted in Elisabeth Launay, Les frères Goncourt, collectionneurs de dessins (Paris: Arthena, 1991), 43.

24

Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Prints in Paris, 31.

25

By coincidence, the photographer Jules Dornac also embarked in 1880 on his series Les contemporains chez eux, in which he made portraits of prominent Parisians in their interiors. It is striking how often these were situated in the study. See also in this regard Warner, “The Competing Dialectics of the Cabinet de Travail.”

27

Warner, “The Competing Dialectics of the Cabinet de Travail,” 163.

29

See Félix Bracquemond, Estampes modernes ( … ) composant la collection des Goncourt (Paris: Motteroz, 1897).

30

See Album Maison des Goncourt, 137a on Alidor Delzant. Delzant genuinely idolized the Goncourt brothers; he collected as many of their original papers and books they had owned or touched as possible, and even kept a scrapbook of all the portraits of the brothers and articles about them that he found in newspapers and magazines. Much of this material can be found at the Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection, Paris.

31

Letter from Philippe Burty to Alidor Delzant (July 29, 1884), and letter from Alidor Delzant to Philippe Burty (August 1, 1884), Lettres de Philippe Burty à Alidor Delzant, Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection, Paris. Oddly enough, Delzant was fairly critical about the design in his publication on the Goncourts; see Delzant, Les Goncourt, 47. For George A. Lucas, see Album Maison des Goncourt, 1695c, Fondation Custodia, Fritz Lugt collection, Paris.

32

See Pierre Sanchez, “Le portrait gravé d’Alidor Delzant par Félix Bracquemond,” Nouvelles de l’estampe 156 (December 1997): 23–34. The portrait was issued in an edition of twenty on wove paper and ten on Japan paper. The first to fourth states were also produced in editions of ten, and the fifth to eighth states in editions of twenty.

33

Félix Bracquemond, quoted in Warner, “The Competing Dialectics of the Cabinet de Travail,” 167.

35

For more on the intimate relationship between amateurs and more private media, see The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850–1900 (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2009).

36

The pince-nez that Bracquemond depicted on Goncourt’s jacket might refer to the connoisseur’s studious gaze.

37

Alidor Delzant described Edmond de Goncourt’s hands several times as fine and elegant; see Delzant, Les Goncourt, 7 and 264.

38

“[T]ouching is the mark by which one recognizes an amateur. The man who holds an object with indifferent fingers, with stupid fingers, with fingers that lack the ability to lovingly envelop, that man is not a devotee of art.” Edmond de Goncourt, quoted in Launay, Les frères Goncourt, 43; and Delzant, Les Goncourt, 7.

39

Goncourt, quoted in Bracquemond, Estampes modernes. This quote, in handwriting, was used as the frontispiece to the catalogue.

40

Goncourt left instructions that the auctions should be supervised and introduced by the familiar names of Bracquemond, Delzant, the dealer in Oriental art Siegfried Bing (1838–1905), and the art inspector, critic, and collector Roger Marx (1859–1913).

41

Sabatier, L’esthétique des Goncourt, xii–iii.

5

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt, 1881–1882

Etching on beige-colored, smooth paper of moderate thickness, most likely a type of Japanese vellum

Image/plate: 51.1 x 34 cm. (20 1/8 x 13 3/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of Murray S. Danforth, Jr. 50.318

6

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

After Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)

Boissy d’Anglas présidant la Convention le 1er Prairial An III

9th of 9 states

Etching and drypoint on laid paper

Plate: 41.4 x 51.4 cm. (16 5/16 x 20 1/4 in.)

Sheet: 45.1 x 58.4 cm. (17 3/4 x 23 in.)

Beraldi, no. 341

Gift of Frank Anderson Trapp 2004.166.6

National Gallery of Art, Washington

Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

9

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

Portrait d’Edmond de Goncourt, his right hand holding a cigarette, ca. 1880

Charcoal and stump

55 x 35 cm.

Photo: Jean Gilles Berizzi

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

© RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource

26

D. Freuler

Edmond de Goncourt in His Study, 1890

Albumen print

25.3 x 20.5 cm.

Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

28

Alexandre Boileau

After Jean Baptiste Guth

Edmond de Goncourt, from the journal Revue illustrée, April 15, 1888

Wood engraving in black and cliché in green on wove paper, on brown wove paper

29.8 x 19.8 cm.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

34

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

Portrait of Alidor Delzant, 1900

Etching and drypoint in black on paper

Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho specialized in 19th-century printmaking as a researcher at the Van Gogh Museum. As the curator of prints and drawings, her aim is to present prints in a more innovative and integrated way, which is why she built an interactive website on the collection. Her most recent publication and the exhibition Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street (2017) return prints to their cultural-historic and sociological contexts.

Women Under the Influence

Gretchen Schultz

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944), The Day After, 1894. Drypoint and open bite on beige-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium thickness; image/plate: 19.4 x 27.8 cm. (7 5/8 x 10 15/16 in.). RISD Museum: Museum Works of Art Fund 50.035

Albert Besnard (French, 1849–1934), Morphine Addicts (Morphinomanes), 1887. Etching and drypoint on cream-colored, smooth wove paper of medium thickness; image/plate: 24 x 37.3 cm. (9 7/16 x 14 11/16 in.). RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 81.206

Edvard Munch’s The Day After (1894)1 and Albert Besnard’s Morphinomanes ou le Plumet (1887)2 explore the relation between intoxication and gender with images that appear, at first, to be in stark contrast. Munch’s piece shows an unconscious woman apparently sleeping off the effects of too much alcohol, while Besnard depicts a couple under the influence of morphine, entranced but nonetheless alert, seated at a table. Munch’s title stresses the etching’s temporal and, specifically, punctual aspect, portraying the consequences of the preceding evening’s activities and inviting the viewer to imagine an unseen prior scene. Besnard’s title points instead to habit and repetition: these women are addicts enjoying the immediate effects of a drug with which they are familiar and to which they will undoubtedly return. Despite these contrasts, both etchings project an underlying eroticism, dormant in the first instance and smoldering in the second, to which their medium, privately consumed, gave them freer access than many contemporary paintings destined for public exhibition. This essay seeks to contextualize the sexual politics, drinking and drug culture, and social engineering informing the visions of decadence provided by Besnard and Munch’s etchings.

Gender and sexuality, altered states, and socially marginal behavior were not uncommon subjects of representation in fin-de-siècle art, reflecting central preoccupations during a period characterized by stunning growth and innovation on one hand and, on the other, generalized anxiety about ensuing changes in the social landscape. Scientific research also responded to anxiety in the face of social change, focusing on women and the growing working class as women’s and workers’ rights movements became more prominent. Drugs and alcohol played a particularly intriguing role in French (and, more broadly, European) culture for the contrasting signification attributed to them by artists and medical authorities. Intoxication was alternately associated with transcendence and decay, often pictured as a means of escape or flight, sometimes toward artistic creation, sometimes toward pathological self-destruction. Frequently idealized by artists and poets, drugs and alcohol were also increasingly considered by the scientific community to be the source of social ills. Artistic production sometimes gave credence to this scientific backdrop and sometimes used it as its foil.

Experts in newly specialized and increasingly influential professional communities such as legal medicine, public hygiene, criminology, and psychiatry studied atypical behavior and categorized pathological conditions, resulting in the regulatory imperatives that the French government put in place. Their paternalistic discourses were rife with caution for women exceeding the bounds of traditional comportment and against workers flocking to cities and transforming urban landscapes. Drug abuse and alcoholism, among other social ills, were attributed to expectations of greater freedoms and rights. Writer and social commenter Jules Clarétie, to give one example, demonstrated the perception that drug abuse was directly related to the the demands of the women’s movement: “women, some of whom are frenetically clamoring for their rights, have recently won a singular right, one completely new and quite fatal, that I will call Right to morphine.”3

The reformist hygiene movement took off following Louis Pasteur’s discovery of microorganisms and elaboration of germ theory in the 1860s, which fueled a fear of contagion that was both literal (transmission of disease) and figurative (communication of behaviors). This movement addressed a variety of public health concerns related to urbanization and overcrowding (the spread of venereal disease, sewage disposal) through medical research, legislation, and urban planning. But it also paid attention to social hygiene, with criminologists, health professionals, and psychiatrists turning their attention to the scourges of crime, prostitution, and alcoholism.

Corresponding with the rise of the hygiene movement, medical professionals began to study intoxicants and addictions, from alcoholism to the abuse of drugs, such as morphine, that were first synthesized in laboratories. They linked these substances to the idea of degeneration, a preoccupation shared broadly in the scientific community, which, they believed, was both the cause and the result of drug and alcohol abuse. Psychiatrist Benedict Morel’s influential treatise, Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’espèce humaine (1857), coupled with nascent social Darwinism, provided the framework for an array of research intent on signaling the dangers of modernity. The treatment of these substances in fin-de-siècle scientific treatises offers an intriguing window onto the national ideology of the period insofar as their conclusions about particular populations and behaviors were often more ideologically speculative than objectively empirical. Alcoholism attracted a great deal of attention from social hygienists who represented it as a vice rampant among working class men, whereas morphine abuse was frequently associated with upper-class women.

Running parallel to this knowledge-based inquiry was the more subjective idea of decadence, which can be considered the creative community’s version of the medical notion of degeneration and frequently apparent in prints, such as those of Munch and Besnard. Degeneration and decadence are both predicated on the idea of decline, of a process of worsening, and situated at the center of the fin-de-siècle culture wars. Those on the right decried decadence as the inevitable result of traditions lost due to social and political change, whereas other artists and poets instead channeled the idea of decadence as a creative force. While physicians devised a nomenclature of pathology, the decadent movement provided bohemian writers with a voice and celebrated an aesthetic of excess, anxiety, and sexual license. This ethos gave rise to literature and artwork that paid tribute to drugs and alcohol, substances often represented not primarily as the gateway to ruin, but rather as a means to opening pathways to creativity or, as Aldous Huxley would later have it, the doors of perception.4

Absinthe

Munch’s etching, The Day After,1 captures a woman sleeping adjacent to a table bearing what appears to be the remnants of an evening of absinthe drinking, judging from the pair of glasses, liquor bottle, and accompanying water carafe. Absinthe, a clear green liquor, was typically diluted with water, which turned it a milky green. Munch was not himself indifferent to absinthe, having become a habitué of café culture during periods he lived in Paris, beginning in 1889.5 His painting Absinthe Drinkers (1890),6 which depicts two young men drinking at a table, offers an interesting counterpoint to the prone woman represented in the etching The Day After. Absinthe and its drinkers were common currency in fin-de-siècle paintings, which typically depicted men seated before a café table, such as Jean-François Raffaelli’s Les Buveurs d’absinthe (1881)7 and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Monsieur Boileau au café (1893).8 These examples also feature the telltale carafe of water essential to the public ritual of what was known as the heure verte (the green hour), happy hour for the predominantly male population of public absinthe drinkers. The plethora of absinthe paintings reflects its widespread consumption as well as its cultural prominence across the social spectrum at the end of the nineteenth century: Munch’s fashionable bohemians, Raffaelli’s down-and-out suburban drinkers, Toulouse-Lautrec’s expansive bourgeois Parisian. On the contrary, the spare private setting of The Day After lacks specific social markers; while some viewers have assumed the woman depicted to be a prostitute from her deshabille and languid pose, her station is in fact difficult to ascertain.9

Munch’s pointed depiction of an absinthe drinker reflects a growing interest in the drink during the late nineteenth century. Absinthe first went into production at the turn of the century in the Pontarlier region of France, by the Swiss border. Initially a regional drink, by the midcentury it had become a fashionable, widely consumed aperitif for the well heeled. As mass production lowered its price to a point cheaper than wine, its consumption skyrocketed. Absinthe became known as “the national drink”10 and thus contributed to the remarkable rise in alcohol ingestion in France, which tripled over the course of the century, making France far and away the most alcoholic country in Europe. By the 1870s, medical and public health officials began to ring the alarm about alcoholic excess in general and absinthe abuse in particular. Absinthe was the primary reason that drinking came to be considered a public scourge in France.

A newly formed temperance movement led the charge. This elite movement, spearheaded by hygienists and medical professionals, had a social agenda that sought to rein in workers and the poor, as evidenced in antialcoholism campaigns targeting these populations.11 It lobbied successfully for the enactment in 1873 of the Roussel Law, which outlawed public drunkenness.12 The anti-alcohol campaign focused overwhelmingly on absinthe, which was eventually banned in 1915. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the wine industry, which suffered due to absinthe’s success, contributed generously to this effort and benefited from its promotion of wine as a healthy substitute for liquor. Pasteur, a prominent figure in temperance circles, famously asserted that “wine is the healthiest and most hygienic of drinks.”13

Among other prominent scientists contributing to the temperance movement was psychiatrist Valentin Magnan, who was instrumental in agitating the red flag against absinthe.14 His experiments led him erroneously to claim that “absinthism” was profoundly different from and more dangerous than common garden-variety alcoholism. Magnan argued that absinthe led to such ills as tuberculosis, convulsions, insanity, idiocy, paralysis, “absinthic epilepsy,” suicide, and criminality. It threatened the progeniture of an already dwindling population and went hand in hand with numerous social maladies that weakened the family and the workforce.

Magnan and his colleagues tended to highlight alcohol consumption by men and, indeed, alcoholism and absinthism were, initially, largely considered a male problem. Dr. E. Monin, a prolific author of hygiene manuals, asserted that “Happily, alcoholism in women is rather rare in France, even exceptional.”15 Women (along with their children) were often considered to be the first victims of alcoholic husbands who spent their earnings in cafés and neglected and abused their families.16 Over time, however, specialists turned their attention to alcoholism in women: “For a long time one hoped and believed that women had avoided the terrible gangrene that gnaws at modern society. But today there is no more doubt: alcoholism is spreading rapidly and progressively to women.”17 Researchers and hygienists tended to situate female alcoholism among a particular class of women drinkers—urban working women, prostitutes, and hysterics (or women suffering from other “congenital” diseases)—and their views assist in interpreting Munch’s print.18 Women who drank to excess were doubly condemned, first for their alcoholism, and secondly for their lack of conformity to social norms of female conduct. Public drinking in cafés was not an activity undertaken by women having a reputation to maintain.19 It therefore tended to be associated with the underclasses and prostitutes, as well as with other kinds of transgressive behavior, such as extramarital sex: “inebriety in women often leads to adultery.”20

Insofar as absinthe was gendered, the drink itself was linked symbolically to femininity, particularly by the poets and artists who resisted official condemnation of the drink.21 Nicknamed la fée verte (the green fairy), it was not infrequently depicted as Muse and glamorized by poets who reached to absinthe for inspiration (famously by absinthe devotee Paul Verlaine).22 Charles Cros compared absinthe to Venus, who “lights up in the pale green sky,” and Gustave Kahn similarly feminized the drink, calling it “mother of delights.”23

Artists also countered the vision of absinthe as a public scourge in paintings such as Albert Maignan’s La Muse verte (1895).24 Just as Symbolist and Decadent poets celebrated it (and just as Baudelaire before them had extolled wine as an “artificial paradise” that enhanced artistic creation), artists produced a parallel corpus of paintings depicting women in front of a glass of green liquid, such as Degas’s Dans un café (1876)25 and Picasso’s Buveuse d’absinthe (1901).26

Although not as numerous as paintings showing men drinking in cafés, such variations depicting women absinthe drinkers constitute an important subgenre. While sharing several features (the public setting, the accoutrements of absinthe preparation), these buveuse paintings tend to depict a narrower class of women, in contrast to the social class diversity among men depicted drinking absinthe. Some are suggestive of social marginality, perhaps of prostitutes, and frequently depict a solitary, rather poignant figure, as does Munch’s sleeping woman. Munch’s etching, however, once again differs from these painted works— predominantly café scenes—with its private, even intimate setting. This reclining woman is mostly clothed, although her bodice opens to reveal the contours of her breasts, begging the question of whether this day follows not only drinking, but also its sister vice, sex. Because it was intended for private consumption, The Day After benefited from greater liberty of expression; however, the reversed painted version of this work (The Day After, 1894–1895)27 shocked contemporaries for its depiction of what they assumed to be a prostitute. In Munch’s etching the bedpost finials echo the lips of the two bottles; the woman’s white chemise melts into the bed, as does the whiteness of her skin, and her hair merges with the shadows created by the folds of the pillow: woman and bed are one, united in their service for sex, just as bottles and bed are in alignment, both the accoutrements of vice. This nexus of associations was at the center of fin-de-siècle cultural contestation, in which bourgeois purveyors of tradition, supported by the hygiene, temperance, and medical communities, policed marginal populations and condemned what they considered to be their degenerative practices. Works by artists and poets imply that at least some of them reveled in and were inspired by the very excesses that placed them in the margins.

Morphine

The writer Laurent Tailhade suggested that poets flocked to alcohol more readily than to morphine.28 Indeed, poetry and its sister arts had longer and deeper associations with the timeless intoxication of alcohol, whereas the morphine habit was born of medical innovation and considered to be a particularly “contemporary affliction,”29 as the two women depicted in Besnard’s print reflect. Morphine was one of a number of synthesized drugs including ether, cocaine, and heroin that were originally produced in laboratory settings and intended for medical use as analgesics. Morphine was first derived from opium—another drug having its own specific history and associations30—in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century; thanks to the invention in the 1840s of the hypodermic syringe, which facilitated the drug’s recreational use, its consumption was democratized.31 Among upper-class users, the Pravaz syringe became a fetish object of admiration, packaged in elegant cases. Not long after the medical community labeled excessive absinthe consumption a pathological condition, morphinomania was baptized by the German clinician Edward Levinstein in his 1877 treatise, soon after translated into French as La Morphinomanie (1880).

Researchers considered morphinomania to be a potentially contagious condition, one linked both to degeneracy32 and sexual desire. It was believed that morphine use rendered men impotent, while exaggerating female sexual drive,33 and such beliefs were popularized in a number of novels published in the 1880s and 1890s.34 Dubut de Laforest’s La Morphine (1891), for example, mimicked the medical discourse of the period:

The chaste wife’s unconscious ardors explain one of the most curious phenomena of morphine intoxication, which is absolutely contrary in the two sexes. Indeed, while men sometimes endure a state of depression of their sexual life, the system in women reaches a high degree of nymphomania. Blanche’s moral force, although quite weakened by morphine abuse, still kept her from adultery, but failed to prevent her from engaging in immoral movements purely mechanical in origin.35

The supposition that morphine emasculated men and elevated women’s libido posited a kind of sexual role reversal in which female sexual activity more closely resembled the drive that popular and medical discourses attributed to men. It is not surprising, then, when considering literature of the time, to find morphinomania rampant among fictional prostitutes and lesbians, both of whom were considered to be hypersexual populations.

Morphine abuse was initially associated with wounded soldiers (who were given morphine for pain) and medical professionals (who had easy access). Increasingly, however, as the drug’s recreational use expanded, specialists identified women, whether of high society or the demimonde, as its principal devotees. If alcohol was the appanage of men, morphine was a woman problem, a female fad.36 Besnard’s Morphinomanes captures a trope quite common in the literature, both fictional and medical, of the period: by the end of the century, la morphinée had become a stock figure.37

Idle women reached for morphine to chase away the doldrums,38 but its abuse was not uniquely a solitary affair: it was also portrayed as a social vice, and women were thought to lead each other into the habit.39 Whether morphine was used among socialites hoping for discretion or by depraved courtesans, medical experts frequently described it as a collective activity among women.40

That there are two women represented in Besnard’s etching,2 formerly entitled Brune et Blonde, is perhaps unsurprising, given morphine’s association with hypersexuality in women and contemporary codes for designating lesbians, typically a complimentary pair of blonde and brunette.41 Lesbianism was a widespread preoccupation at the fin de siècle, evident in Félicien Rops’s Les Adieux d’Auteuil, which contemporaries readily identified as sapphic in theme.42 Catulle Mendès’ scandalous novel, Méphistophéla (1890), also presented morphine abuse and lesbianism as comorbid in its vampiric central character.

Less frequently romanticized as a creative lubricant in art and literature, morphine was related to the abject in a number of fin-de-siècle works that confirmed medical opinion regarding the hazards of drug abuse and its association with degeneration and sexual excess. These cautionary works included the novels of Dubut and Mendès, as well as Eugène Grasset’s brazen lithograph La Morphinomane, which depicts a minimally clothed and desperate woman injecting herself (1897).43

Besnard’s Morphinomanes ou Le Plumet, however, captures the seductive qualities of the drug and is devoid of the condemnation typical of literary and visual portraits of the period. It pictures two women in a haze of swirls meant to evoke the effects of morphine. This curious couple is juxtaposed with the titular plume, held oddly upright by the brunette. This plumet, meaning drunkenness in the slang of the day,44 attracts the attention of the viewer, if not of the women themselves. The blonde, whose hair mingles with and pulls her into the background of strokes and swirls, seems to leer out of the corner of her eye at the brunette, whose gaze is fixed shamelessly on the viewer. While fashionably dressed, their social status is unclear: these women could either belong to high society or, perhaps, to the demimonde of haute courtesans, such as the inseparable morphinomaniacs in Dubut’s La Morphine, “two first-class horizontals, the brunette Thérèse de Roselmont and the blonde Luce Molday.”45 The sexual frisson that accompanied many visual representations of women morphine users—be they prostitutional or sapphic or both—relegated much of this material to the boudoir, while the majority of publicly exhibited paintings presented debased or frightening drug users as if to confirm the writer Alexandre Hepp’s declaration that “Morphinomaniacs personify the quintessential femme fatale.”46

Like other contemporary artworks and portraits in decadent literature, these etchings by Besnard and Munch portray women in altered states and associate them with unseemly sexual behaviors and proclivities. The evils of modernity were frequently represented by morphinomaniacs or women alcoholics who were associated with moral and sexual perversion, degeneracy, and crime. This was a lethal combination, not only for the woman addict but also for the family unit and the procreation of the species, since such substances were thought to render women sterile and bring down the stabilizing figure of the family matriarch.47 In a period obsessed with maintaining traditional boundaries and moral order and unnerved by falling birthrates, sexually marginal and reproductively impaired women were a menace to society. Whether read as celebratory or condemning, decadent imaginings such as The Day After and Les Morphinomanes carried the power to antagonize and provoke.

3

“Les femmes, dont quelques-unes réclament avec exaltation tous leurs droits, ont conquis, depuis un certain nombre d’années, un droit singulier, tout nouveau, et très fatal que j’appellerai le Droit à la morphine.” Jules Claretie, La vie à Paris (Paris: G. Charpentier et E. Fasquelle, 1895), 379.

4

Such was the name of his 1954 essay detailing his experience of a mescaline trip. Huxley belongs to a long history of writers on drugs that includes Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822). In France, “Le Club des Hachichins” (1846), Théophile Gautier’s recollection of gatherings attended alongside artists (Delacroix and Daumier) and writers (Baudelaire, Nerval, Balzac, Alexandre Dumas père), recounts the experience of ingesting hashish. He details the effects of the drug (altering subjective perception, disembodiment, expansion) on creative expression. Charles Baudelaire’s Paradis artificiels (1860) compares wine and hashish’s ability to create a sense of the infinite, a multiplication of individuality. Cf. also Jean Lorrain’s Contes d’un buveur d’éther (1895).

5

Gerd Woll, Edvard Munch: The Complete Graphic Works (London: Philip Wilson, 2012), 29.

9

Elizabeth Prelinger, et al., The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 74.

10

“[L]a boisson nationale.” Rémy de Gourmont, “L’Absinthe,” in Les idées du jour, February 6, 1915 (Paris, G. Crès et compagnie, 1918), 157–59.

12

The law “contre l’ivresse publique et manifeste et contre l’alcoolisme,” called the “loi Roussel” for Théophile Roussel, the doctor and member of parliament who promoted it, was promulgated on February 23, 1873.

13

“[L]e vin peut être à bon droit considéré comme la plus saine, la plus hygiénique des boissons.” Louis Pasteur, Etudes sur le vin (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1866), 56.

14

Valentin Magnan, Étude expérimentale et clinique sur l’alcoolisme: Alcool et Absinthe: Épilepsie absinthique (Paris: Renou et Maulde, 1871). See also J-P Luauté, “L’absinthisme: la faute du docteur Magnan,” L’évolution psychiatrique 72 (2007): 515–30; “Toxicité neuropsychiatrique de l’absinthe: Historique, données actuelles,” Annales Médico Psychologiques 163 (2005): 497–501; and Stephan Padosch et al., “Absinthism: A fictitious 19th-century syndrome with present impact,” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2006, 1:14.

15

“L’alcoolisme féminin est, heureusement, assez rare en France, exceptionnel même.” E. Monin, Alcoolisme (Paris: Doin, 1889), 94; see also Patricia Prestwich, “Female Alcoholism in Paris, 1870–1920: The Response of Psychiatrists and of Families,” History of Psychiatry 14.3 (2003): 321–36.

16

See Didier Nourrisson, “Aux origines de l’antialcoolisme,” Histoire, Économie et Société 7.4 (1988): 491–506, and Prestwich, “Female Alcoholism in Paris,” 321–36.

17

“Pendant longtemps on a cru, on a espéré, que la femme avait échappé à la terrible gangrène qui ronge la société moderne. Aujourd’hui le doute n’est plus possible: l’alcoolisme s’étend progressivement et rapidement à la femme.” Raymond de Ryckère, Alcoolisme féminin (Lyon: Storck, 1899), 26.

18

“La gangrène s’est d’abord attaquée aux femmes du peuple parmi lesquelles elle a fait bientôt des progrès épouvantables” and “La prostitution et l’alcoolisme ont été de tout temps étroitement et intimement liés.” Ryckère, Alcoolisme féminin, 27 and 119. Also “les hystériques (qui, dans le sexe féminin, s’appellent légion), sont des sujets éminemment alcoolisables.” Monin, Alcoolisme, 102.

19

“[L]es femmes que leur situation dans le monde empêche de céder ouvertement à l’amour des liqueurs, s’enivrent d’eau de Cologne à moins qu’elles ne fassent usage de morphine, de chloral ou d’éther.” H. Leroy, De l’alcoolisme au point de vue de sa prévention et de sa répression sur le terrain du droit pénal (Paris: Librairie nouvelle de droit et de jurisprudence, 1900), 35.

20

“[L]’ébriété chez la femme est souvent mère de l’adultère.” Monin, Alcoolisme, 101.

21

See Marie-Claude Delahaye, Absinthe au féminin (Paris: Editions Equinoxe, 2007).

23

“S’allume dans le ciel vert-pâle.” Charles Cros, “L’Heure verte,” Le Coffret de santal (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1873). “[La] mère des bonheurs.” Gustave Kahn, “Absinthe . . .” (La revue moderne et naturaliste, 1879). Cros also wrote an absinthe poem that shared the title of Munch’s etching (“Lendemain,” Coffret). See also Jean Richepin, “Sonnet ivre” (“Absinthe, lait troublé d’émeraude . . . Versez!”), La Chanson des gueux (Paris: Maurice Dreyfous, 1881); Maurice Rollinat, “Buveuse d’absinthe,” in Les Névroses (Paris: Charpentier, 1883).

28

“La morphine compte sous ses étendards moins de poètes que l’alcool.” Laurent Tailhade, La Noire Idole (Paris: Messein, 1907).

29

Clarétie, La vie à Paris, 379.

30

Note the difference between associations of opium use at the beginning of the century (Baudelaire, Gautier, etc.)—creative and Eastern—and morphine’s more modern, decadent, Western associations at the end of the century.

31

“C’est la seringue de Pravaz qui a donné naissance à ce vice élégant et redoutable.” Jules Rochard, Traité d’hygiène sociale (Paris: Delahaye, 1888), 621.

32

“[T]rès souvent les morphinomanes sont des hystériques et des dégénérés.” Paul Brouardel, Opium, morphine et cocaïne (Paris: Baillière, 1906), 73.

33

“Tandis que chez l’homme, l’état de dépression de la vie sexuelle engendré par l’abus de la morphine persiste pendant les premières semaines de la période de suppression, les désirs génésiques arrivent, chez quelques femmes, à un haut degré et deviennent presque de la nymphomanie.” Edouard Levinstein, La morphiomanie: Monographie basée sur des observations personnelles (Paris: Masson, 1880), 41.

34

As Liz Constable has shown, this was a phenomenon specific to the 1880s and 1890s, during which time a number of novels depicting women morphine addicts were published. Liz Constable, “Being Under the Influence: Catulle Mendès and Les Morphinées, or Decadence and Drugs.” L’Esprit Créateur 37.4 (Winter 1997): 67–81.

35

“Ces ardeurs inconscientes de la chaste épouse justifiaient l’un des plus curieux phénomènes de l’intoxication morphinique et de ses résultats absolument contraires pour les deux sexes. En effet, tandis que l’homme subissait quelquefois un état de dépression de la vie génésique, le système arrivait chez la femme à un haut degré de nymphomanie. La force morale de Blanche, quoique très affaiblie par l’abus de la morphine, la préservait encore de l’adultère, mais elle ne l’empêchait pas de se livrer à des mouvements désordonnés et d’origine purement mécanique.” Jean-Louis Dubut de Laforest, La Morphine (Paris: Dentu, 1891), 128.

36

Frédéric Gilbert, “Les Morphinées,” Le Gaulois, June 28, 1884.

37

On the gendering of morphine abuse, see eds. Teresa Ortiz-Gómez and María Jesús Santesmases, Gendered Drugs and Medicine: Historical and Socio-Cultural Perspectives (Routledge, 2014), in particular contributions by Alexandre Marchand (“‘A gendered vice’? Gender Issues and Drug Abuse in France”) and Jesper Vaczy Kragh (“Women, Men, and the Morphine Problem, 1870–1955”). See also Jean-Jacques Yvorel, “La Morphinée,” Communications 56 (1993): 105–13.

38

“La morphine fut adoptée par les femmes principalement comme dérivatif de l’ennui désœuvré, comme une clef des songes fantaisistes.” Anon, “Les Morphinés,” Album des familles, revue mensuelle 7.8 (1882): 247–8.

39

“[S]urtout de dames, entrainées à la passion de la morphine par leurs amies.” L-R. Régnier, L’intoxication chronique par la morphine (Paris: Aux bureaux du Progrès médical, 1890), 54.

40

“Ball émet l’opinion que c’est peut-être dans le secret des orgies féminines qu’on trouve l’explication de cette fureur qu’ont presque toutes les morphinomanes à faire du prosélytisme.” Paul Rodet, Morphinomanie et morphinisme (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1897), 105.

41

Christine Gouzi, et al. Albert Besnard (18491934): Modernités Belle Époque‬ (Somogy éditions d’art, 2016), 263.‬

42

“[L]a curiosité des costumes et la perversité voilée des Adieux d’Auteuil.” E. Ramiro, “Beaux-arts,” La Plume vol. 8 (1896), 687. See Gretchen Schultz, Sapphic Fathers (Toronto: UP Toronto, 2015).

44

“PLUMET, s. m. Ivresse, dans l’argot des ouvriers. Avoir son plumet; être gris.” Albert Delvau, Dictionnaire de la langue verte (Paris: Dentu, 1866), 381.

45

“[L]es deux horizontales de haute marque, [ . . . ] la brune Thérèse de Roselmont et la blonde.” Dubut, La Morphine, 4. Medical professionals, such as psychiatrist Georges Pichon, also pointed to morphine’s use among prostitutes: “l’exemple d’une femme du demi-monde qui vantait bien haut les vertus aphrodisiaques qu’elle devait à la morphine.” Georges Pichon, Le Morphinisme (Paris: Doin, 1889), 118.

46

“[L]es morphiomanes […] personnifient le type par excellence des femmes fatales.” Alexandre Hepp, “Tout à la morphine,” Paris patraque (Paris: Dentu, 1884), 122.

47

“La femme alcoolique, de son côté avorte souvent, à la suite d’hémorragies, de flaccidité ovarique ou d’attaques d’éclampsie.” Monin, Alcoolisme, 65. On morphine as the undoing of marriage in fin-de-siècle novels, see Laura Spagnoli, “Morphine and the Unmaking of Marriage in Fin-de-siècle French Fiction,” XIX 11 (2008): 105–18.

1

Edvard Munch

Norwegian, 1863–1944

The Day After, 1894

Drypoint and open bite on beige-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium thickness

Image/plate: 19.4 x 27.8 cm. (7 5/8 x 10 15/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Museum Works of Art Fund 50.035

2

Albert Besnard

French, 1849–1934

Morphine Addicts (Morphinomanes), 1887

Etching and drypoint on cream-colored, smooth wove paper of medium thickness

Image/plate: 24 x 37.3 cm. (9 7/16 x 14 11/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 81.206

6

Edvard Munch

Norwegian, 1863–1944

The Absinthe Drinkers, 1890

Pastel on canvas

58 x 96 cm.

Private collection

Photo © Munch Museum

7

Jean-François Rafaëlli

French, 1850–1924

The Absinthe Drinkers (Les déclassés), 1881

Oil on canvas

108 x 108 cm. (42 1/2 in x 42 1/2 in.)

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, museum purchase, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Income Fund, Jay D. and Clare C. McEvoy Endowment Fund, Tribute Funds, Friends of Ian White Endowment Fund, Unrestricted Art Acquisition Endowment Income Fund, Grover A. Magnin Bequest Fund, and the Yvonne Cappeller Trust 2010.16

Image Courtesy the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

8

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

French, 1864–1901

Monsieur Boileau at the Café, 1893

Gouache

Sheet: 80 x 65 cm. (31 7/16 x 25 9/16 in.)

Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection 394.1925

The Cleveland Museum of Art

11

Adolphe Willette

French, 1857–1926

L’Esclave volontaire, n.d.

Association nationale de prévention en alcoologie et addictologie

22

Dornac (Paul Marsan)

French, 1858–1941

Paul Verlaine in the Café François (Paul Verlaine au café François), 1892

Photograph

Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet

24

Albert Maignan

French, 1845–1908

Green Muse (La Muse verte), 1895

Musée de Picardie, 1895

25

Edgar Degas

French, 1834–1917

Dans un café, 1875–1876

Oil on canvas

92 x 68.5 cm.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Scala / Art Resource, NY

© photo Musée d’Orsay / RMN-Grand Palais

26

Pablo Picasso

Spanish, 1881–1973

The Absinthe Drinker, 1901

Oil on canvas

73 x 54 cm.

Hermitage

Scala / Art Resource, NY

© 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

27

Edvard Munch

Norwegian, 1863–1944

The Day After, 1894–1895

National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo

43

Eugène Grasset

French, 1841–1917

La Morphinomane, 1897

Color lithograph

Sheet: 57.2 x 42.9 cm. (22 1/2 x 16 7/8 in.)

Collection of UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum. Promised Gift of Elisabeth Dean

Author’s acknowledgments: My gratitude to Heidi Brevik and Britany Salsbury for their insights into reading these etchings.

Gretchen Schultz is a professor of French studies at Brown University. She specializes in nineteenth-century literary and cultural studies. Her recent publications include Sapphic Fathers: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire from Nineteenth-Century France (2015) and the co-edited volume, with Lewis Seifert, Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition (2016). Her current research addresses the culture of drink in nineteenth-century France.

Albert Besnard, In the Ashes, 1887

Britany Salsbury

Albert Besnard (French, 1849–1934), In the Ashes, 1887. Third state. Etching, drypoint, and roulette on cream-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness; watermark: MBM; image/plate: 42.7 x 31.4 cm. (16 13/16 x 12 3/8 in.). RISD Museum purchase: gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 53.328

In 1887, Albert Besnard began work on the largest etching he would ever produce, using a plate about seventeen by thirty-two inches in size. Titled In the Ashes,1 the print depicts two young women posed in opposite directions, symbolically reflecting their socioeconomic difference. Facing the viewer, one figure crouches on the ground, illuminated by a fire whose smoke tendrils suggest it will soon be extinguished. The other turns away, staring upward into the night sky with what the historian André-Charles Coppier described as “a contemplative peacefulness in contrast to the bewilderment of the [other’s] tragic mask, illuminated by the fire.”2 Given the large scale and dramatic composition of the work, Besnard’s steps after completing the work were surprising: he destroyed all but three of the existing impressions of the work and cut away most of his copper plate so that only a portion, showing the woman before a fire, remained. The altered composition3 was printed in an edition of one hundred, typical for the time, and is the version best known today. Although this practice might most immediately suggest that a mistake had been made, Besnard’s fundamental and curious transformation of his own work instead indicates the importance of rarity in late nineteenth-century etching. Besnard creatively used technique to cultivate this quality in his prints at a time when mass production had begun to prevail in other media, such as newspapers, journals, and popular prints.

Besnard made In the Ashes during his most prolific period of etching in the mid-1880s, while living in Paris. He was best known during his lifetime for public murals and portraiture, and used printmaking as a mostly private pursuit—as one critic described, “a break from painting.”4 In etching, he depicted subject matter that broke distinctly from his paintings, often focusing on themes such as poverty, death, illness, and social issues. One such work, In the Ashes, was meant as a symbolic representation of poverty in its full iteration. The juxtaposition between the two women physically, as one hunches forward and gazes into a dying fire and the other looks up toward the stars, suggests their difference in social status, as do the tonalities of the black and white dresses they wear. The vague but evocative image fueled the imaginations of early critics and collectors, including art historian André-Charles Coppier, who theorized in the pages of his catalogue raisonné that the pair were “surely two sisters.”5

In addition to their speculation about the work’s meaning, Besnard’s contemporaries were quick to note the rarity and exclusivity of the first state of In the Ashes, and the value it ascribed to the print. According to the account passed down from the artist, thirteen impressions were made of the first state with Alfred Salmon, a well-established master printer in Paris, ten of which were immediately destroyed.6 This act had the double benefit of making the first state seem rare and special, while also drawing attention to the second, larger printing. In the pages of the popular journal L’Art et les artistes, for example, the print was described as “the most important work of [Besnard’s] considerable oeuvre … one of the most precious examples of modern etching.”7 The print was similarly described in the artist’s 1920 catalogue raisonné as “a masterful etching that owes nothing to anyone, in its design and in the artist’s technique, marking an important date in the evolution of modern etching.”8 These effusive responses reflected Besnard’s use of a medium designed to produce images in multiple to make prints that were virtually unique.

Despite how revolutionary Besnard’s contemporaries believed the cut plate of In the Ashes to be, it actually drew on a historical practice, albeit one that had previously been used as a means of refining a composition rather than cultivating a sense of rarity. Rembrandt began an etching of 1640,9 for example, by sketching a sleeping dog at the upper right corner of the plate, likely intending to fill in the composition around it. After printing the plate, he trimmed it further, so that the dog was more closely cropped, and reprinted it.10 In the final composition,11 Rembrandt settled on an image tightly focused on the animal, allowing its form and shadow to take up most of the plate. Like many etchers in nineteenth-century France, Besnard deeply admired the Dutch master and saw him as a model to emulate for his promotion of printmaking as an original art form, writing in a catalogue essay in 1905 that “an etching may be only a suggestion or may become a picture. This was so wonderfully understood by … Rembrandt. His work … shows the wonders which an artist … can accomplish in black and white.”12

In the years immediately before Besnard etched In the Ashes, several of his close colleagues had undertaken similar projects, likely also modeled on the example of Rembrandt. Félix Bracquemond, who had encouraged a young Besnard to etch while the two lived in London during the early 1880s, sometimes trimmed the plates of his portrait prints while refining their compositions. An impression pulled during the process of editing an 1865 portrait of the critic and collector Zacharie Astruc,13 for example, shows Bracquemond demarcating the area that would remain, and crossing out (or “canceling”) the part that would be cut away. Alphonse Legros, another close friend from London, also cut several of his plates while working on them, in some cases entirely shifting the focus of his composition. One example is The Manger,14 which began as a Nativity scene but was trimmed to focus on the figures kneeling before Christ.15 The proximity of these artists and their shared use of an otherwise unusual practice suggests the mutual influence they had on one another during this time. Besnard began to experiment with cutting his own plates during his time in London, producing works such as Near a Death (1883), an image of a woman sitting next to a recently deceased man, which the artist printed before, during,16 and after cutting the plate.

By the 1880s, a variety of methods were available to artists to cut copper plates, which were usually purchased from suppliers ready to use in standard sizes.17 A coppersmith could be enlisted to cut the plate using large shears, or the artist could trim it using smaller handheld scissors.18 The technique that seems to have been most commonly employed during the nineteenth century, however, involved other tools readily available in the studio. Using a straightedge, the artist would run a needle or knife repeatedly along the plate until it was possible to bend it back and forth and, ultimately, break off the excess over a table’s edge.19 Evidence of this practice often remained in the prints themselves in the form of etched lines, such as those along some of the margins of some of Besnard’s prints.3 16 A cut plate sometimes also retained an uneven plate mark; this can be seen around RISD’s impression of In the Ashes,3 which is wider on the uncut sides than in the modified area.

The technical and conceptual effort required for Besnard to cut the plate of In the Ashes after printing only a few impressions suggests the importance of rarity in the making and understanding of etching in late nineteenth-century Paris—namely, in designating printmaking as an original artistic medium. In order to suggest originality and efface their use of a process designed to produce multiples, printmakers began to work strategically to add cultural and financial value to their prints. In doing so, they aimed to make unique works from a process designed to produce multiples and to demonstrate that their efforts were deserving of high prices and collectors’ attention.

In 1874, a term emerged to describe such unusually precious and rare works—belle épreuve (“beautiful impression”). In an essay of the same title, the Parisian art critic Philippe Burty described the belle épreuve as a rare example that came about “owing to a combination of circumstances … classified equally by the feeling of the artist who designed it, the skill of the printer who brought it to life, and the taste of the amateur who distinguished it and chose it.”20 Burty designated the first prints pulled from the press as the most desirable, suggesting a decline in quality over time. He also recommended a variety of ways printmakers could enhance their work, including performing their own printing (rather than delegating the task to a master printer) and using colored or metallic inks on deluxe or vintage papers.21 Most notably, in the case of Besnard, Burty urged etchers to artificially limit their prints by producing a designated number (or “edition”), then destroying their printing plates. He also suggested that artists use “states,” pulling impressions of a print during the process of working on a plate, creating variations, some of which should be rare. These strategies allowed printmakers to cultivate a sense of originality from a medium that could easily produce identical multiples.

Artists in late nineteenth-century Paris actively used Burty’s recommended strategies, which proved to be remarkably effective in attracting attention to their work and developing a passion among collectors for unique and unusual prints. An entire belle épreuve vocabulary was developed to describe degrees of rarity; in the 1926 catalogue raisonné of Besnard’s prints, for example, the author, Louis Godefroy, qualified In the Ashes as “of the greatest rarity.”22 Other categories included “very rare,” “extremely rare,” “of the utmost rarity,” and “only one known impression.”23 Manuals on print collecting at the time supported these categories and urged buyers to seek out rare works. In his influential guide of 1912, La cote des estampes des différentes écoles anciennes et modernes, the print historian Gustave Bourcard asserted that the highest caliber of collector was “the lover of the belle épreuve … [who] only acquires prints of absolute and exceptional quality.”24 According to Bourcard, the collector should ideally seek out that which “symbolizes and summarizes its maker’s thoughts; that which must be chosen and bought above all others … the best impression of the best state … the collector’s dream … [often] that which obtains the highest price.”25 The prices of rare prints support Bourcard’s assertions; in one 1914 estate sale, for example, the uncut version of In the Ashes sold for 700 francs, while most of Besnard’s other prints sold for prices ranging from about 35 to 65 francs.26 This dramatic difference helps to explain rarity as a strategy for appealing to collectors and selling work.

The sort of exclusivity that Besnard emphasized in In the Ashes was cultivated not only in the creation, but also the marketing of his etchings. Unlike most printmakers at the time, who sold work through the many active dealers working in Paris, Besnard kept his etchings in his studio and interacted with customers himself, upon his incentive. His letters reveal that he readily encouraged collectors to visit him and to discuss the prints with him; around the time he made In the Ashes, for example, he corresponded with a potential client, writing, “Do I need to remind you that my studio is open to you—just as my print portfolios are?”27 He exhibited his prints infrequently, in comparison to many of his peers, and so the works were known primarily through direct connection to the artist, adding a degree of distinction that appealed to contemporary collectors and fit squarely within the emphasis on rarity in etching at this time.

Notably, In the Ashes was created at a time when mass culture—the large scale, uniform production of media intended for a wide audience—began to have a greater presence in Paris than ever before. Images, in particular, were produced and disseminated in previously unthinkable quantities using relatively new processes, such as lithography and photography, and circulated in daily newspapers, popular magazines, specialized journals, and cheap prints; likewise, large quantities of identically designed objects such as decorations and clothing were being sold in urban department stores.28 In a culture where things had largely become more standardized and available, Besnard’s extra effort to create a rare object can be understood as an attempt to defend originality and the artist’s hand using technical aspects of etching.

2

“[U]ne sérénité contemplative s’opposant aux perplexités du masque tragique éclairé par les bûches fumantes.” André-Charles Coppier, Les eaux-fortes de Besnard (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1920), 44.

4

“[U]n délassement de la peinture.” Noël Clement-Janin, “Albert Besnard,” Print Collector’s Quarterly (October 1921), 257.

5

“[D]eux sœurs, sans doute.” Coppier, Les eaux-fortes de Besnard, 44.

6

Clement-Janin, “Albert Besnard,” 257.

7

“L’œuvre la plus importante de cet ensemble considérable … l’une des plus précieuses choses de toute la gravure moderne.” André-Charles Coppier, “Albert Besnard graveur,” Les Arts et les artistes (April 1920), 294.

8

“[E]au-forte magistrale qui ne doit rien à personne, comme conception et comme technique de graveur, marquera une date dans l’évolution de l’eau-forte moderne.” Coppier, Les eaux-fortes de Besnard, 45.

12

Albert Besnard, “Etchings,” in Etchings by A. Besnard, with a Note on Etching by the Artist (London: Goupil & Co., 1898), 1. On the influence of Rembrandt on etchers in 19th-century France, see Alison McQueen, The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in 19th-Century France (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003), chapters 4 and 5.

17

In his manual on etching, for example, Maxime Lalanne notes locations where artists can purchase particular types and sizes of copper plates; see Maxime Lalanne, A Treatise on Etching (1866), 2nd ed., trans. S.R. Koehler (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880), xiv.

18

Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching 1400–2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes (London: Archetype, 2012), 143.

19

Stijnman, Engraving and Etching 1400–2000, 143.

20

“[D]ue à un ensemble de circonstances … classe à part le sentiment de l’artiste qui l’a conçue, l’habilité de l’imprimeur qui l’a fait naître, le goût de l’amateur qui la distingue et la choie.” Philippe Burty, “La belle épreuve,” L’eau-forte en 1875 (Paris: A. Cadart, 1875), 8.

21

For example, the artist Charles Daubigny was known to purchase books published in eighteenth-century Holland specifically to tear out pages for printing; see Burty, “La belle épreuve,” 9–11.

22

“De la plus grande rareté.” Louis Godefroy, Albert Besnard (1926), vol. 30 of Le peintre-graveur illustré (reprint; New York: Da Capo, 1968), no. 67.

23

“Très rare,” “Fort rare,” “De toute rareté,” “Une seule épreuve connue,” Godefroy, Albert Besnard, nos. 15, 3, 13, 2.

24

“[L]’amant de la belle épreuve, le collectionneur du beau morceau, celui qui dédaigne la pièce de second plan pour n’acquérir que l’estampe pure et de qualité exceptionnelle.” Gustave Bourcard, La cote d’estampes des différentes écoles anciennes et modernes (Paris: Damascène Morgand, 1912), v.

25

“[S]ymbolise et synthétise bien la pensée de l’auteur; c’est celui-là qu’il faut avoir choisir et acheter de la préférence à tous autres, que ce soit le premier ou le dernier, peu importe … la belle épreuve du bel état … la rêve de l’amateur … [souvent] celui qui obtient le prix le plus élevé,” Bourcard, La Cote des estampes, viii.

26

Catalogue des estampes modernes composant la collection Roger Marx (Paris: Hotel Drouot, 1914), 13.

27

“Ai-je besoin de vous rappeler que mon atelier vous est ouvert—ainsi que mes cartons?” Letter from Albert Besnard to unknown recipient, 1886, Fondation Custodia, Paris, FC 2001-A.670.

28

Vanessa Schwartz, Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 2.

1

Albert Besnard

French, 1849–1934

Dans les cendres (In the Ashes), 1877

2nd state

Print on laid paper

40.5 x 75.8 cm.

Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, collections Jacques Doucet

3

Albert Besnard

French, 1849–1934

In the Ashes, 1887

3rd state

Etching, drypoint, and roulette on cream-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness, watermark: MBM

Image/plate: 42.7 x 31.4 cm. (16 13/16 x 12 3/8 in.)

RISD Museum purchase: gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 53.328

9

Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch, 1606–1669

Sleeping Puppy, ca. 1640

1st state

Etching and drypoint

6.4 x 10.5 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

10

Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch, 1606–1669

Sleeping Puppy, ca. 1640

2nd state

Etching and drypoint

4.8 x 9.1 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

11

Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch, 1606–1669

Sleeping Puppy, ca. 1640

3rd state

Etching and drypoint

3.9 x 81 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

13

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

Zacharie Astruc, 1865

Etching with drypoint cancellation marks, printed on thin oriental paper

31.8 x 23.9 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

14

Alphonse Legros

French, 1837–1911

The Manger (La crèche)

1st state

Etching

Gift of George Matthew Adams in memory of his mother, Lydia Havens Adams 1954.15.49

Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

15

Alphonse Legros

French, 1837–1911

The Manger (La crèche)

2nd state

Etching

Gift of George Matthew Adams in memory of his mother, Lydia Havens Adams 1954.15.49

Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

16

Albert Besnard

French, 1849–1934

Auprès d’un mort (Near a Death), 1882

2nd state

Print on laid paper

30.9 x 44.2 cm.

Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, collections Jacques Doucet

Britany Salsbury is the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From 2015 through 2017, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum. Her PhD dissertation focused on print series in fin-de-siècle Paris, and her research interests include prints and their collectors during that period.

François Bonvin, The Etcher

Britany Salsbury

François Bonvin (French, 1817–1887), The Etcher, 1861. Etching and drypoint on vellum; image/plate: 21.4 x 16.3 cm. (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.). RISD Museum: Gift of Donato Esposito 2016.111.2

“[François] Bonvin was a [true] etcher,” wrote critic Alphonse Roux in the journal L’Amateur d’estampes, thirty-seven years after the French artist’s death, “[so] why didn’t he make more etchings?”1 Known primarily for his realist paintings of genre subjects in the style of Dutch masters such as Vermeer, Bonvin also made prints that were praised widely by critics such as this one, and it was frequently lamented that he actually made so few. He used the monochromatic palette of etching to enhance his intimate, often dimly lit scenes. Despite producing only about fourteen such works during his career, he had a deep interest in the medium’s process and practice, which manifested in his best-known print: produced in 1861, The Etcher2 shows a printmaker crouched over a copper plate, working intently. Filled with a dense network of crosshatched lines, the dark studio is only faintly illuminated by a single lamp. Bonvin’s image suggests the importance of privacy and intimacy to making etchings, and fits within what was a new interest among etchers in depicting this aspect of their craft. Breaking from both historical and contemporary conceptions of printmaking, such depictions informed the way artists and collectors alike understood their relationship to etching in late nineteenth-century Paris.

Bonvin generally made prints as series, and The Etcher was originally part of a group published by Auguste Delâtre in 1861. Named Six Etchings, the series opens with a title page that signals the artist’s interest in his medium: a closely cropped still-life features a copper plate, needle, and bottle of acid.3 Subtitled Lamp Effect, The Etcher appeared in this portfolio alongside depictions of a young boy eating soup and a man playing guitar. The Etcher was apparently among the most popular images of the series, and was selected for inclusion in an expanded version of the portfolio published by Alfred Cadart a decade later. Bonvin realized the print as a painting4 a decade later, turning the image into a domestic scene in which a woman brings the etcher a beverage. Likely due to the figure’s nondescript appearance, the image has been variously described as a portrait of its publisher, Delâtre; a self-portrait of Bonvin; or a printmaker more generally.

Despite its unidentifiable subject, Bonvin’s print accurately portrays the work the artist undertakes to prepare a copper plate. The setting is clearly night, for the natural light of a window was typically used during the day. A large transparent screen diffuses light from the etcher’s lamp, preventing a glare from the plate’s mirror-like surface and protecting his eyes. The etcher sits at a large table that situates his copper plate roughly mid-chest. Although his body obscures the table’s contents, they would have likely been those seen in Bonvin’s still-life print: a copper plate covered with waxy ground, various etching needles with which to draw on it, a small cloth bag of rosin to use for aquatint, a stand with a magnifying lens that prevented the artist’s eyes from fatigue, glass bottles of acid that could be poured into the basin nearby, and a small saucer containing ground, in case errors in the composition needed to be fixed.5 In the shadows near the table, a large easel appears to hold a painting or drawing, perhaps inspiration for the work at hand.

Such images of solitary workers were common for Bonvin, who was known for paintings of figures engaged in domestic tasks within dim interiors. The striking light and singular focus of these works directly evoked earlier masters such as Vermeer and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Born into a poor Parisian family, Bonvin was primarily self-taught as an artist, except for brief training undertaken at Paris’s École de Dessin, sponsored by a patron who recognized his early talent.6 Even in the 1850s, after he met with greater artistic success, his work continued to focus on depictions of working-class people and their lives. Around this time, in 1849, he first learned to etch, and his earliest works were characterized by the same deep shadows seen later in The Etcher. One such work is a portrait of his friend, the printmaker Auguste Péquégnot,7 which shows the young artist’s face in dramatic contrast. After only about a decade, Bonvin ceased etching almost entirely, perhaps due to developing vision problems that would have made it difficult for him to use the fine tools of etching.8 Made around this time, The Etcher may have related to the importance and difficulty of this medium in the artist’s life.

In addition to the personal significance The Etcher might have had to Bonvin, it also comprised an early and important example of the way that etchers began to visualize their work during the late nineteenth century. Historically, such representations emphasized the communal and collaborative aspects of the medium. In seventeenth-century France, Abraham Bosse9 showed two artists working in the same space, one etching and the other engraving. Both are engaged in their efforts in this active space, which functions not only as a studio but also a shop where three men peruse and discuss the works for sale hanging on the walls. Around the same period, the Dutch engraver Jan Collaert I reprised a work by his contemporary, Stradanus, that represented the printmaker’s studio as a similarly dynamic space,10 where individual workers carry out virtually all aspects of the process simultaneously—from making copper plates to preparing them, engraving, and printing. Even a century later, the French printmaker Charles Nicolas Cochin II11 showed multiple etchers sharing a studio, in various stages of working on a plate, melting ground over a fire and covering plates with acid while other figures look on.

Breaking from this established tradition, Bonvin instead emphasized the private and contemplative aspects of his work, setting an example that etchers emulated over the following decades. Félix Bracquemond’s portrait of the British etcher Edwin Edwards,12 for example, took a similar format, showing his friend alone in his studio. Edwards’s intense focus on his copper plate and the image’s close cropping around his workspace suggest the irrelevance of the external world. Later in the century, Henri Guérard likewise showed himself alone in his studio, sketching on a copper plate.13 The viewer’s position, as if standing unnoticed but immediately next to the artist, suggests the intensity of the artist’s concentration. The print was made using a combination of techniques, including mezzotint, a process that involves working from dark to light. Its tonality presents Guérard’s studio as a shadowy space, much like Bonvin’s. This isolation was perhaps most dramatically presented in O Laborum,14 a self-portrait by Francis Seymour Haden that focused exclusively on the artist’s hands drawing on a copper plate. All identifying traits and context are excluded, reducing the etcher to only his work. Above the hands, in Latin, the words “O sweet solace of my labors” emphasize the engrossment of etching.

For his numerous self-portraits in which he is shown working in his studio, Rembrandt served as an important influence for nineteenth-century etchers and their visualization of their own work. One of the first artists to practice etching prolifically and creatively, Rembrandt inspired practitioners who began to revive the medium during the 1850s and ’60s. When Edgar Degas learned to etch as a young man in Rome during the 1850s, one of his earliest prints was a portrait of his teacher, Joseph Tourny,15 modeled after Rembrandt’s 1648 Self-Portrait Drawing at a Window.16 Like the earlier artist, Tourny is shown near a window, pausing during his work to look directly at the viewer. Other nineteenth-century artists expressed their admiration by etching imagined portraits of Rembrandt; Paul Rajon, for example, showed the Dutch artist alone in his studio just before he places a completed plate into a basin of acid.17 18 His alert posture suggests his investment in the process and the tension of the moment in which his work will be completed or destroyed by the corrosive acid.

These images cultivated an image of Rembrandt as a solitary genius—an understanding that was especially influential to etchers in the nineteenth century, a time when it was increasingly possible to work alone. Following the publication of Maxime Lalanne’s comprehensive Treatise on Etching in 1866, it was no longer necessary for aspiring etchers to seek out an experienced practitioner in order to learn the process. The manual provided thorough instruction in accessible, nontechnical language. Around the same time, art-supply dealers began to sell the materials and tools for etching inexpensively and ready to use, and technical manuals such as Lalanne’s included specific recommendations. Artists could purchase small personal presses to use in their studios, rather than taking their plates to a master printer. This new availability of working independently shifted the culture of etching from a collaborative practice to one that was far more independent, as depicted in works such as The Etcher.

The connection between privacy and etching informed the practices of not only the making, but also the viewing of these works.19 During the late nineteenth century, the numerous journals devoted to the print world and marketed to collectors, artists, and other enthusiasts featured extensive discussion of the ideal conditions for viewing prints. Critics agreed unanimously that to truly understand etchings, an intimate setting was preferable to public exhibitions and galleries. The influential writer and collector Roger Marx wrote especially prolifically on this view, contributing essays to a variety of journals and newspapers. In an 1893 article published in the journal L’Artiste, Marx argued that prints “must be savored as one would a secret, away from the crowd, in quiet intimacy, with silent devotion.”20 Around the same time, in the Journal des Artistes, he offered that prints were “only there to be enjoyed … when studied, the work reveals its secrets through solitary contemplation; when understood, it loses none of its autographic value, and it remains the free and spontaneous expression of its artist.”21 A contemporary photograph of Marx studying his own print collection is characterized by the same sort of intimacy as Bonvin’s Etcher, showing Marx alone and completely absorbed in a print.22 Marx’s writings reached numerous writers, collectors, and artists during the time, influencing the way that etchings were made and viewed.

Key to Marx’s writing was the idea that close study facilitated an understanding of a process that was highly personal and autographic, creating a connection between etcher and viewer. An artist could draw quickly and freely on a copper plate, directly translating thoughts and emotions. Taken together with etching’s solitary nature, this expressive potential encouraged etchers to be completely absorbed by their practice, losing track of time and the world around them. The artist Philip Gilbert Hamerton asserted, in his own etching manual, that a successful etcher was defined by “passionate emotion,” and [the ability] to feel vividly, to be possessed for a few hours by some overmastering thought, and record the thought before the fire has time to die out of it—this is the first condition of success.”23 Lalanne similarly emphasized etching’s “character of freedom,” writing that “because of the intimate and immediate relationship it forms between the artist’s hand and thoughts, it is the most natural and sincere.”24 This tendency of the etcher to become lost in the work became part of the popular conception of the medium; etchers were seen as captivated by their work—like the protagonist of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s novel, Manette Salmon (1867), who found himself “in a mania of etching … caught in his interest, passionately absorbed, forgetting everything else … in a momentary suspension from his life.”25

This emphasis on solitary practice contrasted not only the historical, but also the contemporary image and practice of printmaking. Etching was more personal than other comparable techniques, especially lithography, another printmaking process that developed during the nineteenth century but required special equipment and the assistance of a master printer. Unlike etching, lithography was invented, generally, to produce prints in large volume, and connotated industrialization, even when used for fine art—a status suggested by images of largescale workshops of the period.26 As lithography grew in popularity, many of the makers and collectors of etching disparaged its mass production—possibly including Bonvin, who had himself worked in a high-volume print shop to help support his family as a young man.27It was likely this experience that led him to describe himself, in an 1888 letter, as a “worker” in art, concluding that “art works, for me, are worth only worth their manual labor.”28 His emphasis on personal, focused work suggests the importance of The Etcher in documenting the ways that this practice was carried out and understood in late nineteenth-century Paris.

1

“Bonvin est un aquafortiste. Pourquoi Bonvin n’a-t-il pas gravé de plus nombreuses planches?” Alphonse Roux, “François Bonvin, graveur,” L’Amateur d’estampes (1924), 80–82.

5

Philippe Burty, “Les eaux-fortes de M. François Bonvin,” La Chronique des arts (January 26, 1862), 2.

6

Gabriel Weisberg, “The Traditional Realism of François Bonvin,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 65, no. 9 (November 1978), 281.

8

Alphonse Roux, “François Bonvin, graveur,” 83–84.

18

An inscription on Rajon’s print indicates that the work is after a lost painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

19

For further context on the relationship between privacy and viewing prints, see Peter Parshall, “A Darker Side of Light: Prints, Privacy, and Possession,” in The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 18501900 (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2009), 2–39.

20

“[R]equiert … goûtée un peu à la manière d’une confidence, sans foule, dans l’intimité du calme, avec la dévotion du silence.” Roger Marx, “Simples notes sur les Peintres-Graveurs,” L’Artiste 63 (1893), 292.

21

“Il n’y a qu’à se féliciter … de voir l’œuvre échapper au secret d’une contemplation unique; répandue, elle ne perd rien de sa valeur d’autographe, et c’est toujours une émanation libre et spontanée de l’artiste.” Roger Marx, “L’Estampe originale,” Journal des Artistes, April 2, 1893, 105.

23

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Etching & Etchers (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1912), 59.

24

“[C]aractère même de liberté, par la relation intime et rapide qu’elle établit entre la main de l’artiste et sa pensée, est le plus naturel des interprètes et le plus sincère.” Maxime Lalanne, La Traité de la gravure à l’eau-forte [1866], 6th ed. (Paris: Lamour, 1897), 11.

25

“[C]omme une manie de l’eau-forte … empoignait avec son intérêt, son absorption passionnée, l’oubli qu’elle lui donnait de tout … comme une suspension momentanée de sa vie.” Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Manette Salomon [1867] (Paris: Flammarion, 1925), 380.

27

Weisberg, “The Traditional Realism of François Bonvin,” 281.

28

“[U]n ‘ouvrier’… Les oeuvres pour moi ne valent que par la main-d’oeuvre Alphonse Roux,” “François Bonvin, graveur,” 84.

2

François Bonvin

French, 1817–1887

The Etcher, 1861

Etching and drypoint on vellum

Image/plate: 21.4 x 16.3 cm. (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of Donato Esposito 2016.111.2

3

François Bonvin

French, 1817–1887

The Etcher’s Tools, 1861

Etching, printed in brown ink

Plate: 22.9 x 14.9 cm. (9 x 5 7/8 in.)

Gift of Jerrilynn Dodds-Carlson and Eric Gustav Carlson, B.A. 1962, M.A. 1965, Ph.D. 1968

Yale University Art Gallery

4

François Bonvin

French, 1817–1887

The Engraver, 1872

Oil on panel

52.7 x 37.1 cm. (20 3/4 x 14 5/8 in.)

John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

Philadelphia Museum of Art

7

François Bonvin

French, 1817–1887

Portrait of Auguste Péquégnot, 1850

Etching printed in brown

3rd state

12.7 x 9.9 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

9

Abraham Bosse

French, ca. 1604–1676

Graveurs en taille douce au burin et a leaue forte, 1643

Etching

25.9 x 32.1 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

10

Jan Collaert I

Flemish, ca. 1530–1581

New Inventions of Modern Times [Nova Reperta], The Invention of Copper Engraving, plate 19, ca. 1600

Engraving

Sheet: 10 5/8 x 7 7/8 in. (27 x 20 cm.)

The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

11

Charles Nicolas Cochin

French, 1715–1790

An Etcher’s Studio, ca. 1745

Etching and engraving

6.7 x 9.3 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

12

Félix Bracquemond

French, 1833–1914

Portrait of Edwin Edwards, 1872

Etching

6th state

Sheet: 9 3/8 x 7 1/8 in. (23.8 x 18.1 cm.)

Image: 6 3/8 x 5 3/4 in. (16.2 x 14.6 cm.)

Gift of David Keppel, 1922

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

13

Henri-Charles Guérard

French, 1846–1897

Self Portrait, ca. 1890

Etching with roulette and mezzotint

Sheet: 7 1/8 × 9 11/16 in. (18.1 × 24.6 cm.)

Plate: 7 1/8 × 5 11/16 in. (18.1 × 14.5 cm.)

Purchase, by exchange, and A. Hyatt Mayor Purchase Fund, Marjorie Phelps Starr Bequest, 2013

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

14

Francis Seymour Haden

English, 1818–1910

Hands Etching—O Laborum, 1865

Etching and drypoint

14 x 21.2 cm.

The British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

15

Edgar Degas

French, 1834–1917

The Engraver Joseph Tourny, 1857 (printed later)

Drypoint on beige-colored, moderately textured wove paper

9 x 5.75 cm.

Courtesy of the David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University  

16

Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch, 1606–1669

Self-Portrait Drawing at a Window, 1648

4th state

Etching, drypoint, and burin

Plate: 6 1/8 x 5 1/16 in. (15.5 x 12.9 cm.)

Sheet: 6 7/16 in. (16.3 cm.)

The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, 1920

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

17

Paul Adolphe Rajon

French, 1843–1888

after Jean-Léon Gérôme

French, 1824–1904

Rembrandt in His Studio, 1869

Etching on chine collé

Sheet: 10 1/8 × 7 3/8 in. (25.7 × 18.8 cm.)

Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

22

Roger Marx in His Study, ca. 1900

Former collection of Claude Roger Marx

Nancy, musée de l’Ecole de Nancy, inv. 2016.7.4, cliché Damien Boyer

26

Victor Adam (1801–1866)

Interior of Lemercier’s Lithographic Printing House, 1846

Lithograph

Image: 13 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. (33.7 x 42.6 cm.)

Sheet: 18 x 22 3/8 in. (45.7 x 56.8 cm.)

Gift of E. Weyhe, 1923

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Britany Salsbury is the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From 2015 through 2017, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum. Her PhD dissertation focused on print series in fin-de-siècle Paris, and her research interests include prints and their collectors during that period.

Etching Assemblage: A Collaborative Print from Nineteenth-Century Paris

Britany Salsbury

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879), Alfred Taiée (French, 1820–after 1872), Henri-Joseph Harpignies (French, 1819–1916), and Félicien Rops (Belgian, 1833–1898), Etching Study by Four Artists, 1872. Etching on beige-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium thickness, plate: 9.9 x 22.4 cm. (3 7/8 x 8 13/16 in.). RISD Museum: Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 48.362

On a spring evening in 1872, the artists Honoré Daumier, Henri Harpignies, Félicien Rops, and Alfred Taiée attended a party at the Parisian home of the composer and pianist Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot. This informal gathering fostered the collaborative creation of an unusual and untitled etching in the RISD Museum’s collection that combines five distinct images on the same sheet.1 While Bériot played music, the artists passed around a prepared copper plate and took turns sketching into it with a needle.2 Beyond its literal assemblage of images, the etching suggests the multiple types of collaboration—from artist’s groups to collecting practices—that characterized etching in late nineteenth-century France.

At the time Bériot’s party took place, etching was extremely popular among artists because of the ease and expression with which an artist could draw directly on a plate. To produce a print, a wax-coated copper plate is marked with a needle (although some artists were known to use tools like fork tines or toothpicks), and then dipped into an acid bath so that the lines, left exposed, are incised.3 The plate is inked, wiped clean, and then run through a press with a sheet of paper, pushing the ink onto the paper and printing the image in reverse. Whereas processes like engraving require carving systematic, regular lines into a plate by hand and the involvement of a skilled craftsperson, etching is comparable to drawing, allowing artists to produce prints more independently and outside the studio.

This comparable freedom allowed the RISD Museum’s etching to be made as a collaboration in the host’s home, rather than a traditional workspace. The assemblage of images in the etching emphasizes its improvisatory qualities. In the upper center section, for example, Taiée drew a domestic scene where a man—probably Bériot himself—plays a grand piano in a salon decorated with a painting and gaslight while a woman looks on, perhaps assisting with turning the page of his musical score. Taiée created definition and shading with loose parallel strokes of the needle, as seen in the horizontal lines in the background and vertical ones that define the body of the piano. Taiée inscribed the composition along its bottom edge with his signature and the date, noting that the composition was completed “chez Ch. De Bériot.” His wobbly script was likely the result of having to write backward for the text to be legible in its printed reversal.

Below Taiée, Harpignies contributed a wooded landscape loosely rendered almost to the point of pure abstraction. A forest is delineated by scribbled lines, on top of which a section of scumbling suggests leaves and grass. In contrast to Harpignies’s dense markings, the two sections drawn by Rops seem spare: a woman is shown frontally and in profile using sketched vertical lines and negative space. In the final section, Daumier drew an elderly man, perhaps again their host, who was at that time seventy years old.4 One corner of the plate remained empty, after the artist to whom it was offered did not complete it.5 The name of each artist was then inscribed alongside his contribution.

Given their varied interests, experience, and reputations, the four artists who met at Bériot’s might seem like an unlikely group of collaborators. By 1872, for example, Daumier had spent a long and prolific career producing political prints and illustrations. A recent transplant from Belgium, Rops was among the most sought-after etchers in Paris for his lightly pornographic subject matter. Harpignies and Taiée were lesser known in comparison, and specialized in rural and urban landscape, respectively. All four, however, were affiliated with an active network, developed over a decade, that encouraged etching and its revival, and, more broadly, original printmaking. This community centered on the Société des Aquafortistes, an organization founded in 1862 by a publisher, Alfred Cadart, and printer, Auguste Delâtre. Collaboration was central to the Société’s activities, which included sharing technical advice, promoting one another’s work through group exhibitions and print albums, and using its headquarters as a gathering place for etchers and enthusiasts.6 The four creators of the RISD Museum’s print were familiar with this collaborative spirit, as is indicated by Rops’s reflection, decades later, that “I made etchings all alone in Belgium, and I was bored to tears [but then a]round 1862, I went to Paris.”7

In addition to its cumulative format, the RISD Museum’s print is indebted to the etching revival not only for its collaborative creation, but also for its sketchy spontaneity and conceptualization directly on a plate. This directness was difficult, if not impossible, in processes such as engraving, which required a composition to be planned carefully in advance. Technical manuals produced by printmakers associated with the Société des Aquafortistes encouraged direct drawing to achieve a free, spontaneous aesthetic. Delâtre, the group’s co-founder, described the process, writing that “the artist needs only to take the needle and sketch … to improvise his subject.”8 One member of the organization, Maxime Lalanne, authored a widely used guide that described the process similarly, instructing that the etched line “must be free and capricious.”9 Adolphe Martial Potément, another member, combined theory and practice by sketching a didactic text about etching onto a copper plate10: “draw with a needle on a plate … like you would with a pen on paper.”11 The RISD Museum’s etching was noted early on for this improvisatory quality; in 1886, for example, the print historian Henri Beraldi described it as “five sketches” rather than a print.12

Although the print’s proximity to the etching revival helps us to understand its style, fewer precedents explain the social and playful aspects of its creation. The activity of passing around and assembling a composition may have been a variation on the contemporaneous parlor game consequences, in which the players wrote a story together, folding the paper to conceal earlier entries so that all context remained unknown. In the early twentieth century, Surrealist artists appropriated this game and created a cerebral and inventive form of drawing called exquisite corpse, which involved each artist adding to an existing drawing without seeing the extant composition.13

The work’s composition may also have been inspired by Rops, who himself made comparable etchings around this time. In the mid-1860s, he sketched and refined illustrations for Alfred Delvau’s journalistic account of Parisian nightlife, Les Cythères parisiennes, histoire anecdotique des bals de Paris (1864), on a plate divided into sections almost identical to RISD’s print.14 15 The images each show the various nightclubs discussed in the text, and were sketched out on the same plate to conceive of the series as a whole. They were then printed, separated, and bound into copies of the published book. Rops also created etchings he termed pédagogiques (teaching tools) by working on the same plate as another artist, to instruct him in technical aspects of the process; in Bateaux,16 for example, the artist Durand-Brager sketched a boat and Rops contributed several portrait studies. The wide range of marks used in the composition suggests that it was intended to provide Durand-Brager with practice in sketching on the plate. The RISD Museum’s print may have had a similarly didactic function, since it was the first and only etching ever produced by Daumier during a career of making nearly four thousand prints.

Notably, Rops’s pédagogiques appealed strongly to contemporary print collectors and fetched especially high prices for their quirky, anecdotal quality.17 This commercial value helps to explain the fate of the plate made at Bériot’s: once finished, Taiée kept it for several years, and it was printed only in 1878, for the catalogue raisonné of Daumier’s prints. The etching was added as a frontispiece to each copy of this reference text for collectors, adding value and further appeal. In this context, its composite layout resembles the appearance of a traditional collector’s album, into which various prints were compiled.18 Just as its inclusion in such an assemblage would have been meant to speak of its owner, the confluence of images, makers, and practice in the RISD Museum’s etching illuminates the unique moment within the history of printmaking at which it was made.

2

Champfleury, Catalogue de l’œuvre lithographié et gravé de H. Daumier (Paris: Librairie Parisienne, 1878), 47. Historian Janine Bailly-Herzberg has asserted that Taiée had the habit of carrying around copper plates “like [most artists would] a sketchbook,” and likely contributed the material; see Bailly-Herzberg, L’eau-forte de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle, la Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867), vol. 2 (Paris: Leonce Laget, 1972), 64.

3

William M. Ivins Jr., How Prints Look: Photographs with Commentary (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1943), 60.

4

Bailly-Herzberg, L’eau-forte de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle, 64. 

5

Champfleury, Catalogue de l’œuvre lithographié et gravé de H. Daumier, 47.

7

“Je faisais … l’eau-forte tout seul en Belgique et cela m’ennuyait d’en faire mal. – Devers 1862, je vins à Paris …” Félicien Rops, quoted in Anonymous, “Félicien Rops et l’école de gravure en Belgique,” La Plume, no. 172 (June 15, 1895), 470.

8

“L’artiste n’a plus qu’à prendre la pointe et à tracer sur le vernis le sujet qu’il s’est proposé de graver … improvise ce sujet.” Auguste Delâtre, Eau-forte, pointe sèche et vernis mou (Paris: Lanier et Vallet, 1887), 10.

9

Maxime Lalanne, A Treatise on Etching [1866], trans. S. R. Koehler (Boston: Page Company, 1880), 4.

11

“Graver: c’est dessiner avec les pointes sur la planche … comme vous feriez avec des plumes sur du vélin,” Adolphe Martial Potément, Lettre sur les éléments de la gravure à l’eau-forte (Paris: Cadart et Luquet, 1864), 1.

12

“[C]inq croquis.” Henri Beraldi, Les graveurs du XIXe siècle: guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes, vol. 5 (Paris: Librairie Conquet, 1886), 114.

15

For details on how these compositions were refined by Rops, see Eugene Rouir, Félicien Rops, catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre gravé et lithographié, vol. 2 (Brussels: Claude Van Loock, 1992), 218–19.

17

Rouir, Félicien Rops, vol. 2, 69–70.

1

Honoré Daumier

French, 1808–1879

Alfred Taiée

French, 1820–after 1872

Henri-Joseph Harpignies

French, 1819–1916

Félicien Rops

Belgian, 1833–1898

Etching Study by Four Artists, 1872

Etching on beige-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium thickness

Plate: 9.9 x 22.4 cm. (3 7/8 x 8 13/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 48.362

6

Adolphe-Martial Potément, called Martial

French, 1828–1883

Cadart & Luquet, publisher

Auguste Delâtre, printer

French, 1822–1907

Headquarters of the Société des Aquafortistes, 1864

Etching

Plate: 29 × 39.3 cm. (11 7/16 × 15 1/2 in.)

Sheet: 35 × 46.7 cm. (13 3/4 × 18 3/8 in.)

The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1950

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org

10

Adolphe Martial Potémont

French, 1828–1883

Letter on the Elements of Etching, page 2, 1864

Etching on beige-colored, slightly textured laid paper of medium thickness, watermark: partial Image: 27.5 x 18.2 cm. (10 13/16 x 7 3/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.797

13

Cadavre Exquis with Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky)

Nude, 1926–1927

Composite drawing of ink, pencil, and colored pencil on paper

35.9 x 22.9 cm. (14 1/8 x 9 in.)

The Museum of Modern Art

© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

© 2017 Estate of Yves Tanguy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

14

Félicien Rops

Belgian, 1833–1898

Les Cythères Parisiennes (Grande Plaude D’Ensemble), ca. 1864

Etching

Sheet: 35.2 x 52.1 cm. (13 7/8 in x 20 1/2 in.)

Image: 23.8 x 34.8 cm. (9 3/8 in x 13 11/16 in.)

Gift of Edward C. Crossett (Class of 1905)

Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, MA, USA

Bridgeman Images

16

Félicien Rops

Belgian, 1833–1898

Durand Brager

French, 1814 –1879

Les Bateaux (Pedagogique)

Etching

Sheet: 31.5 x 45 cm.

Plate: 8.2 x 14 cm.

Digital image © Pierre Bergé & Associés

18

Fox

British, active late 18th century

Pasted in volume I of Richard Bull’s collection of prints by amateurs, ca. 1805

Etching

9.7 x 14.4 cm.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Britany Salsbury is the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From 2015 through 2017, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum. Her PhD dissertation focused on print series in fin-de-siècle Paris, and her research interests include prints and their collectors during that period.

Henri Guérard, An African Woman, After Eva Gonzalès

Britany Salsbury

Henri Guérard (French, 1846–1897), An African Woman, after Eva Gonzalès, ca. 1888. Zinc etching and aquatint on gray-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium-heavy thickness, image/plate: 37.5 x 29.2 cm. (14 3/4 x 11 1/2 in.). RISD Museum: Esther Mauran Acquisitions Fund 2016.107

In the late 1880s, Henri Guérard began work on an etching that presents a striking bust portrait of an unnamed African woman looking sideways and slightly upward, away from the viewer.1 Her hair is almost entirely tucked into a striped headdress, highlighting a large hoop earring, and she wears a white scarf tied around her neck that contrasts with the tone of her skin. The woman is positioned centrally on a sheet that is otherwise bare, emphasizing her presence. The print’s stark composition also draws attention to a circular mark in the lower right corner reading “Vieille Montagne”—the name of a Belgian zinc manufacturer. This curious, nondescript insignia notably indicates Guérard’s use of nontraditional materials: rather than the traditional copper plate used for etching, he adopted a recycled sheet of zinc, probably a flattened watering can that bore the manufacturer’s mark.

Throughout his relatively brief career, Guérard was noted for his experimental approach to etching. He maintained a longstanding interest in exploring materials and technique, often laboring with them extensively only to ultimately produce a few prints. His practice reflects a shift in the way printmakers understood etching, placing a new emphasis on a process of creative, independent experimentation rather than on the print that resulted. Guérard held such interests from his earliest work in printmaking, during the 1870s, after abandoning a career as a lawyer, and he produced more than five hundred etchings over the next two decades.2 Unlike many printmakers at the time, he made both original prints and reproductions of works by artists including Rembrandt, Edouard Manet, and Diego Velásquez. In considering his original works, critics widely noted Guérard’s fascination with process. The print historian Henri Beraldi, for example, described him as “one of the most original characters of contemporary etching,” noting that his work had “two sides…. When he etches for publishers, he focuses on the finish of his production…. When he etches for himself, Guérard is an … alchemist … with boundless imagination in his process … preoccupied with inventing new processes, and finding new tools.”3 This extensive experimentation led the artist to work both on his own work and as a master printer, assisting artists such as Manet with achieving desired technical effects in their prints.

Perhaps the most notable revision that Guérard made to the traditional practice of etching was creating his own printing plates from recycled metal, as he did in An African Woman. This was a dramatic break from standard practice—most artists purchased pre-cut copper plates from suppliers, and technical treatises were focused primarily toward working with these prepared supplies. The practice was seen as notable in Guérard’s own lifetime, as well, and the critic Richard Lesclide took a studio visit as an opportunity to discuss it with Guérard, who responded straightforwardly:

It’s neither a secret nor a mystery…. I’m not as much of a millionaire as those other etchers who can obtain copper whenever they want. When an etching torments me, I go, in all honesty, to a good trash picker, who does his business in scrap metal … which I flatten and make into superb plates. I’ve made many of them from decent watering cans.4

As his words suggest, zinc was less expensive than copper and, when repurposed from materials found in a salvage yard, even free of cost. Still, it was rarely used by printmakers due to its quick and sometimes erratic response to acid and—because of its comparative softness—its quick wear during printing, at best making only a few impressions possible.5

Of the hundreds of plates Guérard made during his career, a majority was made of repurposed zinc; his frequent use of this material, which only yielded a few prints, directly affected his approach to printmaking.6 While many artists at the time saw etching as a means to appeal to interested collectors and the active market for prints, Guérard maintained an emphasis on process rather than product. In many cases, he printed a plate only once or a few times before altering and repeating the process or abandoning the work entirely. The RISD Museum’s print, for example, is the only impression of An African Woman known to include the woman’s earring—in spite of the effort this intricate detail would have taken to add to the plate.7 Guérard rapidly worked and reworked his etchings, a practice he tied to his own thought process, commenting, “[Etching] doesn’t keep you waiting and moves as quickly as ideas come when you think of them.”8 Similarly, in an open letter to the readers of the journal Paris à l’eau-forte, Guérard argued that etchings were ideally defined “less in their meticulous printing but rather in the intimate work and intuition of their etcher.”9 He didn’t prioritize a polished and finished product, but instead the act of discovery inherent to working with new and unusual materials.

Guérard experimented with every element in the process of etching, from plates to tools to papers. Using a paintbrush—an implement not typically used by etchers—he invented a technique he called “gravure à l’encre” (ink etching), which allowed him to create an image by painting on a plate’s surface with acid.10 He sometimes printed with his own hands,11 avoiding tools entirely, and he invited artists who visited his studio to do the same. Termed “mains coupables” (guilty hands), these works played on the intersection between printmaking and the growing use of fingerprints as identification in criminal investigations in 1890s and early 1900s.12 Even when working with traditional printing plates, Guérard sometimes experimented with the paper that they were printed on; an avid book collector, he occasionally removed pages from volumes and printed images over their text,13 or scraped paper after printing his works to create visual effects—in one Parisian cityscape, for example, he dug into the paper’s surface to evoke snow.14 15 This continuous search for new approaches was praised widely by critics at the time, including Fritz Jourdain, who wrote in 1891 that “[Guérard’s work is] an amazing feat in terms of technique … but difficulty attracts this indefatigable artist, whose talent has not yet faced a problem that it can’t solve.”16

Beyond satisfying his own curiosity about technical aspects of etching, Guérard’s experimentation with materials and processes also informed his portrayal of subjects such as that of An African Woman. The work replicated a painting and drawing both made by Guérard’s wife, the artist Eva Gonzalès. Guérard purchased both works from an 1885 exhibition mounted at a Parisian gallery following Gonzales’s untimely death in childbirth in 1883. Gonzalès’s image of an African woman is known today only by its preparatory drawing,17 rendered in thick, sketchy charcoal marks—likely in an effort to replicate, in turn, a similarly painterly work by her teacher, Manet.18 Produced in 1861, this earlier painting depicted one of Manet’s favorite models, Laure, in loose, heavy brushstrokes against a stark brown background.19 20

The subject fit within a popular interest in nineteenth-century France in depictions of “racial types” from “exotic” locales, including French colonies such as Algeria. While the earlier works by Gonzalès and Manet clearly mark themselves as paintings and, thus, artistic interpretations, Guérard’s representation appears more explicitly informed by the rapidly developing genre of travel photography in its precise, pseudo-scientific detail and monochromatic palette. Around the time he produced An African Woman, photographs documenting people and places in locations thought of as exotic by Westerners had become increasingly popular, and were often collected in thematic albums.21 Like Guérard’s print, these images often emphasized details of the sitters’ presentation, such as costume and jewelry. The formal properties of etching allowed Guérard to create a work that was experimental, but featured a precise line that effectively replicated the detail and photographic realism distinctive to these works, moving away from the overtly artistic portrayal of his predecessors and toward a type of representation that presented itself as objective.

Guérard’s approach to etching—which emphasized experimentation with process and subject matter, rather than the final work—was adopted by a number of his peers, suggesting a broader shift in the way that etching was used and valued. Many nineteenth-century etchers considered their process of making as equal to or even taking priority over the resulting physical object. As they began to better understand the process, materials, and tools of making plates and printing them, they likewise challenged the standardized procedures that governed both. The master printers who assisted artists tended to print in the uniform, neat style characteristic of their training, regardless of a print’s composition. Technical manuals, however, began to encourage artists to avoid an overly polished appearance; Philip G. Hamerton wrote in his influential manual Etching & Etchers, for example, “True etchers never think about mechanical perfections … using lines simply for the expression of artistic thought.”22 A lack of these qualities began to serve as a means to show that a print had been produced by the artist without the intermediation or assistance of a professional—a practice that etchers traced back to Rembrandt, who had famously printed his own works, experimenting with inking and his press as he did so.

Artists found that claiming etching as a field of experimentation was an empowering act. As their writings reflect, they saw themselves as breaking away from the standard style and practice of the process and engaged in the act of discovery. The artist Ludovic Lepic, also working in Paris around the same time as Guérard, described the evolution of his engagement with etching as one of innovation in a biographic essay entitled “How I Became an Etcher”:

I was struck by what was wrong with etching … it was duller when it appeared more finished…. Seized by this thought … I went to the studio … and I tried printing in different ways…. The work, the experience, and the experimentation allowed me to finally express my thoughts…. When I couldn’t achieve the effects I wanted with traditional means, I gave free reign to my imagination, I fought with the acid and my plate, I put everything I had into the work…. I organized my tools, I got some pure acid, I coated on the varnish. Sand, clay, anything was possible to arrive at the tones I wanted, and then, finally they were there.”23

Albert Besnard, known for his inky, unpolished style of printing, likewise emphasized that he worked independently and without the intermediation of a master printer. He wrote about his self-education in the catalogue for an 1898 exhibition of his etchings:

I shall never forget with what eagerness … I tried to make a few plates. I quite forgot that the acid was a dangerous medium…. Having poured it pure on my poor little plate, I saw it boil under my very eyes, and my room became filled with a reddish smoke, which had, however, a beautiful effect.24

Similarly, the printmaker Marcellin Desboutin described the evolution he saw taking place in his friend, Edgar Degas, as he began to experiment more and more actively with the materials and process of etching:

[Degas] is no longer a friend, a man, an artist! He’s a zinc or copper plate, blackened with the ink of printmaking, and man and plate are fused by his press, into whose gears he has disappeared entirely. His infatuation is amazing…. [This is] all he talks about.”25

Desboutin’s emphasis on the complete absorption of experimentation reflects the transformation that this sort of practice had on artists such as Guérard as they fundamentally rethought the materials and practice of etching.

As the technical information necessary for experimentation became available through manuals, shared encounters in studios and print shops, and critical writings, numerous artists began to adopt the experimental approach to etching that informed Guérard’s An African Woman. Around the same time that Guérard made this print, Degas began focusing more on the effects of different plates and tools than on printing a formal edition. The two artists would have likely known one another from their mutual participation in the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, an organization formed in 1889 to exhibit and promote original printmaking.26 Beginning in the late 1870s, Degas began to etch on daguerreotype plates—copper covered with a shiny layer of silver for use in early photography. One of these works, Two Dancers in a Rehearsal Room27 was created by suspending aquatint in liquid, painting it on a plate, and then scraping into it with a needle to create white lines against a dark background.28 Like Guérard, Degas let the name of the plate’s manufacturer remain visible, as well as the signature clamps in each corner that came on the plate. The ghostlike figures of the two young women evoke their presence in the privacy of a shadowy space illuminated faintly by natural light. The technique allowed Degas to invert the color palette expected of etching, giving the print an unfinished or unresolved appearance. Rather than producing a plate and then printing a designated number of impressions, Degas often kept them, reworking and reprinting them occasionally over many years.29

The American artist Mary Cassatt, a close associate of Degas and a member of the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, likewise shared Guérard’s interest in process and experimentation. For much of the late 1870s through the 1880s, Cassatt experimented with soft-ground etching, coating her plates with ground that had been softened, usually with tallow, allowing her to transfer drawings or textured materials. In her investigation of the process, she allowed her work to become almost abstract, featuring dense areas of tone and texture. In Standing Nude with a Towel, for example, Cassatt began with a recognizable sketch of a woman, created by drawing on paper placed over a plate covered in soft ground.30 Rather than refining the composition, Cassatt obliterated it almost completely as she continued to work on the plate, partially erasing the woman’s legs and rubbing sketchy parallel marks into the soft ground to create dense shadows. In her final revision,31 she completely redrew the woman, adding abstracted strokes to give the sense of a defined interior space. Beginning with a recognizable image which she then concealed and revealed, Cassatt effectively reversed the typical approach of artmaking in order to test the various effects of materials.

The etching experiments carried out by Guérard and other nineteenth-century artists had a lasting influence on printmakers in years to come, providing them with a new and varied technical vocabulary. Much like Guérard had used a watering can in his own time, in just over a century after An African Woman was made, artists would make prints from such nontraditional and unexpected materials as rubber bands,32 slices of sausage,33 and even their own bodies.34 Although they may not have been specifically familiar with Guérard’s work, their experimentation suggests a fundamental transformation in the way process was understood and undertaken, which was initiated by the artist and his peers in late nineteenth-century Paris.

2

For a complete listing of these prints, see Claudie Bertin, “Henri Guérard (1846–1897): l’œuvre gravé,” vols. 2 and 2 bis, Ph.D. diss. (Paris: École du Louvre, 1975).

3

“[U]ne des physionomies les plus originales de l’aquafortisme actuel. Il a deux face…. Quand il grave pour les éditeurs, il s’attache au fini de l’exécution…. Quand il grave pour lui, Guérard est un … alchimiste … l’imagination sans cesse en travail … très préoccupé de l’invention de procédés nouveaux, et de ‘l’outillage progressiste.’” Henri Beraldi, Les Graveurs du XIXe siècle, guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes, vol. 7 (Paris: L. Conquet, 1888), 264.

4

“Il n’y a ni secret, ni mystère…. Je ne suis pas aussi millionnaire que vos aqua-fortistes pour prodiguer le cuivre comme ils le font. Quand une Eau-forte [sic] me tourmente, je vais tout bonnement voir un brave chiffonnier, qui fait le commerce des démolitions … que je plane et dont je fais des plaques superbes. J’en ferais tout autant d’un honnête arrosoir.” Richard Lesclide, “Silhouettes de quelques artistes de ce temps-ci: Guérard,” Paris à l’eau-forte (October 4, 1874), 153–54. I am grateful to Bernard Derroitte for his insight on Guérard’s use of recycled materials.

5

Ad Stijnman, Engraving and Etching, 14002000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes (London: Archetype, 2012), 137.

6

Bertin, “Henri Guérard (1846–1897): l’œuvre gravé,” vol. 1, 16.

7

The state with the earring was unknown to the author of Guérard’s catalogue raisonné, whose research is based on the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s holdings of the artist’s prints.

8

“[P]arce qu’elle ne fait point attendre et se jette comme on pense aussi vite que l’idée vient.” Guérard qtd in Bertin, “Henri Guérard (1846–1897): l’œuvre gravé,” vol. 1, 46.

9

“[M]oins dans le soin apparent du tirage que dans le travail intime et tout d’intuition fait par l’aqua-fortiste.” Henri Guérard, “La Semaine: la belle épreuve,” Paris à l’eau-forte (January 3, 1875), 26.

12

Madeleine Viljoen, A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard, 1846–1897 (New York: New York Public Library, 2016), 3; and Bernard Derroitte and Eric Carlson, Henry Guérard: Prints from a Private Collection (Brussels: Eric Gillis & Associates, 2013), no. 1. Fingerprints replaced the Bertillon system, which identified criminals based on bodily measurements. See Mitchel P. Roth, Crime and Punishment: A History of the Criminal Justice System, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage, 2011), 174–76.

15

Viljoen, A Curious Hand, 8.

16

“Un tour de force au point de vue technique, par exemple, mais les difficultés attirent cet infatigable dont le talent n’a pas encore rencontré de problème insoluble.” Fritz Jourdain, “Les artistes décorateurs: M. Henri Guérard,” Revue des arts décoratifs 12 (1891–92), 301.

18

The original painting can be vaguely seen in a photograph of its 1885 exhibition; see Marie-Caroline Sainsaulieu and Jacques de Mons, Eva Gonzalès (18491883), etude critique et catalogue raisonné (Paris: Bibliothèque des arts, 1990), 272.

20

Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon: Feminism and the Writing of Art’s Histories (New York: Routledge, 1999), 277.

22

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Etching & Etchers (1866; rev. ed., London: Macmillan and Co., 1876), xviii.

23

“[J]’avais été frappé de ce qu’il y avait de faux dans la gravure moderne … elle devenait d’autant plus sèche qu’elle était plus finie…. Saisi de cette pensée … je m’en allai à l’imprimerie … et j’essayai des tirages variés…. N’arrivant pas à ce que je voulais avec les moyens traditionnels ou usités, je lâchai la bride à mon tempérament, je me battis avec l’acide et ma plaque, je mis tout en œuvre…. J’organisai un outillage à moi, j’osai me servir d’acide pur, je fis claquer mes vernis. Le sable, le grès, tout me fut bon pour arriver à mes noirs, mais enfin j’y arrivai.” Ludovic Lepic, “Comment je devins graveur à l’eau-forte,” in Eaux-fortes de Lepic (Paris: Cadart, 1876), 3–4.

24

Albert Besnard, “Etchings,” in Etchings by A. Besnard, with a Note on Etching by the Artist (London: Goupil & Co., 1898), 2.

25

“Degas … n’est-ce plus un ami, n’est-ce plus un homme, n’est-ce plus un artiste! C’est une plaque de zinc ou de cuivre noircie à l’encre d’imprimerie, et cette plaque et cet homme sont laminés par sa presse dans l’engrenage de laquelle il a disparu tout entier. Les toquades chez cet homme ont du phénoménal…. Sa conversation ne roule plus que [ça].” Marcellin Desboutin qtd. in Les Années impressionnistes, 1870–1889, ed. Jean-Jacques Lévêque (Paris: ACR, 1990), 147.

26

On this organization, see Lindsay Leard, “The Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français in 1889-97,” Print Quarterly 14, no. 4 (December 1997), 355–63.

28

Sue Welsh Reed and Barbara Stern Shapiro, Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1984), no. 33.

29

Reed and Shapiro, Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker, no. 33.

1

Henri Guérard

French, 1846–1897

An African Woman, after Eva Gonzalès, ca. 1888

Zinc etching and aquatint on gray-colored, slightly textured wove paper of medium-heavy thickness

Image/plate: 37.5 x 29.2 cm. (14 3/4 x 11 1/2 in.)

RISD Museum: Esther Mauran Acquisitions Fund 2016.107

10

Henri Guérard

French, 1846–1897

Femme a l’eventail, 1885\ Etching

19.8 x 13.4 cm.

Bibliothèque nationale de France

11

Henri Guérard

French, 1846–1897

Imprint of the artist’s left hand, ca. 1885

Unique nature print

Image: 7 1/8 x 5 7/16 in. (18.1 x 13.8 cm.)

Sheet: 12 11/16 x 9 13/16 in. (32.3 x 24.9 cm.)\ The New York Public Library

13

Henri Guérard

French, 1846–1897

Tête de chat noir, 1888

Etching, drypoint

Plate: 6 1/8 x 4 5/16 in. (15.5 x 11 cm.)

Sheet: 9 13/16 x 6 3/8 in. (25 x 16.2 cm.)

From The New York Public Library

14

Henri Guérard

French, 1846–1897

La Rue Chevert, before 1888\ Etching, aquatint, and toolwork\ The New York Public Library

17

Eva Gonzalès

French, 1849–1883\ Une négresse, ca. 1879–1880

35 x 26 cm.

Private collection

19

Edouard Manet

French, 1832–1883

Une négresse

Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli

21

Cannelle (d. 1923), suspected photographer

Theodore Guberman (d. 1926), photographer

Robert De Meuse, photographer

Fort-de-France, mulattoes, quadrants and Hindu coolies, from Excursions et Explorations: Colombie, Venezuela, Antilles, Etats-Unis, Canada, Tahiti, 1881–1887

Photograph on albumen paper from glass negative with gelatin silver bromide

32 x 41 cm. 

Bibliothèque nationale de France

27

Edgar Degas

French, 1834–1917

Two Dancers in a Rehearsal Room, 1877–1878

Aquatint, drypoint, and scraping on paper

Image/Plate: 15.7 x 11.6 cm. (6 3/16 x 4 9/16 in.)

Lent by James A. Bergquist, Boston

Photography by Steve Gyurina

30

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844–1926

Standing Nude with a Towel, ca. 1879

1st state of 4

Soft-ground etching and aquatint on cream-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness, watermark: D&C Blauw

Image/plate: 27.8 x 21.8 cm. (10 15/16 x 8 9/16 in.)

RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 2008.88.2

31

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844–1926

Standing Nude with a Towel, ca. 1879

3rd state of 4

Soft-ground etching and aquatint on beige-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness Sheet: 36.2 x 26.4 cm. (14 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund 2008.88.3

32

Tara Donovan

American, b. 1969

Untitled, 2006

Relief print from rubber band matrix on Japan paper

Sheet: 97.8 x 66 cm. (38 1/2 x 26 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of Karen Moss 2015.92.2

33

Dieter Roth

German, 1930–1998

Small Sunset, 1968

Sausage on blue and white wove paper, encapsulated in plastic

Image: 42.2 x 32.4 cm. (16 5/8 x 12 3/4 in.)

RISD Museum Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2007.47

34

David Hammons

American, b. 1943

Untitled (Body Print), 1974

Grease, powdered pigment, and spray paint on silver-coated paper board

Sheet: 507 x 608 cm. (199 5/8 x 239 3/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2001.31.2

Britany Salsbury is the associate curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum. From 2015 through 2017, she was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum. Her PhD dissertation focused on print series in fin-de-siècle Paris, and her research interests include prints and their collectors during that period.

“The Death Mask of Old Paris”: Charles Meryon’s La Morgue (1854)

Ashley E. Dunn

Charles Meryon (French, 1821–1868), The Mortuary, Paris, 1854. From the series Etchings of Paris. Etching and drypoint on beige-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness; watermark (partial): Comp; image/plate: 22.9 x 20.6 cm. (9 x 8 1/8 in.). RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.786

When Charles Meryon made his etching of the Paris morgue in 1854, the public knew that the building and those surrounding it on the Ile de la Cité would soon be demolished.1 The Ile de la Cité, the medieval core of Paris, was the target of thorough transformation under the state-authorized urban-renewal plan implemented by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, prefect of the Seine during the reign of Napoléon III (1851–1870). La Morgue is one of the twenty-two prints in Meryon’s Eaux-fortes sur Paris (Etchings on Paris) series, eleven of which feature views of the Ile de la Cité. As the first of the nineteenth-century etchers to adopt Paris as his subject, Meryon initiated a concerted effort among his peers and successors to record the city as they knew it in the face of widespread change.2 Meryon’s etching is a testament to nineteenth-century ideas about the built environment as imprinted with memory and the etcher’s role in witnessing and remembering.

In addition to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and Palais de Justice, the island at the center of the Seine contained some of the city’s oldest and densest housing. As Haussmann set about modernizing Parisian infrastructure to address crises of circulation and public hygiene, he “disemboweled” the Ile de la Cité by demolishing large swaths of these medieval residences.3 By displacing the majority of the resident population from the island, Haussmann cleared the way to continue the alignment of a north-south thoroughfare and liberated monuments from the congestion of their surroundings, enabling them to serve as focal points in the new city plan. By 1870, only two small wedges of private homes remained on the Ile de la Cité.4 The block of houses visible behind the morgue in Meryon’s etching was slated to be razed for the construction of the massive Caserne de la Cité, a complex that would serve first as barracks for the Parisian municipal guard before it became headquarters of the Prefecture of Police in 1871.5

Although it took five years from the time Meryon executed his etching for demolition on the site to actually begin, and another five years before the relocation of the morgue, reports of its impending destruction were widespread in 1853.6 The etcher, therefore, anticipated its disappearance as imminent when he initiated the plate. Meryon’s awareness of the loss of architectural subjects in his city dates to even earlier. In 1851, he wrote to his father: “There are in what remains of old Paris things to do and that would be all the more advantageous and useful since every day old buildings, respectable for many reasons, yield way to new ones which are not worth as much.”7 The etcher’s concern for the changing aspects of the cityscape motivated him to produce his magnum opus, his series Eaux-fortes sur Paris.

In the context of this series, which features monuments and bridges of central Paris still recognizable to the twenty-first-century viewer—the towers of Notre-Dame and the Palais de Justice each figure in five of the prints—the buildings pictured in La Morgue appear decidedly less remarkable. Yet nineteenth-century accounts commonly refer to the city morgue, which had operated in the low building on the quai du Marché Neuf since 1804, as a monument.8 Journalist Victor Fournel described the morgue as an obligatory site for the Parisian tourist to visit:

I have entered the Morgue twice: the first time was a long time ago and I was very young. Having come to Paris for a few days, I did not want to leave without having seen all the monuments; the Morgue was described to me as a place of great interest…. Six years later, I dared to return…. I was serving as a tour guide to a young man from the country who expressed his ardent desire to see the inside of the monument.9

Other accounts describe it less as a destination for the visitor and more a vital part of daily life for Parisians. Of the “little monument called the Morgue,” Edmond Texier, chronicler of mid-nineteenth-century Paris, wrote: “In the end [it] is—who would believe?—a meeting place, a sort of destination at the end of a stroll for those who live in the neighborhood.”10 Writer Léon Gozlan evoked its broader appeal, comparing it to the Luxembourg Garden and the Palais Royale: “One goes there to see the latest fashions.”11 The morgue was open to the public for the very practical reason of aiding in identifying anonymous corpses, but as art historian Vanessa Schwartz explains, it became a site for the “spectacle of the real.”12 One visited the morgue to see the corpses, but also, as Gozlan states, to see and be seen by fellow Parisians. Despite its humble appearance, the morgue must be viewed as an institution of nineteenth-century Parisian urban life.

Meryon conveys the spectacular aspect of the morgue in his etching by staging a melodramatic scene in the foreground.1 The animated silhouette of an officer in mid-stride as he runs along the embankment calls attention to the tragic event unfolding to his left. A woman, accompanied by a child, reels her head back in agony as she recognizes the corpse retrieved from the Seine. The officer gestures behind him to a fellow uniformed guard as though instructing him to continue restraining another distressed woman trying to make her way onto the quay. A crowd of observers gathers above the scene, leaning, sitting, and standing on the wall to catch a glimpse of the tragedy. It is this human drama that receives the most attention in the literature on this etching, though a number of scholars also note the immense presence of the surrounding buildings.13 The architecture, for example, “seems far more massive and real than the actors in front of it.”14 Given the heightened concern for the built environment at the time Meryon produced his etching, there is still more to be gleaned from La Morgue.

Cultural critic and theorist Walter Benjamin offers a compelling analogy for interpreting La Morgue. He writes, “The etchings of Meryon (around 1850) constitute the death mask of old Paris.”15 This comparison has implications on the levels of both process and purpose. By creating a cast in wax or plaster directly from the face of the deceased, a death mask memorializes by retaining the physical features of the departed.16 Benjamin’s analogy suggests that Meryon’s etched impressions, although made by a more mediated process, somehow retain the immediacy of their source in their direct and detailed record of parts of the city that would soon be lost. A small corrective to Benjamin may be necessary, however, as the buildings that Meryon recorded and printed were still standing. If demolition is commensurate with death in the life-cycle of buildings, Meryon’s subject was still living, for the time being. More accurately then, the etcher makes a life mask of a part of Paris that has been sentenced to death by Haussmann. Nevertheless, the function of the mask is the same: it is made for those left behind, as a token of remembrance. Mourners may find solace in keeping an imprint of their loved-one’s visage, just as collectors of Meryon’s etchings, lamenting the passing of Paris as they once knew it, remembered it through the prints.

Meryon was not alone in his concern. The first etching project initiated jointly by publisher Alfred Cadart and printer Auguste Delâtre, founders of the Société des Aquafortistes (Society of Etchers), solidified an alliance between practitioners of etching and the subject of the old city.17 The series entitled Paris qui s’en va et Paris qui vient (“Paris that is going away and Paris that is coming”), published from 1859 through 1860, consisted of twenty-six etchings by Léopold Flameng, including one of the morgue. In contrast to the impenetrability of the building as depicted by Meryon, Flameng presents an interior view.18 A crowd diverse in age and social class mingles in the viewing gallery. Some stare intently through the large windows at the corpses displayed on slabs with their clothes hanging above, while others socialize casually as though standing at a neighborhood bar.

Comparison with Flameng’s portrayal makes clear the extent to which Meryon’s etching is about more than social spectacle. One’s attention travels up from the crowd of spectators to the individuals standing in their windows,1 and from the populated windows to the empty and shaded ones, which Gustave Geffroy, one of Meryon’s most perceptive critics, described as “like curious eyes” overlooking the morgue.19 It so happens that one of the possible origins of the word morgue is an archaic verb morguer, meaning “to stare, to have a ‘fixed and questioning gaze.’”20 The buildings in Meryon’s etching morguent.

In the first published review of the Eaux-fortes sur Paris series, Joseph Fernand Boissard de Boisdenier wrote that in flipping through Meryon’s etchings, he involuntarily recalled a phrase from the Bible: “The stones themselves cry out / testify.”21 The notion that stone, the very fabric of the city, could bear witness recurs in texts about Paris from the period. For example, an archeological guidebook of 1855 insists, “Each stone was a perceptive witness to our history and national traditions.”22 A notice for Flameng’s series conveys a similar concept:

Old Paris … is at the point of disappearing…. These houses on whose facades past epochs have successively made their imprint and have left a little of their history … which made the city like a book of stone, a sort of résumé of France, where archeologists, artists, and thinkers come to read at the same time. All that is disappearing, all that is departing. Old Paris is dying!23

In this context, the looming buildings in La Morgue stand as witnesses of Parisian daily life, and it becomes clear that with their destruction some knowledge of the city will inevitably vanish.

Faced with the imminent demolition of some of the oldest structures in their city, a host of writers, artists, and photographers sought to record these vanishing spaces.24 Historian, librarian, and journalist Paul Lacroix summarized this collective motivation in 1858: “This is the ideal moment to gather from the streets what stray memories are left there and to guard religiously on paper what was engraved on stone.”25 Geffroy made a case that etchers, in particular, were poised to respond to the protests of the stones:

The concerned and curious etcher is “the Man of the stones.” He is among those who regret and want to know, who desperately attempt to penetrate, to decipher, to save still a little of what is going to die, of what is dying, of what will no longer be the day after they have fixed an image dear to their heart.26

In choosing to depict sites in Paris under threat of demolition or change, Meryon, Flameng, and their cohort of etchers created prints that testified to the history of their city and its current state of contingency. Meryon’s La Morgue both mourns and memorializes a nineteenth-century monument and witness of everyday life.

2

My dissertation on this subject is forthcoming: “Graphic Paris: A Study of Urban Etching, 1850–1880,” Northwestern University.

3

Pierre Pinon uses the term l’éventrement, or disemboweling, to describe Haussmann’s treatment of old Paris. Jean Des Cars and Pierre Pinon, Paris-Haussmann: “le pari d’Haussmann” (Paris: Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 1991), 126.

4

David H. Pinkney, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 88.

6

The Revue des beaux-arts, for instance, in an article on the “Dégagement de Notre-Dame” specified that the Hotel-Dieu hospital and the buildings of the hospice and the morgue would be demolished. Georges Guénot, “Le monde artistique,” Revue des beaux-arts vol. 4 (March 20, 1853), 115.

7

Charles Meryon to Charles Lewis Meryon, September 15, 1851 (BL Mss, vol. I, folio 352, verso) cited by Roger Collins in Charles Meryon: A Life (Devizes, Wiltshire: Garton & Co., 1999), 121.

8

Vanessa R. Schwartz, “Public Visits to the Morgue: Flânerie in the Service of the State” in Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-De-Siècle Paris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

9

“Je suis entré deux fois à la Morgue: la première fois, il y a bien longtemps, et j’étais bien jeune. Venu à Paris pour quelques jours, je ne voulais pas le quitter sans en avoir vu tous les monuments; on m’avait parlé de la Morgue comme d’une chose fort intéressante … Six ans après … j’osai bien rentrer….. Je servais de mon tour de cicérone à un campagnard qui m’avait témoigné l’ardent désir de voir l’intérieur du monument.” Victor Fournel, Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris (Paris: Delahays, 1858), 352–53.

10

“[U]n petit monument qui s’appelle la Morgue… la Morgue enfin, est, qui le croirait? un lieu de réunion, une sorte de but de promenade des habitants du quartier.” Edmond Texier, “La Longue de la Seine,” in Tableau de Paris (Paris: Paulin et le Chevalier, 1852), 214.

11

Léon Gozlan, “La morgue,” in Le Livre des cent et un, vol. 1 (Paris: Chez Ladvocat, 1831), 303. Cited by Schwartz, “Public Visits to the Morgue,” 53.

12

Schwartz, “Public Visits to the Morgue,” 48.

13

Asher E. Miller connects the corpse in La Morgue to the depiction of a drowning man in Le Pont-au-Change, another of the prints in Eaux-fortes sur Paris, and makes a case for both as self-representations of the artist in “Autobiography and Apes in Meryon’s ‘Eaux-Fortes sur Paris,’” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 141, no. 1150 (January 1999), 4–11. Bonnie Grad and Timothy Riggs write, “Far more than the human figures, the buildings themselves suggest the hidden, secret dramas” in Visions of City & Country: Prints and Photographs of Nineteenth-Century France (Worcester, MA: Worcester Art Museum, 1982), 126.

14

Francis E. Hyslop and Lois Boe Hyslop, “Baudelaire and Meryon: Painters of the Urban Landscape,” Symposium 38, no. 3 (Fall 1984), 209.

15

Walter Benjamin, “Exposé of 1939” in The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 23. For more on Benjamin’s interest in Meryon, see Steffen Haug, “Stadt-Bild im Wandel: Die Paris-Darstellungen von Martial und Meryon, gesehen von Walter Benjamin” in Metropolen 1850–1950: Mythen-Bilder-Entwürfe, eds. Jean-Louis Cohen and Hartmut Frank (Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2012), 179–92.

16

For more on the history of death masks, see Emmanuelle Héran, ed., Le Dernier Portrait (Paris: Musée d’Orsay, 2002) and Edouard Papet, ed., A fleur de peau: Le moulage sur nature au XIXe siècle (Paris: Paris: Musée d’Orsay, 2001).

17

The only student whom Meryon directly instructed, Gabrielle Niel, made twelve views of Paris, many of which focus on Gothic sites. In addition to Léopold Flameng, other etchers of the period who worked to depict Paris include Louis-Marie Laurence, Les restes du vieux Paris (1866); Adolphe Martial Potémont, Ancien Paris (1862–1866, 300 plates); Alfred Delauney, Paris pittoresque (1866–1870, 73 plates) and Eaux-fortes sur le vieux Paris (1870–1878, 22 plates); and Alfred Taiée, Paris et ses environs or Paris en train (1869–1880).

19

“C’est la Morgue, environnée, surplombée de ces maisons dont toutes les fenêtres, toutes les lucarnes, jusqu’aux toits, parmi les cheminées, sont ouvertes sur elle comme des yeux curieux.” Gustave Geffroy, Charles Meryon (Paris: H. Floury, 1926), 61.

20

Schwartz, “Public Visits to the Morgue,” 50.

21

“Lapides ipsi clamabunt.” Fernand Boissard de Boisdenier, “Eaux-Fortes sur Paris, par C. Méryon.” Le Siècle no. 8585 (October 6, 1858), n.p.

22

“[C]haque pierre était un témoignage sensible de notre histoire et de nos traditions nationales.” Ferdinand de Guilhermy, Intinéraire archéologique de Paris (Paris: Bance, 1855), iii. Cited by Ruth Fiori in L’Invention du Vieux Paris: Naissance d’une conscience patrimoniale dans la capitale (Wavre: Mardaga, 2012), 71.

23

“Le vieux Paris … est sur le point de disparaître … ces maisons sur la façade desquelles les époques ont successivement marqué leur empreinte et laissé un peu de leur histoire … qui faisait de la grande ville comme un livre de pierre, une sorte de résumé de la France, où venaient lire à la fois l’archéologue, l’artiste, le penseur; tout cela s’efface, tout cela s’en va: le vieux Paris se meurt!” Flameng, Paris qui s’en va, Livraison 19. Also cited by Robert W. Brown in “Ancien Paris / Vieux Paris: Perceptions of Old Paris in French Prints and Photographs of the Second Empire,” Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, vol. 15, ed. William Rosen (Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University, 1988), 259. I tweaked Brown’s translation slightly. His essay is one of very few studies on this topic. See also Dennis Paul Costanzo, “Cityscape and the Transformation of Paris During the Second Empire,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1981.

24

A discussion of photography exceeds the scope of this essay, though photographers certainly played an essential role. For recent scholarship on a key participant in documenting old Paris, see Sarah Kennel, ed., Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2013).

25

“Voici l’instant suprême pour ramasser par les rues ce qu’il y a de souvenirs égarés, et pour garder religieusement sur le papier ce qui fut gravé sur la pierre.” P. L. Jacob, Curiosités de l’histoire du vieux Paris (Paris: Adolphe Delahays, 1858), 35. Cited by Guillaume Le Gall, “Apparition du vieux Paris,” in Atget: une retrospective, eds. Sylvie Aubenas and Guillaume Le Gall (Paris: BnF/Hazan, 2007), 16. Lacroix was a polymath: librarian at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, historian, bibliographer, journalist, and a novelist who used a number of pseudonyms, in this case, P. L. Jacob.

26

“Le graveur inquiet et chercheur est l’Homme des pierres. Il appartient à l’espace de ceux qui regrettent, et qui veulent savoir, qui s’acharnent à pénétrer, à déchiffrer, à sauver encore un peu de ce qui va mourant, de ce qui meurt, de ce qui n’est déjà plus au lendemain du jour où ils ont fixé l’image chère à leur coeur.” Geffroy, Charles Meryon, 1–2.

1

Charles Meryon

French, 1821–1868

The Mortuary, Paris, 1854

From the series Etchings of Paris

Etching and drypoint on beige-colored, moderately textured laid paper of medium thickness, watermark (partial): Comp

Plate/image: 22.9 x 20.6 cm. (9 x 8 1/8 in.)

RISD Museum: Gift of the Fazzano Brothers 84.198.786

5

Detail from Pl. VI La Cité, entre le pont Notre-Dame et le pont au Change from Pascal Payen-Appenzeller Hoffbauer (1839–1922), Paris à travers les âges: aspects successifs des monuments et quartiers historiques de Paris depuis le XIIIe siècle jusqu’à nos jours, 1875.

18

Léopold Flameng

French, 1831–1911

La morgue, from Paris qui s’en va et Paris qui vient, 1859–1860

Etching

Bibliothèque nationale de Frances

Ashley E. Dunn is an assistant curator in the Department of Drawings & Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is responsible for nineteenth-century French works on paper. She has previously contributed to exhibition publications at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, where she is also a PhD candidate.

Glossary

Aquatint
This process uses a fine dust made from rosin particles to create tone. Rosin is applied to a clean plate and fused to the plate with heat. The plate is then placed in an acid bath and the areas uncovered with rosin are bitten. The longer the plate stays in the bath, the darker the tone will print.
Beveling
The process of using a metal file to smooth the sharp edges of the plate. This step creates an angled edge that prevents the plate from damaging the paper, blankets, and press during printing.
Biting
After the artist creates the image in the ground, the plate is placed in a basin filled with acid. The acid “bites” into the exposed areas, incising them into the plate. The longer the plate stays in the acid, the darker the image will print.
Burnishing
A technique in which a tool with a curved edge (a burnisher) is used to smooth out marks on a plate, lightening or erasing them from the image.
Cancellation
The permanent alteration of a printing plate, usually by its artist, so that any future prints are distinguished from those that are part of an edition.
Drypoint
A technique in which marks are made directly onto a plate with a sharp tool or scriber, without the requirement of ground or acid. Virtually any implement that scratches metal can be used. When the plate is scratched, it displaces metal along the sides of the line. This raised part, called a “burr,” will hold ink when printed, giving a velvety black tone. The burr is delicate and wears out as the image is printed.
Edition
A number of impressions printed from a printing plate.
Ground
The coating on one side of the plate which provides a malleable surface into which the image is drawn. A mixture—often including asphaltum, wax, and rosin (although ingredients can vary)—is worked into a ball, heated, and melted onto the surface of the copper plate, then allowed to dry. As an alternative, liquid ground, made by adding a solvent, can be painted onto the surface of the plate.
Impression
A print, usually on paper, pulled from an inked printing plate.
Inking
The process of applying ink to a plate. The printing ink—which is often oil-based and dense—first is worked on a flat surface with a putty knife. The ink is then spread onto the plate with a scraper or other instrument, forcing it into the etched areas. A tarlatan, or a pad of stiff cloth, is used to remove excess ink from the surface. A plate needs to be inked before each impression.
Line etching
In this technique, a needle is used to scratch lines through the layer of ground, exposing the surface of the plate, which is then etched by acid.
Needle
A sharp tool used for drawing onto a metal plate or into a layer of ground.
Plate tone
Printed tonal areas created by ink left on the surface of the plate when wiping.
Polishing
The process of removing imperfections from the surface of the plate, creating a shiny finish, as any scratches print as lines. Abrasives, charcoal blocks, and oil were used to polish plates in the nineteenth century.
Press
A machine that uses pressure to force ink out of a plate’s incised marks and onto a sheet of paper. The press used for intaglio printmaking employs a roller on either side of the bed to exert heavy pressure onto the plate as it passes through.
Printer
A person who works with an artist to print his or her work.
Printing
The final process in the making of a print, in which the image is transferred to paper or another support. The inked printing plate is laid face-up on the press bed. A dampened sheet of paper is placed on top of the plate, covered in a felt blanket, and run through the press.
Printing plate
The surface onto which the artist creates an image for printing. Etching plates are typically made of copper, but zinc or other metals may also be used.
Proofs
In this publication, the authors are referring to a state proof, which is an early impression of an image, printed to test the image while an artist is still making changes to the plate. Because these prints are the first made, and those most directly connected to the artist’s process, they are often especially prized.
Publisher
A person or organization who finances the production of a print and facilitates the collaboration between the artist and printer.
Roulette
A tool with a textured revolving wheel. When rolled onto the surface of a plate, the roulette leaves a regular pattern.
Softground
A coating on a plate, made by adding tallow (or rendered animal fat) to a hard ground. Softground is applied to a heated plate. When the plate is cool, the artist can place a sheet of paper over it and draw on that surface; the ground is removed where the artist has drawn. Artists can also press textured materials, such as fabrics, into the ground, creating patterns or areas of gray tone.
State
A variation on a printed composition, resulting from continued work on a plate after impressions have already been pulled. Some plates are printed in multiple states.
Stopping out
A technique in which an acid-resistant material, such as ground or varnish, is applied to a plate before it is placed in the acid bath. Stopping out protects those parts of the plate from being bitten by acid. Stopping out can also be used to vary tonalities; the artist can remove a plate from an acid bath and apply acid-resistant material to protect the covered areas while the other areas continue to deepen.
Wiping
In this process, a tarlatan, or a pad of stiff cloth, is used to remove excess ink from the surface of a printing plate, leaving a light tone. The printer can completely remove the ink from the surface of a plate by using their hand to wipe it with whiting. Although a plate is usually wiped cleanly, it can also be done selectively, strategically leaving ink on areas of the plate’s surface so that each impression is printed uniquely.

Further Reading

Bailly-Herzberg, Janine. L’eau-forte de peintre au dix-neuvième siècle, la Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867). 2 vols. Paris: Leonce Laget, 1972.

Beraldi, Henri. Les Graveurs du XIXe siècle, guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes. 12 vols. Paris: L. Conquet, 1888.

Bourcard, Gustave. La Cote des estampes des différentes écoles anciennes et modernes. Paris: Damascène Morgand, 1912.

Burty, Philippe. “La belle épreuve.” In L’Eau-forte en 1875, 7–13. Paris: A. Cadart, 1875.

Cate, Phillip Dennis, et al. The Graphic Arts and French Society, 1871–1914. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

Cate, Phillip Dennis, and Marianne Grivel. From Pissarro to Picasso: Color Etching in France. Paris: Flammarion, 1992.

Clarke, Jay A., et al. The Impressionist Line from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

Delâtre, Auguste. Eau-forte, pointe sèche et vernis mou. Paris: Lanier et Vallet, 1887.

Delteil, Loys. Le peintre-graveur illustré, XIXe et XXe siècles. 31 vols. Paris: Chez l’auteur, 1923.

Hamerton, Philip Gilbert. Etching & Etchers (1866). Rev. ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1876.

Helsinger, Elizabeth, et al. The “Writing” of Modern Life: The Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the U.S., 1850–1940. Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, 2008.

Hendrix, Lee. Noir: The Romance of Black in Nineteenth-Century French Drawings and Prints. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016.

Koehler, Sylvester Rosa. Etching: An Outline of Its Technical Processes and Its History, With Some Remarks on Collections and Collecting. New York: Cassell & Co., 1885.

Lalanne, Maxime. The Technique of Etching (1866). 2nd ed., edited by Jay M. Fisher. New York: Dover, 1981.

Leipnik, F. L. A History of French Etching from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. London: John Lane, 1924.

McQueen, Alison. The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in 19th-Century France. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003.

Melot, Michel. The Impressionist Print. Translated by Caroline Beamish. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

Parshall, Peter, et al. The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850–1900. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2009.

Roger-Marx, Claude. Graphic Art of the 19th Century. London: Thames & Hudson, 1963.

Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Fleur, and Marije Vellekoop. Printmaking in Paris: The Rage for Prints at the Fin de Siècle. Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2013.

Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Fleur. Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street. Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2017.

Stijnman, Ad. Engraving and Etching 1400–2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes. London: Archetype, 2012.

Weisberg, Gabriel P. The Etching Renaissance in France: 1850–1880. Salt Lake City: Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 1971.

Credits from the General Editor

General Editor
Britany Salsbury
Contributors
Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Ashley E. Dunn, Gretchen Schultz, Brian Shure
RISD Museum Director
John W. Smith
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Editor, Museum Publications
Amy Pickworth
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