PARIS 1864 - SUCY-EN-BRIE
Henri Rivière was a true Parisian, born in
Montmarte on March 11, 1864. His father, Prosper Rivière, was originally
from the Pyrenees and ran a wholesale lace and crinoline store in Paris.
Rivière’s mother, Henriette Leroux, was from a bourgeois working
family. She had a second son, Jules, a year after Henri’s birth. In 1870,
when Henri was six, Prosper moved his family to the Pyrenees after
France’s defeat of the Prussians. Prosper died three years later. In 1875,
Henriette remarried Léon Fruger in Paris.
At age twelve, Henri was already showing an interest
in the arts, drawing copies of his favorite book illustrations. As early as
1879, he discovered the art of the Impressionists and frequently visited the
Louvre and Luxembourg museums.
His parents found him a job with an ostrich plume
importer, but he tired of sorting plumes and escaped to paint in Montmartre
after eight days. They then decided to send him for formal training with the
painter Emile Bin, where he studied briefly. In 1880, Rivière
collaborated on the illustrated journal La Vie Moderne, while also
contributing illustrations to a couple of books.
1881 marks the opening of Rodolphe Salis’
avant-garde artistic cabaret in Montmartre, the Chat Noir (Black Cat), which
Rivière started to frequent the following year. Beginning in 1882,
Rivière acted as secretary to the Chat Noir journal, a lighthearted
weekly published by Salis, which featured poems, tales, news and illustrations.
Rivière actively edited the journal until 1885, occasionally contributing
his own illustrations, exhibition reviews and essays on contemporary
In 1886, Rivière made his first shadow play
at the Chat Noir cabaret by back lighting zinc cutouts onto screens; the figures
appeared as silhouettes on the backdrop. His first major production was
L’Epopee, a play by Caran d’Ache. From 1886 to 1896,
Rivière collaborated on 43 shadow plays on various mythological,
historical and biblical themes, making the illustrations for nine himself. To
create the illusions of depth, perspective and movement, he perfected the use of
enameled cutouts and colored lighting which subtly and realistically simulated
the fugitive hues of sky, land and water.
While still active at the Chat Noir, Rivière
pursued other artistic media. Between 1882 and 1886, Toudouze noted that
Rivière completed 21 etching before abandoning the medium until 1906. As
evidenced by the Musee d’Orsay’s 1988 show, Henri Rivière:
Graveur et photographe, the artist’s interest in photography stemmed
from the mid 1880s, but seems to have dissipated before 1907. His photographs
were composed in similar fashion to his later prints: the subjects were unposed
and engaged in everyday activities. Besides executing countless sketches and
watercolors, Rivière made both his first color woodcut and his first
color lithograph in 1889.
Rivière’s printmaking work in both
woodcut and lithography was predominantly conceived of and executed in series.
His color woodcuts include 40 plates for the series Brittany Landscapes
from 1890 to 1894; six for The Sea: Studies of Waves, and four proofs
for two series that were never completed. One of these series was Thirty-Six
Views of the Eiffel Tower, which the artist had initially wished to execute
as color woodcuts, but which were finally finished 14 years later as color
His color lithographic work spreads out over 28
years, from 1889 to 1917, comprising the following series: 16 plates for The
Aspects of Nature from 1897 to 1899; 20 for The Beautiful Country of
Brittany from 1897 to 1917; eight for Parisian Landscapes in 1900; 16
for The Magic Hours from 1901 to 1902; 36 for The Thirty-Six Views of
the Eiffel Tower, all published in 1902; and four for The Noirot Wind
in 1906. Rivière also made independent illustrations in color lithography
for playbills, magazines, print albums and calendars.
Basing his print compositions on previously executed
sketches, watercolors and photographs, Rivière’s landscapes
comprise both urban and rural settings. Rivière visited Brittany for the
first time in 1884, and continued to spend free summers there until 1916.
Together with his native city of Paris, Brittany supplied the brunt of motifs
for his landscapes. Although Rivière published his last print in 1917, he
continued to experiment with the medium of watercolor until late in his life,
exploring the changing effects of weather, seasons and light. He died on August
24, 1951, at age 87.
From: Henri Rivière: The
Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower (1888-1902), Watermarks Gallery,
Pittsboro, NC, 1995.