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lightened, but is cooler and more questioning — Millet
is also appreciated ; nor, in England, in 1891, was there

substantial difliculty in boiTowing for the Burlington

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FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

Club Exhibition of the French Revival of Etching,
the eleven prints, lent by Mr. Justice Day, Sir Hickman
Bacon, Mr. H. S. Theobald, and ]Mr. Alfred Higgins,
which were deemed a sufficient representation of Millet's
work with the needle.

In that Exhibition the representation of the great
work of Mt^ryon was confined to twenty-five prints.
It practically included all his masterpieces ; but it
would have been made more extensive had not the
Burlington Club, soon after I published the first edi-
tion of my little book upon this master — and when
Burty's Memoir was yet fresh — organised a splendid
gathering of the prints we owe to Meryon's high ima-
gination, keen sensitiveness, and unstinted labour.

I am not concerned to deal here at any length with
the story of Meryon's life, or with the analysis of
his poetic temperament. The question asked about
him by the reader of this present book is a compara-
tively simple one, but I shall have to answer it with
fulness — which to possess of the " sombre epics,"" and
lovely lyrics, wrought during the time in which his
spirit was most brilliant and his hand firmest .''

Meryon's fame rests on the achievements of a very
few years. The period comprised between 1850 and
1854 saw the production, not indeed of everything he
did which may deserve to live, but of all that is suffi-
cient to ensure life for the rest. Many of his pretty
and carefully planned drawings were made earlier than
1850, and several of the more engaging of his etchings

were made after 1854 ; but the four years between

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these dates were tlie years in which he conceived and
executed his " Paris,'' which was something more than
a collection of etched views — it was a poem and a
satirical commentary on the life he recorded. More-
over, Mcrvon is ([uite pre-eminently the etcher of one
great theme. Among richly endowed artists who have
looked at I-.ife broadly, it is rare and difficult to discover
one whose work has evidenced such faithful concentra-
tion. It is rare enough to find that concentration even
in the labour of such artists as are comparatively un-
imaginative, of such as are content to confine them-
selves to the patient record of the thing that actually
is — of such an engraver, say, as Hollar. It is doubly
rare to find an imaginative artist of wide outlook and
of deep experience so much the recorder of one set
of facts, one series of visions. He will generally have
been anxious to give form to very different impressions
that came to him at various times and under changing
circumstances. Now it may have been Landscape that
interested him, and now Portraiture, and now again
ideal composition or traditional romance. And in each
he mav have fairly succeeded. But Meryon, though
stress of circumstance obliged him to do work beyond
the limits of his choice, did such work, generally speak-
ing, with only too little of promptings from within, to
lighten the dulness of the task. There are, of course,
exceptions — one or two in his Landscape, if there are
none in his Portraiture. But the beginning and the
end of his art, as far as the world can be asked to be

seriously concerned with it, lay in the imaginative

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i-ecord, now faithfully simple, now transfigured and
nobly visionary, of the city which requited him but ill
for his devotion to its most poetic and its most prosaic
features. It is the etchings of Paris, then, that the
collector will naturally first seek.

Nearly all the etchings of Paris are included in what
is sometimes known as " the published set." Not that
the twelve major and the eleven minor pieces comprised
in that were ever really published by fashionable print-
sellers to an in(j[uiring and eager public. But they
were at least so arranged and put together that this
might have hap})ened had Mcryon's star been a lucky
one. In Mervon\s mind they constituted a " work," to
which the few other Parisian subjects afterwards came
as a not unsuitable addition. Like the plates of
"Liber Studioruni," they were to be looked at "to-
gether." Together, the plates of " I^iber " represented,
as we shall see better in another chapter, the range of
Turner's art. Together, the etchings " sur Paris " —
"on" and not "of" Paris, let it be noted — represented
Meryon's vision of the town, and of its deeper life.

In beginning a collection of Meryon's, I imagine it

to be important not only to begin with one of the

" Paris," but with a very significant example of it — a

typical, important etching. The twelve views — the

twelve " pictures," I should prefer to call them —

Meryon himself numbered, when, rather late in life, he

issued the last impressions of them. These numbercnl

impressions, being, us 1 say, the very last States, are

not the imjjressions to cherish ; but these are the

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subjects of them (and the subjects, in finer impressions,
will all be wanted) — the Strygc, the Petit Pont^ the
Archc du Pont Notrc-Damc, tlie Galerie de Notre-
Dame, the Ihur de VHorhgc, the Toiirellc^ Rtie de la
Tixcrmidcric^ the St. Etienne-du- Mont, the Pompe
Notrc-Dame, the Pont Neuf, the Pont-au-Change, the
Morgue, and, lastly, the Abs'ide de Notre-Dame. Before
these, between them, and again at the end of them, are
certain minor designs, not to be confused with that
" Minor Work," chiefly copies and dull Portraiture,
described but briefly in my little book on Meryon,
which is devoted more particularly to the work of
genius with which it is worth while to be concerned.
Those minor designs which are associated with the
"Paris" are an essential part of it, doing humble,
but, as I am certain Meryon thought, most neces-
sary service. In a sense they may be called head-
pieces and tail-pieces to the greater subjects of which
the list lies above. Sometimes they are ornament, but
always significant, symbolic ornament ; sometimes they
are direct, written commentary. Either way, they bear
upon the whole, but yet are less important than those
twelve pieces already named. So it was, at all events,
in Meryon's mind ; but of one or two of them it is true
also that they have a beauty and perfection within
their limited scheme, lacking to one or two of the more
important, to which they serve humbly as page or out-
rider. The one lyric note of the Rue des Mmivavi
GarfOTus, for instance, is in its own way as complete a

thing as is the magnificent epic of Abside or Morgue —

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it is gi'eater far than the Pompe Notre-Dame^ or, it may
be, than the Petit Pont. The late Mr. P. G. Hamer-
ton — an admirable specialist in Etching, but a writer
making no claim to the nan-ower speciality of minute
acquaintance with Meryon — has praised the Pompe
Notre-Dame. He has praised it for merits which
exist, and it is only relatively that the praise is, as it
seems to me, undeserved. The plate is really a wonder-
" ful victory over technical difficulties ; but, in the ugly
lines of it, its realism is realism of too bold an order.
The Petit Pont is a fine piece of architectural draughts-
manship, and an impressive conception to boot; but,
like Rembrandt's wonderfully wrought Mill, it is one-
sided — it wants symmetry of composition.

The Ahside is accounted the masterpiece of Meryon,
in right of its solemn and austere beauty. A rich and
delicate impression of this print is, then, the crown of
any Meryon collection. It must be obtained in a State
before the dainty detail of the apse of the cathedral,
and the yet daintier and more magically delicate
workmanship of its roof, in soft and radiant light,
have suffered deterioration through wear. It must be
richly printed. The First State is practically not to
be found. I suppose that there are scarcely in exist-
ence seven or eight impressions of it. It is at the
British Museum, and in the collections of Mr. B. B.
Macgcorge, Mr. Avery, Mr. Mansfield, Mr. R. C.
Fisher, and Mr. I'yke Tlu)inj)son. For the last that
changed hands, fully 125 guineas was ])aid. Meryon
had received for it — and gratefully, in his depression

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and poverty — one sliilling and threepence. I have
seen his receij)t. But money now will not ac(|uire it.
A Second State is therefore the one to aim at ; and,
just because there were so very few impressions taken
of the First, that I ought, in my Catalogue, to have
described them as proofs — more especially as there was
no change whatever in the work, but only in the
lettering — it stands to reason that the earliest and
best impressions of the Second (I mean these only)
are, in their exquisite qualitv, all that good judges
can desire. These are on thin and wiry paper — old
Dutch or French — often a little cockled. The gi'een,
or greenisli, paper Meryon was fond of, he never used
for the Ab.s'idc. The poorer impressions of the Second
State are on thick modern paper. After the Second
State, which, when carefully chosen, is apt to be so
beautiful — and is worth, then,. forty or fift}' guineas —
there comes a Third, a Fourth, a Fifth : none, for-
tunately, common ; and deteriorations, all of them ;
downward steps in the passage from noble Art to
the miserable issue of a thing which can rejoice the
soul no longer, nor evidence the triumph of the
hand.

Not much more need be said in detail here as to the
larger prints of the great " Paris," but there is still a
little. In the shape and si/e of the plate, and by its
breadth of distant view, the Pont-au-Chaiiffe is the
companion to the Ah.s'ide. There are some impres-
sions on the greenish paj)er, and some on the thin

Dutch that yields the best of the Absidci. The im-

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FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

pression of the First State in the De Salicis Sale sold
for c£'33. The Pont-au-Change is one of those prints
which have submitted to the most serious alterations.
A wild flight of giant birds against the rolling sky is
the first innovation — it occurs in the Second State —
and though it removes from the picture all its early
calm and half its sanity, it has, as many think, a charm
of its own, a weird suggestiveness. A good impression,
"in this State, is worth, it may be, =C6 or =£^7. The next
change — when the flight of birds gives place to a flight
of small balloons (unlike the large balloon which, in the
First State, sails nobly through the sky, before ever the
dark birds get there) — the next change, I say, is a
more pronounced mistake. The Tour de VHorlugc —
of which a First State fetched in the Wasset Sale £\0,
and in the De Salicis oC22 — has also submitted to
change, but scarcely in a State in which it need
occupy the careful collector. In certain late impres-
sions, Mcryon, convinced, in the restlessness of mental
ill-health, that one side of the tall Palais de Justice was
left in his picture monotonous and dull, shot great
shafts of light across it, and these became the things
that caught the eye. He had forgotten, then, the
earlier wisdom ;ui(l more consummate art by which,
when first he wrought the plate, he had placed the
quiet space of sliadovvcd buikling us a foil lo the
many-j)aned window by the side of it. The change
is an instructive ;uul pathetic conunentary on the
ease with which artistic conceptions slij) away, they

themselves forgotten, and the excellence that they

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had beautifully achieved ignored even by the mind
that gave them birth.

The St. Etknne-du-Mont is one of those etchings
which possess the abiding charm of perfect things. In
it a subject entirely beautiful and dignified is treated
with force and with refinement of spirit, and with
faultless exactitude of hand. It shows — nothing can
better show — the characteristic of Meryon, the union
of the courage of realism and the sentiment of poetry ;
in other words, its realism, like the realism of the
finest Fiction, has to be poetic. You have the builder^s
scaffolding, the workmen's figures, for modern life and
labour ; the Gothic stones of the College de Montaigu,
the shadow of the narrow street, the closely-draped
women huri'ying on their way, for old-world senti-
ment and the mystery of the town. But I suppose a
chapter might be written upon its excellent beauty.
I mention it here, partly because it too submits to
change, though change less important than that in
the Pont-au-Change, and less destructive than that in
the Tour de VHorloge. Not to speak of sundry in-
scriptions, sundry " posters," which Meryon, in mere
restlessness, was minded to altei\ he could never quite
satisfy himself about the attitude of one of the work-
men on the scaffolding. Three States represent as
many changes in this figure, and all these — as a matter,
at all events, of minor interest — it is pleasant to collect.
Here, in the St. Etienne, as so often in the etchings
of Meryon, the First State (<f 16 in the De Salicis Sale)

is the one of which the impressions are the most

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numerous, though even in this piece of writing, which
does not take the place of a catalogue, I have had
occasion to note one instance out of some in which it
is not so. But generally it is so. And so the Meryon
collector has to be even more careful than the collector
of " Liber " about the impression which he buys. He
must have an early State, but it is not enough to have
an early State. He must most diligently teach himself
'to perceive what is really a fine example of it. He
must not fall into the commonest vice of the unin-
telligent purchaser — be captivated by the mere word,
forego his own judgment, and buy First States with
dull determination.

Presently the collector of the " Paris " will leffi-
timately want the smaller pieces, some of which I have
called " tail-pieces "*"* : all are commentaries and con-
necting-links. Some are beautiful, complete, and signi-
ficant, as has already been said, but generally the
significance is more remarkable than the beauty. They
bind together, almost as an appropriate text itself
might bind together, what might otherwise be detached
pictures. They complete the thought of Meryon in
regard to his " Paris," and make its ex})ression clear.
Thus, the etched cover for the Paris Set bears the title,
" Eaux Fortes sur Paris,*" on a representation of a slab
of fossiliferoiis limestone, suggesting the material which
matle it possible to buikl the city on the spot where
it stands. Then, there is a set of etched verses wholly
without other ornament than may be found in their

j)rettily-fanta.stic form, verses that bewail the life of

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Pnris. Again, lines to acconipixny tlie Pont- an- Change
and its great balloon. These things recall William
Blake — the method by which the " Songs of Innocence "
first fonnd their limited pnblic. Again, the Tomheau
ile Molihr — Meryon thinks there must be place in his
Paris for the one representative French writer of
imaginative Literature, the cynic, analyst, comedian.
And to name one other little print, but not to exhaust
the list, there is a graceful embodiment of wayward
fancy to accompany the Pompe Nutre - Dame. It is
called the Petite Pompe — represents the Pompe in small ;
gives us verses regi'etting half playfully, half affec-
tionately, the removal of so familiar a landmark, and
surrounds all with a flowing border of rare elegance
and simple invention.

But a few other brilliant and poetical records of
Paris lie, it has been said already, outside the published
Set, claim a place almost with the greater illustrations
I have spoken of earlier, and must surely be sought.
The TourellCy dite " de Marat " is one of these, and it is
Meryon''s record of the place where Charlotte Corday
did the deed by which we remember her. Except for
the interest of observing a change, due, I may suppose,
to the dulled imagination of a fairly shrewd tradesman
— a change by which all symbolism and significance
passed out of this wonderful little print — it is useless
to have this little etching in any State after the First
published one. For, after the First j)ublished one, the
picture and the poem became merely a view : there is
nothing to connect the place with Marat's tragedy,



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and Meryon has been permitted to represent, not
the Tourelle, dite "de Marat," but "No. 22, Street
of the School of Medicine."' And the First State is
already rare. There were very few impressions of it.
It was too imaginative for the public. But here is
an instance in which Trial Proofs, generally to be
avoided, may fairly be sought for, along with the First
State. Distributed among different collectors is a
little succession of Trial Proofs with different dates of
May and June written by Meryon in pencil on the
margin. The first and second belong to Mr. Mac-
george ; the third was Seymour Haden's ; the fourth
belongs to iVIr. James Knowles ; the eighth — which is the
last — belongs to me (I got it, if I recollect, for £8, 10s.
and a commission, at the W^asset Sale). Even at the
beginning of this little seijuence of proofs the work
is not ineffective ; and at the end it is complete.

Also outside the published Set of " Paris "" are two
little etchings which are particularly noteworthy, and
which, by reason of the extreme, even astounding, deli-
cacy of some of their work, it is, I think, well to secure
in the early state of Trial IVoof — when one can get the
chance. These are the Pont-mi-Chnuge vers 1784 —
which no one can possibly confuse with the larger PoiU-
uu-Chnriffc — and Ia' Pont Ni'uf ct hi Samaritahic. Un-
like most of Mcryoirs ]*arisian work, both are, not
indeed transcripts from, hut idealisations of, drawings
by another. 'I'he first dry draughtsman, in the present
case, was one Nicolle. As far as the practical presenbi-

tion of all the subject is concerned, the Trial Proofs of

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these prints, which have been sold under the hammer
for about .^10 each, are all that can be wanted, and
they possess, moreover, an exquisite refinement of
li^ht, of which the jiublished, and especially the later
published, examples give no hint. All impressions of
these two little plates arc worthy of respect, for these
plates were never worketl down to the wrecks and
skeletons of some of the others ; but, nevertheless, it is
only in the earliest impressions that we can fully see
the lovely lines and light and shade of the background
in the P out- au- Change vers 1784 — it must be had
" before the great dark rope " — and the sunlit house-
fronts (Van der Heyden-like, almost) of the Pont Netif
et la Saniar'italne.

Of the Bourges etchings, which are good, though
none are of the first importance — and they are but few
in all — the best is the Hue des Toiles. It is a varied
picture, admirably finished. The rest are engaging
sketches.

Amongst the remaining etchings by which Meryon

commends himself to those who study and reflect upon

his work, it is enough, perhaps, here, to speak of three.

Oceanic: Peche aux Palmes is almost the only quite

satisfactory record of that acquaintance that he made

with the antipodes. The Second State — with the title —

is not scarce at all, and can never be costly. You may

pay, perhaps, one or two pounds for it, and for the first,

say, four or five. The Entree dii Convent des Capucins

Fran^ais a Athbies — a print devoted in reality to the

Choragic Monument of Lysicrates — is the single and the

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FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

very noble plate which a visit to Athens, when he was
a sailor, inspired Meryon to produce. This rare plate
was done for a book that is itself now rare — Count Leon
de Labordes "Athenes au XV°^^ XVI™^ et XVII™^
Siecles." Even in the Second State the Entree du Con-
vent has fetched about =£^12, in more sales than one.
RochaiLTS Address Card, albeit not particularly rare,
is curious and worth study. It was executed for the
only dealer who substantially encouraged Meryon ; and
Meryon contrived to press into his little plate much
of what he had already found and shown to be sugges-
tive in the features of Paris. Symbolical figures of the
Seine and Marne recline at the top of the design.
Then there are introduced bits from the Arms of Paris,
from the Baiii Frold Chewier (the statue of Henri
Quatre), from Le Pont Neiif, and from La Petite Pompe.
No one, of course, can ask us to consider Rochouxs
Address Card very beautiful or grandly imaginative;
but it is ingenious, and, like La Petite Pompe, though
in more limited measure, it is good as a piece of deco-
rative design.

The impressions of Meryon's etchings are printed
on papers of very different sorts. A gi'eenish paper
Meryon himself liked, and it is one of the favourites
of collectoi-s. Its unearthly hue adds to the wcird-
ness of several of the pictures, often most suitiibly ;
but it is not always good. Meryon knew this, and
many of his plates — amongst them, as I have said
already, that unsurpassable masterpiece, the Ahside —

were never printed on it. I have a Hue dcs Mauvals

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Gar^07hi — the thint!^ was liaudelaire's favourite — upon
very blueish ^ray. A thiu old Dutch paper, wiry and
strong, white originally and softened by age, gives
some of the finest impressions. Other good examples
are on Japanese, anil there are fine ones on thinnest
India ])aper that is of excellent quality. Modern
Whatman and modem French paper have been used
for many plates ; and a few impressions, which, I think,
were rarely, if ever, printed by any one but Meryon
himself, are found on a paper of dull walnut colour.
If I seem to dwell on this too much, let it be remem-
bered that very different effects are produced by the
different papers and the different inks. The luxurious
collector, possessing more than one impression, likes
to look first at his " Black Morg^ie^'' and then at his
" Brown." The two make different pictures.

About the Meryon collections, it may be said that
M. Niel, an early friend, possessed the first important
gi'oup that was sold under the hammer. Then followed
M. Burty's, M. Hirsch's, and afterwards M. Sensier''s.
These fetched but modest prices — prices insignificant
sometimes — for Meryon's vogue was not yet. Later,
the possessions of M. Wasset — an aged bachelor, eager
and trembling, whom I shall always i-emember as the
"Cousin Pons" of certain 6Hc-a-6rac-crowded upper
chambers in the Rue Jacob — were sold for more sub-
stantial sums. Since then, the collection of that most
sympathetic amateur, the Rev. J. J. Heywood — one of
the first men in London to buy the master"'s prints —

has passed into the hands of Mr. B. B. Macgeorge of

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Glasgow, M'hose cabinet, enriched from other sources,
is now certainly the greatest. The Meryons that
belonged to Sir Seymour Haden went, some years
since, to America, where whoever possesses them must
recognise collectors that are his equals, in Mr. Samuel
Avery and Mr. Howard Mansfield. If too many care-
fully gathered gi-oups of Meryon's etchings have left
our shores, others remain — though very few. The
British Museum Print-Room is rich in the works of
the master : many of the best impressions of his prints,
there, having belonged long ago to Philippe Burty,
who early recognised something at least of their merit,
and made, in the Gazette des Beaux Arts of that day,
the first rough catalogue of them.

It is time we turned for a few minutes to Felix
Bracquemond — a dozen years Mcryon^s junior, for he
was born in 1833. Among the sub-headings to this
present chapter there occurs the phrase, " Bracque-
mond's few noble things." Why " few " ? — it may be
asked — when, in the Catalogue of the Burlington Club
P^xhibition of the French Revival of Etching, it is
mentioned that the number of his plates extends to
about seven hundred, and that the list would have
been longer liad not Bracquemond, in his later years,
accepted an official post which left him little time for
this department of work ? Well, there arc two or
three reasons why, with all respect to an indefatigable
artist, I still say "few.'" To begin with, no incon-
siderable proportion of Felix Bracquemond's etched

plates are works of reproduction — translations (like

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Raj oil's, \\''altiier.s, Unger''s, some indeed of Jacque-


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Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 5 of 16)