Monday, 19 December 2011

Around Antwerpen School of Print Making (III)

Lepère at work
Auguste Louis Lepère
French wood engraver, etcher and
First Modern Printmaker

Both my main subjects and starting point of these series of postings, printmakers Emile Verpilleux and Henri Wils were taught in Antwerp at atelier Pellens. Wils at least "claimed" he had been inspired by Auguste Lepère. Verpilleux, although I could not find a quote, has Lepère written all over his wonderful prints. 
Lepère and his friend and colleague Felix Noël (1839-1907) at work.

à la Rembrandt
So I’ve taken the burden upon me to pay attention to the great Auguste Lepère. Without consulting textbooks, dissertations (there are), collection catalogues (there are) nor any scholarly (I haven't on this subject) background. As Charles (of Modern Printmakers Blog) put it very to the point: "all information gathered from the Internet is at best superficial". And he is totally right of course. Nevertheless, warned but undaunted I’ll continue this personal account of my internet investigation. Facts and pictures. No harm in there. 

atmosphere (and rain)  engraved  by Smeeton & Tilly
In Paris between 1840-1880 flourished the reproductive studio of Joseph Burn-Smeeton and Auguste Tilly. In spite of his name there’s not much known about Smeeton. Dates (undoubtedly taken from accountable sources) are only given for his working (productive) period: 1840-1880. The composite family name Burn-Smeeton was created with the marriage of George Smeeton and Mary Burn.  In 1774 in St. Martin in the Fields (Br.) probably Joseph’s grandparents. 

The studio in Paris must have been a success because they even engraved the world famous Waterpoort, build around 1500 in my hometown. In Friesland. Nothing much has changed on that location in 400 years. (all pictures are mouse click-able) 

Porte de Nantes, Nantes Harbour 1906
In 1862 Auguste Louis Lepère was accepted as an apprentice just 13 years of age after being taught (probably the basics of engraving) by his father, the Paris sculptor Francois Lepère. Auguste was to become one of the greatest French artist of the 19th century and world famous already during his life, because of his remarkable wood engraving skills and technique but particularly for the atmosphere he was able to create in his engravings, etchings and later for his pioneering and inspiring modern printmaking.
Marché aux pommes, Paris. etching (notice: against and into the light) 
But here, at atelier Smeeton, he received his basic training as a wood engraver.  In studios like this all over Europe paintings of “real”, creating artists, were copied in wood- and copper engravings, and designs for books executed.
Watercolor by Lepère: "Son et lumière au place des Vosges,
 Victor Hugo Centenaire. 
In 1889 Lepère, following the advice of his friend, the painter and etcher Felix Bracquemond (1833-1914), took up etching and his career as a free creating artist took of. Experimenting with color blocks in woodblock printing, combining wood engraving with woodcutting and blockprinting. 
It’s always these same few but great color prints turning up (on the www) but how fascinating they are. I wonder if he did any more.

Palais de Justice

Dimanche, bords de Paris

Le dimanche aux fortifs 1898
Lepère almost always places people, action, in the front of his compositions. In new, difficult and daring perspectives. Always with great care for detail and composition. Always active. Often against the light, as any photographer knows, encreasing drama and atmospheric effect. The merry go round (what brave positioning and sectioning) might even have been an inspiration to American printmaker Frances Gearhart (1869-1958) * Lepère was also very famous in America. 
There’s always a lot to see and discover in Lepère's prints. With all his skills and experimenting he was able to create atmosphere and temperature, in his etchings, engravings and in his pioneering color printmaking. Impressionist printmaking. 
London, Houses of parliament by Auguste Lepère
a  British Newspaper supplement anno 1889
around 1900: Notice the slight difference  in view point with Lepère.
The photographer stood on a balcony or used a ladder while Lepère appeares to have been seated.

Pigeon eye  view of Parliament Square.

The staging of a silhouetted (back-lit) but amazingly detailed and always busy crowd in the foreground was probably Lepère's invention and it was eagerly borrowed by Emile Verpilleux. Greatly increasing drama and scale very effectively. There's a story told in the lower 3 cm. Hurrying, sheltering, weeping, travelling, commutering, praying, visiting, sunday afternoon strolling people. The other 95% is an impressive stage setting. These prints both Lepère's and Verpilleux' are not decorational. Every print is like a play. 

All examples:  Verpilleux'  bottom 3 (!) cm of his prints. 
This, the low viewpoint (the eye level of the seated sketcher?) and the delicate building up of a just few faint layers of shade or colour in most of Lepère’s work also can be found in Verpilleux's. The choice of the subject (great rivers, great city views with ornamental buildings, cathedrals, bridges, squares and market places) and the time of day greatly attributing to create not an effect but a perception of greatness and atmosphere. Transferred onto a piece of paper. 
If Lepère was the God of Modern Printmakers, Verpilleux must have been his son. 

Next: Emile Verpilleux, a wonderful perception of greatness and atmosphere.

See also:

* Frances Gearhart's Merry go round borrowed from Lily's Japonism

1 comment:

  1. Aren't you really suggesting with all your examples that Verpilleux was following a formula? His ise of the keyblock is actually more basic than Lepere.

    One of the problems withLepere is that his colour prints mimic painting. There is a sense of verisimilitude which isn't modern at all.