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Antique Prints: French Revival Of Etching
( Original Published 1903 )
Between the period of the work of Rembrandt and the middle of the Eighteenth Century very little fine work was done in Etching. The practitioners of the art, such as they were, seemed to lose sight of its greater principles. What they lacked in learning and in mastery, they made up for-so they probably thought -by elaboration and prettiness. Only here and there did such a man as our English Geddes-our Scottish Geddes, if the word is liked better-and he not later than the second and third decades of our own century -produce either portrait or landscape in the true method, with seeming spontaneity, with means econo mised. It was in landscape chiefly-most particularly in On Peekham Bye and Halliford-on-Thames-that Geddes most successfully asserted himself, as, in his smaller way, Rembrandt's true follower, though in his few portraits (his mother's, perhaps, most notably) the right decisiveness, simplicity, and energy of manner may not be overlooked. In some measure, it may be supposed, Geddes influenced David Wilkie, who was his friend, and Wilkie, amongst several etchings which were inferior at least to the dry-points of his fellow-workman (for his small portfolio is not, on the whole, worth much), produced one or two memorable things: a perfect little genre piece, called The Receipt-an old-world gentleman searching in a bureau, while a messenger waits respectfully at his side-being by far the best, and obviously a desirable possession.
But the middle of our century had to be reached before the true revival of the art of Etching, anywhere. Before it, Ingres, in a single plate, practised the art in the spirit of the line-engraver. Just as it approached, Delacroix and Paul Huet and Theodore Rousseau showed, in a few plates, some appreciation of the fact that etching is often serviceable chieflv as the medium for a sketch. But the middle of the century had actually to arrive before the world was in possession of the best performances of Millet, Meryon, Bracquemond, and Jules Jacquenmart.
Jean Francois Millet executed but one-and-twenty etchings, according to the Catalogue of Monsieur Lebrun, the friend and relative of Sensier, Millet's biographer. Of M. Lebrun's Catalogue -originally issued as an Appendix to the Paris edition of Sensier's Life of the artist-Mr Frederick Keppel, of New York, has published a translation, with some additional facts which are of interest to the precise student. The etchings of Millet are, at the very least, masterly notes of motives for his painted pictures. But they are often much more than that. Often they are entirely satisfactory and final and elucidatory dealings with the themes they choose to tackle. They are then, quite as much as the pictures themselves, records of peasant life, as the artist observed it intimately, and at the same time vivid and expressive suggestions of atmosphere and light and shade. In effect they are large and simple. In Etching, Millet was scarcely concerned to display a skill that was very obvious, a sleight-ofhand, an acrobatic triumph over technical difficulties. Etching was to him a vehicle for the expression of exactly the same things as those to which he addressed himself in mediums more habitual. And so we have his Glaneuses and his Beeheurs, his Depart pour le Travail-worth perhaps, each one of them, in good state, a very few pounds each. In America Millet has of late years been particularly appreciated. I should dare to say even that he has been overrated, owing to a skilfully-worked craze about his painted pictures, ending with the immense, ridiculous sensation of the sale of the Angelus. But in France-which, in the appreciation of all work of art, is certainly not less enlightened, but is cooler and more questioning-Millet is also appreciated; nor, in England, in 1891, was there substantial difficulty in borrowing for the Burlington 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 Meryon 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 edition 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 imagination, 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 comparatively 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 sufficient 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 these dates were the 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. Moreover, Meryon is quite pre-eminently the etcher of one great theme. Among richly endowed artists who have looked at Life broadly, it is rare and difficult to discover one whose work has evidenced such faithful concentration. It is rare enough to find that concentration even in the labour of such artists as are comparatively unimaginative, of such as are content to confine themselves 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 may have fairly succeeded. But Meryon, though stress of circumstance obliged him to do work beyond the limits of his choice, did such work, generally speaking, 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 record, 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 inquiring and eager public. But they were at least so arranged and put together that this might have happened had Meryon's star been a lucky one. In Meryon'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 Studiorum," they were to be looked at "together." Together, the plates of "Liber" 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 numbered impressions, being, as I say, the very last States, are not the impressions to cherish; but these are the subjects of them (and the subjects, in finer impressions, will all be wanted)-the Stryqe, the Petit Pont, the Arche du Pont Notre-Dame, the Galerie de NotreDame, the Tour de l'Horloge, the Tourelle, Rue de la Tixeranderie, the St Etienaze - du - Mont, the Pompe Notre-Dame the Pont Neuf, the Pont-au-Clzanqe, the Morque, and, lastly, the Abside 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 necessary service. In a sense they may be called headpieces 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 outrider. The one lyric note of the Rue des Mauvais Garcons, for instance, is in its own way as complete a thing as is the magnificent epic of Abside or Morgue it is greater far than the Pompe Notre-Dame, or, it may be, than the Petit Pont. The late Mr P. G. Hamerton-an admirable specialist in Etching, but a writer making no claim to the narrower 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 wonderful 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 draughtsmanship, and an impressive conception to boot; but, like Rembrandt's wonderfully wrought Mill, it is onesided-it wants symmetry of composition.
The Abside 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 existence seven or eight impressions of it. It is at the British Museum, and in the collections of Mr B. B. Macgeorge, Mr Avery, Mr Mansfield, Mr R. C. Fisher, and Mr Pyke Thompson. For the last that changed hands, fully 125 guineas was paid. Meryon had received for it-and gratefully, in his depression and poverty-one shilling and threepence. I have seen his receipt. But money now will not acquire 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 quality, all that good judges can desire. These are on thin and wiry paper-old Dutch or French-often a little cockled. The green, or greenish, paper Meryon was fond of, he never used for the Abside. 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 fifty guineasthere comes a Third, a Fourth, a Fifth: none, fortunately, 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 size of the plate, and by its breadth of distant view, the Pont-au-ClaunVe is the companion to the Abside. There are some impressions on the greenish paper, and some on the thin Dutch that yields the best of the Abs-ides. The impression of the First State in the De Salicis Sale sold for £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 Stateand 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, £6 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 l'Horlogeof which a First State fetched in the Wasset Sale £10, and in the De Salicis £22-has also submitted to change, but scarcely in a State in which it need occupy the careful collector. In certain late impressions, Meryon, 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 and more consummate art by which, when first he wrought the plate, he had placed the quiet space' of shadowed building as a foil to the many-paned window by the side of it. The change is an instructive and pathetic commentary on the ease with which artistic conceptions slip away, they themselves forgotten, and the excellence that they had beautifully achieved ignored even by the mind that gave them birth.
The St Eticnne-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 hurrying on their way, for old-world sentiment 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 l Horloge. Not to speak of sundry inscriptions, sundry "posters," which Meryon, in mere restlessness, was minded to alter, he could never quite satisfy himself about the attitude of one of the workmen 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 (£16 in the De Salicis Sale) is the one of which the impressions are the most 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 unintelligent 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 legitimately want the smaller pieces, some of which I have called "tail-pieces": all are commentaries and connecting-links. Some are beautiful, complete, and significant, 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 expression clear. Thus, the etched cover for the Paris Set bears the title, "Eaux Fortes sur Paris," on a representation of a slab of fossiliferous limestone, suggesting the material which made it possible to build 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 prettily-fantastic form, verses that bewail the life of Paris.Again, lines to accompany the Pont-au-Charge and its great balloon. These things recall William Blake-the method by which the " Songs of Innocenco" first found their limited public. Again, the Tombeau de Moliere-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 Notre-Dame. It is called the Petite Pompe-represents the Pompe in small; gives us verses regretting half playfully, half affectionately, 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 Tourelle, dite "de Marat" is one of these, and it is Meryon's record of the place where Charlotte Cordav 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 published one, the picture and the poem became merely a view: there is nothing to connect the place with Marat's tragedy,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 Macgeorge ; the third was Sey mour Haden's ; the fourth belongs to Sir 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 Wasset Sale). Even at the beginning of this little sequence 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, delicacy of some of their work, it is, I think, well to secure in the early state of Trial Proof-when one can get the chance. These are the Pont-au-Change vers 1784 which no one can possibly confuse with the larger Pontau-Change-and Le Pont Neuf et la Samaritaine. Unlike most of Meryon's Parisian work, both are, not indeed transcripts from, but idealisations of, drawings by another. The first dry draughtsman, in the present case, was one Nicolle. As far as the practical presentation of all the subject is concerned, the Trial Proofs of 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 light, of which the published, and especially the later published, examples give no hint. All impressions of these two little plates are worthy of respect, for these plates were never worked 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 Pont-au-Change vers 1784-it must be had "before the great dark rope"-and the sunlit housefronts (Van der Heyden-like, almost) of the Pont Neuf et la Samaritaine. 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 Rue 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. Oceanie: Peche aux Palmes is almost the only quite satisfactory record of that acquaintance that he made with the antipodes. The Second State-with the titleis 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 du Couvent des Capucins Francais a Athenes a print devoted in reality to the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates-is the single and the 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 Laborde's Athenes au XV°' me, XVIme, et X.VII°'me Siecles." Even in the Second State the Entree du Convent has fetched about £12, in more sales than one. Rochoux's 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 suggestive 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 Bain Froid Chevrier (the statue of Henri Quatre), from Le Pont Neuf, and from La Petite Pompe. No one, of course, can ask us to consider Rochoux's 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 decorative design.
The impressions of Meryon's etchings are printed on papers of very different sorts. A greenish paper Meryon himself liked, and it is one of the favourites of collectors. Its unearthly hue adds to the weirdness of several of the pictures, often most suitably; 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 Absidewere never printed on it.I have a Rue des Mauvais F Gargons-the thing was Baudelaire's favourite-upon very bluish gray. A thin old Dutch paper, wiry and strong, white originally and softened by age, gives some of the finest impressions. Other good examples are on Japanese, and there are fine ones on thinnest India paper that is of excellent quality. Modern Whatman and modern 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 remembered 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 Morque," and then at his "Brown." The two make different pictures.
About the MCryon collections, it may be said that M. Niel, an early friend, possessed the first important group 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 remember as the "Cousin Pons" of certain bric-a-brac-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 printshas passed into the hands of Mr B. B. bTacgeorge of Glasgow, whose 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 carefully gathered groups 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 Meryon's junior, for he was born in 1833. Among the sub-headings to this present chapter there occurs the phrase, " Bracquemond's few noble things." Why "few"?-it may be asked-when, in the Catalogue of the Burlington Club Exhibition 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 had not Bracquemond, in his later years, accepted an official post which left him little time for this department of work? Well, there are two or three reasons why, with all respect to an indefatigable artist, I still say "few." To begin with, no inconsiderable proportion of Felix Bracquemond's etched plates are works of reproduction-translations (like Rajon's, Waltner's, Unger's, some indeed of Jacquemart's) of the conceptions of another. These may be admirable in their own way-the Erasmus, after the Holbein, in the Louvre, is more than admirable: it is masterly-a monument of austere, firmly-directed labour, recording worthily Holbein's own searching draughtsmanship and profound and final vision of human character. But we have agreed, throughout the greater part of this book, and more especially in those sections of it which are devoted to the art whose greatest 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 Bracquemond'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 great number of all the plates M. Beraldi industriously chronicles need the collector busy himself with trying to acquire. The largish etchings of great birds, alive or dead, are amongst the most characteristic. With singular freedom and richness-an enjoyment of their plumage and their life, and a great pictorial sense to boot-has Bracquemond rendered them. If I could possess but a single Bracquemond, I would have a fine impression of Le H'aut d'un Battant de Porte, the dark birds hanging there. That plate was wrought in 1865. But Margot la Critique and Vanneaux et Sareellesprints of about the same period-likewise represent the artist; and there is a plate done later, at the instance of the Messrs. Dowdeswell, which is certainly a triumph of technique and of character. This is Le Vicux Coq.
Daubigny, Maxime Lalanne, Meissonier, Corot, are all amongst deceased French artists who have etched ably. The two last-mentioned-doubtless the most important or most popular artists in their own customary mediums -wrought the fewest plates. Corot's are 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 prolific with the needle, had elegance and charm, and sometimes power, as well as facility. And, as a little practical treatise that he wrote upon the subject shows, he was devoted to his craft. Indeed, he taught it. He was best, generally, in his smaller plates: never, I think, having beaten his dainty plate of the Swiss Fribourg, which was given in "Etching and Etchers," though a larger Fribourg-a vision of the great ravine-is very noble, and nothing is at once more learned and spontaneous than the brilliant print of the Conflagration in the Harbour of Bordeaux. Also, Lalanne did not share, and had no need to share, most etchers' timidity in the treatment of skies. His own are delicate and charming. In the rare proofs of his etchings we can alone prize properly this well-bred observer and graceful draughtsman, who was only occasionally mediocre.
A genius, wholly individual-and yet in a sense the founder of a school or centre of a group-now occupies us. We pass to Jules Jacquemart, who, born in 1837, died prematurely in 1880; a child of his century, worn out by eager restlessness of spirit, by the temperament, by the nervous system, that made possible to him the exquisiteness 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 affection 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 reproduce 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 fingerpost of a fashion that is past-the years when a name once familiar and honoured is uttered at rare intervals 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 background or accessory-has never been rated very highly or very widely loved. The public 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 Art 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 coarse bottles, his copper sauce-pans, and his silk-lined caskets. Jacquemart did it with the 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 engraver as the interpreter of other men's pictures-of Meissonier's inventions, or Van der Meer's, Greuze's, or Fragonard's-but they could not accept him as the interpreter, at first hand, of treasures 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 oneinto 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 Jacquemart a master. As time proceeded, he of course developed; found new methods, ways not previously known to him. But little of what is obviously tentative and immature is to be noticed even in his earliest work. He springs into his art an artist fully armed-like Rembrandt with the wonderful 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 publication, the absolute realisation 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 twentysix plates, of which a large proportion are devoted to the Oriental china possessed in mass by the elder Jacquemart, 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-passing 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 Sevres, with their boudoir graces and airs of pretty luxury fit for the Marquise of Louis Quinze and the sleek young Abbe, her pet and her counsellor, we find, rendered with an appreciation as just, a Brocca Italienne, the Brocca of the Medieis of the Sixteenth Century, slight and tall, where the lightest of Renaissance forms the thin and reed-like arabesque-no mass or splash of colour-is patterned over the smoothish surface with measured exactitude and rhythmic completeness. How much is here suggested, and how little done ! The actual touches are almost as few as those which Jacquemart employed afterwards in renderin ; 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 artist's dexterity-" Il n'y a rien, et il y a tout."
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 1862was followed in 1864 by the " Gemmes et Joyaux de Couronne." The Chalcographic of the Louvre-which concerns itself with the issue of State-commissioned prints-undertook the first publication of the " Gemmes et Joyanx." 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-crystal 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 pearl, 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 1876. The Catalogue of Jacquemart's etchings-which are about four hundred in all-there 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 description 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 treatmentthere was needed not only the French tongue (the tongue, par excellence, of Criticism), but a Gautier to use it.
Everything that Jacquemart could do in the rendering of beautiful matter, and of its artistic and appropriate 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 treatment of the nude figure-any further treatment of it than that required for the beautiful suggestion of it as it occurs on Renaissance mirror-frames or in Renaissance porcelains-might have found him deficient. He had an admirable feeling for the unbroken flow of its line, for its suppleness, for the figure's harmonious movement. He was not the master of its most intricate anatomy; but, on the scale on which he had to treat it, his suggestion 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, "Il n'y a rien, et il y a tout."
As nothing in Jacquemart's 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 ornament 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 Francais du Seizieme Siecle, elaborately carved, but its chief grace after all is in its fine proportions-not so much the perfection of the ornament as the perfect disposition of it. The absolutely satisfactory 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 disposition of ornament-has always been the problem for the decorative artist. Recent fashion has insisted, sufficiently, 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 achieving, 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 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 -(Can Athenian tribunal" 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 Francais du Seizieme Siecle. 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 de roche. And not confining our examination wholly to "Gemmes et Joyaux," of which, obviously, the mirror just spoken of cannot form a part-we observe there, or elsewhere in Jacquemart's 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 (instead of the unbroken harmony of the real figure), its occasional flatnesses ? If it is this, this is what Jacquemart gives us in his etchings-not the figure only, but the figure as it comes 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 cannot insist too much on Jacquemart's mastery over his material-cloisonne, 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 Boeuf Poignards ; the signet's flatness and delicate smoothness-" c'est le sinet du Roy 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 Christian 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 completedAntiquity 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 Century, 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 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 hardly on him for the colour, warmth, and life he introduced into his etchings. They wanted a colder, a more impersonal, a more precise record. 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 "Procelaine"-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 eyeis 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 interpretation 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 celebrated etching, Van der Meer of Delft. Der Soldat und das lachende Mudchen was, when Jaequemart etched it, one of the most noteworthy pieces in the cabinet of M. Leopold Double. It was brought afterwards to London by the charming friend of many artists and collectors-the late Samuel Joseph-in the hands of whose family it of course rests. The big and blustering trooper common in Dutch art, sits here, engaging the attention of that thin-faced and eveillee maiden peculiar 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. Rarely was a master's subject, or his method, better interpreted 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 deliberation and cold skill render well enough some others of the Dutch masters-I mean the Eighteenth Century line engravings of J. G. Wille after Metsu and the rest.
Frans Hals, once or twice, is as characteristically 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 Grouze: the Reve d'Amour, a single head, and L'Orage, 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 Premier Baiser.
Jacquemart, it may be interesting to add, etched some compositions of flowers. Gonse has praised them. To me, elegant as they are, fragile of substance, dainty of arrangement, 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 interpret 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 world 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 "Porcelaine " set costs a very few pounds: the " Gemmes et Joyaux," something more-and Tochener'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 scarcely anybody happens to be at Sotheby's who understands them-up, i suppose, to two or three pounds. I do not think the acquisition of these admirable pieces is ever likely to be held responsible for a collector's ruin.
In the Introductory chapter, a word of reference to two other Frenchmen-Legros and Paul Helleu -points to the importance which, in contemporary original Etching, I assign to these artists. As Legros has lived nearly all his working life in England, he is treated, in subsequent pages, with English fellowworkers. Even Paul Helleu I treated with Englishmen, in my book called "Etching in England," 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 Collector-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 movement rather than of abiding line-is French, essentially. 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 occasion offers, at three or four guineas apiece), are artist's snap-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 Helleu'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 h la Tasse, with its happy and audacious ingenuity in point of view, and that incomparable Etude de Tcune 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 arms close against her chin.
A Belgian draughtsman-established in Paris, and now approaching old age-has seen of late his reputation extending, not only amongst collectors of the cleverly odious; and he has shown imagination, draughtsmanship, a nimble hand, a certain mastery of process. But in a volume from which I must exclude so much of even wholly creditable Art-a volume in which the subject of Woodcuts, which of old was wont to interest, is, deliberately, almost ignored-I adopt no attitude of apology for refusing serious analysis to the too often morbid talent of Micien Rops. A portfolio containing the delightful inventions of Helleu, and the great things of Meryon could have no place for the record of Rops' disordered dream. Were I to be occupied with any living Belgian, it would be with one whose work M.Hymans, the Keeper of the Prints at Brussels, showed me at the Biblioth6que Royale-M. de Witte.