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Félix Buhot

Valognes 1847 - Paris 1898


Buhot was born in Valognes, Normandy. He went to Paris in 1865 and studied with Isador Pils and Jules Noël, and engraving with Gaucherel. By 1872 he was working for a fanmaker named Duvelleroy and at the same time producing watercolors of land and seascapes. His refined and delicate watercolors have influenced the unique character of his prints. He was able to transfer the effect of brush washes into his prints employing aquatint, engraving, roulette and drypoint as tools. Buhot’s first etchings appeared in the early 1870’s; his biographer, André Fontaine, suggests that they were begun in 1874, the year Buhot studied etching, under Adolphe Lalauze. It was also at this time that he became acquainted with Philippe Burty, the critic and collector of Japanese art. Buhot developed a complex and varied technique in his prints, combining etching, drypoint and aquatint; he extensively reworked his plates and retouched by hand his proofs. At times he included “Remarques” (Buhot called them “marges symphoniques ou episodiques [symphonic margins or small episodes]”) on the margin, which he thought of as comments on the central subject itself.

A romantic at heart Buhot soon abandoned his early picturesque subjects for the masterpieces of etching and engraving that resulted from his trip to England including “Westminster Palace” and the “DéBarquement en Angleterre” and for a series of views of Paris. Buhot loved heavy, misty skies, and his most successful plates are those showing the dramatic effects of dusk on town or coasts. No one approached his gift for reproducing the atmosphere of a London or Paris evening, the reflections in the wet pavement, the passerby hurrying along and looking, with their umbrellas, like strange birds flying between heaven and earth. He saw the big great capitals with a different eye from Meryon, Whistler or Jongkind.

In its complexity, his technique can be compared only to that of Degas. He used every known process, varied the inking, selected papers of different quality. Buhot’s life was as he called it himself, a succession of ‘épreuves’ playing on the work in its dual sense of trial and printer’s proof; “les épreuves,” he once wrote, m’ont mange tout entire, temps et cervelle.” (“The proofs have eaten me up completely, time and my brain.”) He was a curious figure, like all those for whom engraving is not just a profession, but also a consuming passion.

Gustave Bourcard in his catalogue raisonné of Buhot describes 179 etchings, and 7 lithographs. Buhot editions are very small and his prints are sometimes signed and annotated in pencil and stamped with his “red owl” initials FB and sometimes also signed and dated in the plate.

From: Merrill Chase Gallery: Rediscovered Printmakers of the 19th Century, Chicago. 1978.