Frederick Wedmore.

Fine prints online

. (page 6 of 16)
Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 6 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


marfs) of the coiiccjitioiis of another. These may be
admirable in their own way — the Erasmus, after the
Holbein, in the I^onvre, is more than admirable : it
is masterly — a monument of austere, firmly-directed
labour, recording worthily Holbein's own searching
tlraughtsmanship and profound and final vision of
human character. But we have agreed, throughout
the gi'eater part of this book, and more especially in
those sections of it which are devoted to the art whose
gi'eatest charm is often in its spontaneity, to consider
original work and work inspired or dictated by others as
on a different level. Then again, in such of Bracque-
mond's prints as are original, there is perhaps even less
than is usual, in a fine artist's work, of uniformity
of excellence. No very gieat number of all the plates
M. Beraldi industriously chronicles need the collector
busy himself with trying to accjuire. The largish
etchings of gi-eat birds, alive or dead, are amongst the
most characteristic. With singular freedom and rich-
ness — an enjoyment of their plumage and their life,
and a gi'eat pictorial sense to boot — has Bracquemond
rendered them. If I could possess but a single Bracque-
mond — I have none, as a matter of fact — I would have
such an impression of Le Haut (Tun Battant de Porte,
with the birds hanging there, as Mr. Alfred Morrison
lent to the Burlington Club. The plate was wrought
in 1865. But Mar got la Critique and Vanneaux et
Sarcellcs — prints of, I think, about the same period

— likewise represent the artist well ; and there is a

84



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

plate done only about nine years ago, at the instance
of the Messrs. Dowdeswell, which is certainly a triumph
at once of technique and of character. This is I^e
Vieujc Cog.

Daubigny, ]Maxime Lalanne, Meissonier, Corot, are
all amongst French artists who have etched, and have
etched more or less ably. The two last-mentioned —
doubtless the most important artists in their own cus-
tomary mediums — wrought the fewest plates. Corot's
are highly characteristic sketches. Daubigny worked
more systematically at etching, and you feel in all his
works a sympathetic, picturesque vision of Nature ; but
his prints never reach exquisiteness. Lalanne, who
was extremely prolific with the needle, had an unfailing
elegance as well as facility. And, as a little practical
treatise that he wrote upon the subject shows, he was
devoted to the craft. He was best in his smaller
plates : never, I think, having beaten his dainty plate
of the Swiss Fribourg, which was given in " Etching
and PHchers." Seen in large numbers, his prints reveal,
if not exactly mannerism, at least the (juickly reached
limits of his personality. In the portfolios of the
collector, a few prints — which will never cost many
shillings — are enough to represent him. But I have
no wish whatever to underrate Lalanne, in saying this.
I^alanne was not a great artist ; but he was an agi'ee-
able, well-bred obsei'\'er, and a gi-aceful draughtsman.

A genius, wholly individual of course, or he would

not be a genius at all — and yet in a sense the founder of

a school or centre of a gi'oup of workmen — now occupies

85



FINE PRINTS

us. We })Jiss to Jules Jacqueniart, who, born in 1837,
died prenijituiely in 1880; a child of his century, worn
out by catj;er restlessness of spirit, by the temperament,
by the nervous system, that made possible to him the
excjuisiteness of his work. The son of a collector, a
great authority on porcelain, Albert Jacquemart, Jules
Jacquemart's natural sensitiveness to beauty, which he
had inherited, was, from the first, highly cultivated.
From the first, he breathed the air of Art. Short as
his life was, he was happy in the fact that adequate
fortune gave him the liberty, in health, of choosing
his work, and, in sickness, of taking his rest. With
extremely rare exceptions, he did the things that he
was fitted to do, and did them perfectly ; and, being
ill when he had done them, he betook himself to the
exquisite South, where colour is, and light — the things
we long for most, when we are most tired in cities — and
so there came to him, towards the end, a new surprise
of pleasure in so beautiful a world. He was happy in
being surrounded, all his life long, by passionate affec-
tion in the circle of his home. Nor was he perhaps
unhappy altogether, dying in middle age. For what
might the Future have held for him ? — a genius who
was ripe so soon. The years of deterioration and of
decay, in which first an artist does but dully repro-
duce the spontaneous work of his youth, and then is
sterile altogether — the years in which he is no longer
the fashion at all, but only the landmark or the finger-
post of a fashion that is past — the years when a name

once familiar and honoured is uttered at rare intervals

86



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

and in tones of apology, as the name of one whose

performance has never quite equalled the promise he

had aforetime given — these years never came to Jules

Jacquemart. He was spared these years.

But few people care, or are likely to care very much,

for the things which chiefly interested him, and which

he reproduced in his art; and even the care for these

things, where it does exist, unfortunately by no means

implies the power to appreciate the art by which they

are retained and diffused. " Still-life " — the portrayal

of objects natural or artificial, for the objects"' sake, and

not as backgi'ound or accessory — has never been rated

very highly or very widely loved. The })ul)lic generally

has been indifferent to these things, and often the

public has been right in its indifference, for often these

things are done in a poor spirit, a spirit of servile

imitation or servile flattery, with which Ai-t has little

to do. But there are exceptions, and there is a better

way of looking at these things. Chardin was one of

these exceptions — in Painting, he was the greatest

of these. Jacquemart, in his art of Etching, was

an exception not less brilliant and peculiar. He and

Chardin have done something to endow the beholders

of their work with a new sense — with the capacity for

new experiences of enjoyment — they have portrayed,

not so much matter, as the very soul of matter; they

have put it in its finest light, and it has got new

dignity. Chardin did this with his peaches and his

pears, his big coai'se bottles, his coj^per sauce-pans,

and his silk-lined caskets. Jaccjuemart did it with the

87



FINE PRINTS

finer work of artistic men in household matter and
ornament : with his blue and white porcelain, with his
polished steel of chased armour and sword-blade, with
his Renaissance mirrors, and his precious vessels of
crystal, jasper, and jade. But when he was most fully
himself, his work most characteristic and individual,
he shut himself off' from popularity. Even untrained
observers could accept this agile engi'aver as the in-
terpreter of other men's pictures — of Meissonier"'s inven-
tions, or Van der Meer's, Greuze's, or Fragonard's — but
they could not accept him as the interpreter, at first
hand, of treasui-es peculiarly his own. They were not
alive to the wonders that have been done in the world
by the hands of artistic men. How could they be
alive to the wonders of this their reproduction — their
translation, rather, and a very free and personal one —
into the subtle lines, the graduated darks, the soft or
sparkling lights of the artist in Etching .?

A short period of practice in draughtsmanship, and
only a small experience of the particular business of
etching, made Jaccjuemart a master. As time pro-
ceeded, he of course developed ; found new methods,
ways not previously knowTi to him. But little of what
is obviously tentative and innnature is to be noticed
even in his earliest work. He springs into his art an
artist fully armed — like Rembrandt with the wonder-
ful portrait of his mother " lightly etched." In 1860,
when he is but twenty-three, he is at work upon the
illustrations to his father's " Histoire de la Porcelaine,"

and though, in that jjublication, the absolute realisation

88



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

of wonderful matter — or, more particularly, the breadth
in treating it — is not so noteworthy as in the later
" Gemmes et Joyaux de la Couronne,'' there is most
evident already the hand of the delicate artist and the
eye that can appreciate and render almost unconsidered
beauties.

The " Histoire de la Porcelaine "" contains twenty-
six plates, of which a large proportion are devoted to
"the Oriental china possessed in mass by the elder
Jaccjuemart, when as yet there was no rage for it.
Many of Albert Jacquemart's pieces figure in the book :
they were pieces the son had lived with and knew
familiarly. Their charm, their delicacy, he perfectly
represented — nay, exalted — })assing without sense of
difficulty from the bizarre ornamentation of the East
to the ordered forms and satisfying symmetry which
the high taste of the Renaissance gave to its products.
Thus, in the " Histoire de la Porcelaine " — amongst
the quaintly naturalistic decorations from China and
amongst the ornaments of S&vres, with their boudoir
graces and airs of pretty luxury fit for the Manjuise of
Louis Quinze and the sleek young Abbe, her pet and
her counsellor, we find, rendered with an appreciation
as just, a Brocra lUdiennc, the Rrocca of the Medicis
of the Sixteenth Century, slight and tall, where the
lightest of Renaissance forms the thin and reed-like
arabcsquf — no mass or splash of coloui" — is patterned
over the smoothish surface with measurcn;! exactitude and
rhythmic comj)leteness. How much is here suggested,

and how little done ! The actual touches are almost as

S9



FINE PRINTS

few as those which J;ic({ueuiart employed afterwards in
reiideriiijt; some fairy effects of rock-crystal — the material
which he has interpreted, it may be, best of all. On
such work may be bestowed, amongst much other
praise, that particular praise which seems the highest
to fashionable French Criticism — delighted especially
with feats of adroitness : occupied with the evidence of
the artists dexterity — " // ny a rien, et il y a touty

The " Histoire de la Porcelaine " — of which the
separate plates were begun, as I have said before, in
1860, and which was published by Techener in 1862 —
was followed in 1864 by the "Gemmes et Joyaux de
Couronne." The Chalcographie of the Louvre — which
concerns itself with the issue of State-commissioned
prints — undertook the first publication of the " Gemmes
et Joyaux." In this series there are sixty subjects, or,
at least, sixty plates, for sometimes Jacquemart, seated
by his Louvre window (which is reflected over and over
again at every angle, in the lustre of the objects he was
drawing), would etch in one plate the portraits of two
treasures, glad to give " value " to the virtues of the
one by juxtaposition with the virtues of the other;
opposing, say, the transparent brilliance of the globe
of rock-crvstal to the texture and hues, sombre and
velvety, of the vase of ancient sardonyx, as one puts
a cluster of diamonds round a fine cat\s-eye, or a black
j)earl, glowing soberly.

Of all these plates M. Louise Gonse has given an

accurate account, in enough detail for the purposes of

most people, in the "Gazette des Beaux Arts'" for

90



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

1876. The Catalogue of Jacquemart"'s etchings — which
are about four hundred in all — thei'e contained, was a
work of industry and of very genuine interest on M.
Gonse's part, but its necessary extent, due to the artist's
own prodigious diligence in work, cannot for ever
sufficiently excuse an occasional incompleteness of de-
scription making absolute identification sometimes a
difficult matter. The critical appreciation was warm
'and intelligent, and the student of Jules Jacquemart
must always be indebted to Gonse. But for the quite
adequate description of work like Jacquemart's — the
very subject of it, quite as much as the treatment —
there was needed not only the French tongue (the
tongue, par c\vcelh"nce, of Criticism), but a Gautier to
use it.

Ever)i:hing that Jacquemart could do in the render-
ing of beautiful matter, and of its artistic and appro-
priate ornament, is represented in one or other of the
varied subjects of the " Gemmes et Joyaux," save only
his work with delicate china. And the large plates of
this series evince his strength, and hardly ever betray his
weakness. He was not, perhaps, a thoroughly trained
Academical draughtsman ; a large and detailed treat-
ment of the nude figure — any further treatment of it
than that recjuired for the beautiful suggestion of it as
it occurs on Renaissance mirror-frames or in Renaissance
porcelains — miglit have found him deficient. He had
an admirable feeling for the unbroken flow of its line,
for its suj)plcness, for the figure's harmonious move-
ment. He was not the master of its most intricate

91



FINK PRINTS

anatomy ; hni, on the scale on which he had to treat
it, liis su<;gestion was faultless. By the brief shorthand
of his art in this matter, we are brought back to the
old formula of praise. Here, indeed, if anywhere, " II
711/ a riaiy et il y a touty

As nothing in Jacquemarfs etchings is more adroit
than his treatment of the figure, so nothing is more
delightful and, as it were, unexpected. He feels the
intricate unity of its curve and flow — how it gives value
by its happy undulations of line to the fixed, invariable
oniament of Renaissance decoration — an ornament as
orderly as well-observed verse, with its settled form,
its repetition, its refrain, I will name one or two
notable instances. One occurs in the etching of a
Renaissance mirror (the print a most desirable little
possession) — Miroir Fran^-als clu Seizieme Sicclc, elabo-
rately carved, but its chief grace after all is in its fine
proportions — not so nuich the perfection of the ornament
as the perfect disposition of it. The absolutely satis-
factory filling of a given space with the enrichments of
design, the occupation of the space without the crowding
of it — for that is what is meant by the perfect disposi-
tion of ornament — has always been the problem for the
decorative artist. Recent fashion has insisted, suffi-
ciently, that it has been best solved by the Japanese ;
and indeed the Japanese have solved it, often with
great economy of means, suggesting, rather than achiev-
ing, the occupation of the space they have worked
upon. But the best Renaissance Design has solved the

problem as well, in fashions less arbitrary, with rhythm

92



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

more pronounced and yet more subtle, with a precision

more exquisite, with a complete comprehension of the

value of quietude, of the importance of rest. If it

requires — as Francis Turner Palgrave said, admirably

— "an Athenian tribunar' to understand Ingres and

Flaxman, it needs at all events high education in the

beauty of line to understand the art of Renaissance

Ornament. Such art Jacquemart understood absolutely,

and, against its purposed rigidity, its free play of the

nude figure is indicated with touches dainty, faultless,

and few. Thus it is, I say, in the Miroir Frnn^ais du

Seizieme Sieck. And to the attraction of the figure

has been added almost the attraction of landscape

and of landscape atmosphere in the plate No. 27 of

the " Gemmes et Joyaux" which represents scenes from

Ovid as a craftsman of the Renaissance has portrayed

them on the delicate liquid surface of cristal tie rocJw.

And not confining our examination wholly to " Gemmes

et Joyaux," of which, obviously, the mirror just spoken

of cannot form a part — we observ^e there, or elsewhere

in Jacquemarfs prints, how his treatment of the figure

takes constant note of the material in which the first

artist, his original, worked. Is it raised porcelain, for

instance, or soft ivory, or smooth, cool bronze with its

less close and subtle following of the figure's curves, its

certain measure of angularity in limb and trunk, its

many facets, with a somewhat marked transition from

one to the other (instcjid of the unbroken harmony of

the real figure), its occiisional flatnesses ? If it is this,

this is what Jaccjuemart gives us in his etchings — not

93



FINE PRINTS

tlie figure only, but the figure as it conies to us through
the medium of bronze. See, for example, the Venus
Marine^ outstretched, with slender legs — a bronze, long
the possession of M. Thiers, I believe. One really
caimot insist too much on Jacquemarfs mastery over
his material — chlsonnc, with its rich, low tones, its
patterning outlined by its metal ribs; the coarseness
of rough wood, as in the Saliere de Troyes ; the sharp,
steel weapons and the infinite delicacy of their lines,
as in Epees^ Langues de Boevf', Poignards ; the signefs
flatness and delicate smoothness — "c''est le sinet du
Hoy Sant Louis " — and the red porphyry, flaked, as it
were, and speckled, of an ancient vase ; and the clear,
soft, unctuous green of jade.

And as the material is marvellously varied, so are its
combinations curious and wayward. I saw, one autumn,
at Lyons, their sombre little church of Ainay, a Chris-
tian edifice built of no Gothic stones, but placed,
already ages ago, on the site of a Roman Temple — the
Temple used, its dark columns cut across, its black
stones re-arranged, and so the Church completed —
Antiquity pressed into the service of the Middle Age.
Jacquemart, dealing with the precious objects that he
had to portray, came often on such strange meetings :
an antique vase of sardonyx, say, infinitely precious,
mounted and altered in the Twelfth Centiu-y, for the
service of the Mass, and so, beset with gold and jewels,
offered by its possessor to the Abbey of Saint Denis.

It was not a literal translation, it must be said again,

that Jacquemart made of these things. These things

94



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

sat to him for their portraits ; he posed them ; he
composed them aright. Placed by him in their best
lights, they revealed their finest qualities. Some people
bore hardlv on him for the colour, warmth, and life he
introduced into his etchings. They wanted a colder, a
more impersonal, a more precise recoi'd, Jacquemart
never sacrificed precision when precision was of the
essence of the business, but he did not — scarcely even
In his earlier plates of the " Porcelaine "" — care for it
for its own sake. And the thing that his first critics
blamed him for doing — the composition of a subject,
the rejection of this, the choice of that, the bestowal
of fire and life upon matter dead to the common eye —
is a thing which artists in all arts have always done,
and for this most simple reason, that the doing of it
is Art.

As an interpreter of other men's pictures, it fell to the
lot of Jacquemart to engrave the most various masters.
But with so very personal an artist as he, the interpre-
tation of so many men, and in so many years, from
1860 or thereabouts, onwards, could not possibly be of
equal value. As far as Dutch Painting is concerned, he
is strongest when he interprets, as in one now cele-
brated etching. Van der Meer of Delft. Dcr Soldat
und d(LS hufu'iide Mddchcn was, when Jactjuemart
etched it, one of the most noteworthy pieces in the
cabinet of M. Leopold l)ou])]e. It was brought after-
wards to London by the charming friend of many
artists and collectors — the late Samuel .Joseph — in the

hands of whose family it of coui*se rests. The big and

95



FINE PRINTS

blustering ti()oj)er coiuinon in Dutch art, sits here,
engaging the attention of that thin-faced and eveillee
maiden pecuHar to Van der Meer. Behind the two,
who are contentedly occupied in gazing and talk, is
the bare, sunlit wall, spread only with its map or chart,
and, by the side of the couple, throwing its brilliant
but modulated light upon the woman's face and on the
background, is the intricately patterned window, the
airy lattice. Hai'ely was a master's subject, or his
method, better interj)reted than in this print. The
print possesses, along with all its subtlety, a quality
of boldness demanded specially by Van der Meer, and
lacking to prints which in their imperturbable delibera-
tion and cold skill render well enough some others of
the Dutch masters — I mean the Eighteenth Century
line ensrravinors of J. G. Wille after Metsu and the rest.

Frans Hals, once or twice, is as chai-acteristically
rendered. But with these exceptions it is Jacquemart's
own fellow-countrymen whom he translates the best.
The suppleness of his talent — the happy speed of it,
not its patient elaboration — is shown by his renderings
of Greuze : the Ilcve cT Amour, a single head, and
VOragc, a memorandum of a young and frightened
mother, kneeling by her child, exposed to the storm.
Greuze, with his cajoling art — which, if one likes, one
must like without respecting it — is entirely there. So,
too, Fragonard — the ardent and voluptuous soul of
him — in Le Prem'ur Baiscr.

Jacquemart, it may be interesting to add, etched

some compositions of flowers. Gonse has praised

96



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

them. To me, elegant as they are, fragile of sub-
stance, dainty of an-angement, they seem enormously
inferior to that last century flower-piece of Jan Van
Huysum's — or rather to that reproduction of it
which we are fortunate enough to know through the
mezzotint of Earlom. And Jacquemart painted in
water-colour — made very clever sketches : his strange
dexterity of handling, at the service of fact ; not at
'the service of imagination. In leaving him, it is well
to recollect that he recorded Nature, and did not
exalt or intei*pret it. He interpreted Art. He was
alive, more than any one has been alive before, to all
the wonders that have been wrought in the \sorld by
the hands of artistic men.

I have not said a word about the prices of the
Jacquemart etchings. It is still customary to buy a
complete series — one particular work. The " Porce-
laine" set costs a very few pounds: the " Gemnies et
Joyaux," something more — and Techener's re-issue, it
is worth observing, is better printed than the first
edition. Separate impressions of the plates, in proof
or rare states, sell at sums varying from five shillings
or half-a-sovereign — when st^rcely anybody happens
to be at Sotheby's who understands them — up, I
suppose, to two or three })oun{is, I do not think
the acquisition of these admirable })ieces is ever likely
to be held responsible for a c()llector''s ruin.

In the IntrodiK'loi'V cliuplur, a woid of leference

to two other Frenchmen — Legros and Paul Ilelleu

— points to the imj)ortance which, in contemj)orary

97 c



FINE PRINTS

original Etching, I assign to these artists. As Legi'os
has Hvcd nearly all his working life in England, he
is treated, in subsecjuent l)ages, with English fellow-
workers. Even Paul Helleu I treated with I'iUglish-
nien, in my book called " Etching in l^ngland,"'
because he also has done some part — though a small
part — of his work here, and has been one of the
mainstays of our Society of Painter - Etchers. But
in the present volume — for the purposes of the Col-
lector — Helleu must be placed with his compatriots.
The character of his genius too — his alertness and
sensitiveness to the charm of grace rather than of
formal beauty, the charm of quick and pretty move-
ment x-ather than of abiding line — is French, essen-
tially. He is of the succession of Watteau. His
dry-points, of many of the best of which there are
but a handful of impressions (purchasable, when occa-
sion offers, at three or four guineas apiece), are
artist's snaj)- shots, which arrest the figure suddenly
in some delightful turn, the face in some delightful
expression. Am I to mention but two examples of
Paul Hel leu's work — that I may guide the novice a
little to what to see and seek for in these elegant,
veracious records — I will name then Femme a la
Ta.^si\ with its happy and audacious ingenuity in
point of view, and that incomparable Ehide de Jeune
Fille, the girl with the hair massed high above her
forehead, thick above her ears, a very cascade at
her shoulders, her lips a little parted, and her lifted

anms close against her chin.

98



FRENCH REVIVAL OF ETCHING

A Belgian draughtsman — established in Paris, and


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryFrederick WedmoreFine prints → online text (page 6 of 16)