Monday, 27 December 2010

Amédee Joyau

Amédee Joyau
French etcher and woodblock printer
(and contemporary to the French art group the Nabis)

There is not much to be found on the www. about this very subtle French printer. He was a contemporary of the more famous Henri Rivière (1864-1951). Both did different things artistically up to the moment they discovered woodblock printing.

les falaises , claire de lune, Yport (moonlight over cliffs)

Amédee was trained an etcher (copper plates) but after discovering the Japanese printing method in 1894 (as did Rivière a couple of years earlier) devoted the rest of his short life to the learning, perfecting and expressing his feelings into woodblock printing. Together they are among the very first block printing artist in Europe creating prints in the Japanese style and tradition.

Boats in Roscoff 1903/1904 and twilight in the Karpathes.

At first he was inluenced by and worked in the style of the Nabis (post impressionistic French art group with distinct feelings on color and atmosphere) of which the portrait of his wife (the print named l'Intimité) is a nice (and my only) example. From the odd 135 printed works that are known by his hand some 50 supposedly are woodblock prints. Most of them coastal scenery, ports and villages of his native Brittany and Normandy but also of Paris, the beach at le Touquet and Yport and Belgium.

Roscoff, Brittany

Henri Rivières name is much more remembered, he made many more prints and did some commercially interesting and clever things for those days. Most of his prolific work too is about Brittany and Paris (his clever Hiroshige copy of the 52 stages of the road to Hokaido) although Rivière made prints until 1917. After that year Rivière abandoned print making all together and only painted in watercolor until his death in 1951. There are several modern picture books covering all of his work as Joyau’s work is hardly known or remembered but to a limited group of connoisseurs and financially solid print collectors. Henri Rivière even has his own great website.

sur la falaises, Donville (on the cliffs)

Comparing the two printers discloses many similarities but the few prints by Amédee that I found showing he was the real master of the leaving out. He needs even less than Rivière does, close to nothing, to evoke the atmosphere of the sea, coastal regions and the ports.

Place St. Ayoul (Provins)

25 years after his untimely death in 1913 a catalogue of his work was made (Atherton Curtis in 1938: catalogue de l’oeuvre de Amédee Joyau).

Twilight in Villiers (Crepuscule Villiers)

These days Amédee’s prints are quite rare and thus expensive ($ 700 and way upwards) and the catalogue, when and if you might find a copy doesn't come cheap either. Maybe a reader has the knowledge of what is inside and is willing to share its contents. These are all the pictures I could scratch together (and borrowed freely). Remarkably little considering the 50 known and mentioned. Maybe they are all locked up in private collections.

Maybe readers who know of other examples of prints and are willing to send them allowing me to do a follow up.

watercolor by Amèdee Joyau.

On his biography I discovered that his father was an architect (Achille Joseph Louis Joyau, born Nantes 1831-1873) and trained artist who left young Amédee orphaned at a very young age.

A watercolor, named the old village, by his fathers’ hand hangs in the Boston Museum (US) and Joyau Sr. is also commemorated winning the Grand Prix de Rome for architecture in 1860. Quite prestigeous. I found one Amédee Joyau marrying the widdow of a freed slave who committed suicide in Martinique in 1847. Probably a relative, maybe his grandfather or a great-uncle. The family name translates in: Juwel. His marriage (there is the picture of his wife) produced at least one son: Alban Joyau. He is mentioned as the provenance of 4 prints that were sold some time ago.

Please don’t hesitate to send any pictures of prints of Amédee you might want to share to do him the honour and put him into the light were he belongs and which he deserves.


  1. Gerry,
    I didn't know Amedee's work before reading your post, his woodcuts are beautiful and it is intersting to compare them to Riviere's lithographs. In my opinion, his style is more individual and modern than Riviere's, not so close to the Japanese.
    You also mention that in his later years Riviere concentrated on watercolors. I noticed that, when looking at watercolours by first class printmakers, I always find them weaker than the prints these artists produced. This is true for Riviere, and Hiroshi Yoshida would be another example. I wonder why. Maybe because when printing the artist is forced to make a decision and concentrate on the essential, emblematic aspects of a landscape. Don't you agree?

    Guten Rutsch in's neue Jahr!


  2. Thank you Klaus, coming from you that really sounds like a compliment. Not knowing Amédee I mean. Maybe this is the beginning of a more complete overview on his prints. I hope.
    I know Walter Phillips did watercolor and very well too ofcourse: he wrote a book on the subject. I always presumed the Printers did the sketching in watercolor but this is not the case I learned. Rivière went on painting in watercolor for so many years. They were of course more then printers alone. Outstanding and versatile artists. I think Clive the Aestethe has explained and pointed out very well in many of his postings the essence and heart of printmaking, so I have to agree on your above expert conclusions.
    Thanks as always and Best Wishes !

  3. Gerrie,
    I have just read this (on The Blue Lantern, by the way), and I thought it would fit nicely as a final comment (by a real expert)on the little discussion we had on wateercolours and woodblock prints:

    "The inherent charm of a water-color print is its elusive directness of execution. In painting, the artist has to struggle with three aspects simultaneously -- his idea, form, and color. In the woodcut the two former, design and drawing, respectively, can be disposed of at leisure, which leaves the artist free to concentrate on the perfect harmony of color, and then imprison it for ever, without correction, on the beautiful silky surface of Japanese paper." - Walter J. Phillips, in The Technique of the Color Woodcut (Brown-Robertson, New York:1926)

    That settles the matter, doesn't it?

    all the best,


  4. I actually prefer these prints to Riviere's work. They are delicate and evocative and a touch melancholy. I hadn't come across him either but I suspect Ethel Kirkpatrick might have known his work. Her fishing boats are quite alot like his.

    Interesting to see Klaus wondering over the poor drawing skills of some printmakers. Woodcut does tend to cover that up. Some of the colour woodcutters either weren't that well trained or they just didn't keep up the habit of sketching etc. If he began as an etcher, he would be able to draw (well, usually) and in fact the little blue watercolour is very nice indeed.

    A very good find.

  5. It's always nice to see you commenting. And I think you are right there is a similarity with Kirckpatrick. It was a much smaller world than, so I also wonder if and how they knew about each other(s work). I donot agree with your preferences. Rivière'sprints are for me the highlight of provincial land/sea/cityscape printing. He is defenitely among the real Gods of woodblock printing. Strange thing he is almost exclusively loved in France.