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PARIS 1849 – PARIS 1934

Like many of his contemporaries, Besnard received an academic art education at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied with Cabanel. As a successful painter, he was appointed to several prestigious positions within the art establishment, and he received many commissions, both decorative and symbolist in nature. In 1883, he began making etchings and his endeavors in this medium formed an important part of his production. Trips to India, Morocco, Algeria, Italy and Spain provided him with unusual subjects and broadened his artistic world. He also came under the spell of Japanese prints, and was influenced by simplicity and grace.

Besnard’s technique constantly underwent experimentation and development. The influence of Legros can be seen in the bold linear style of his early prints. Later, finer cross-hatchings and aquatint ground were employed in order to achieve more subtle effects. But an interest in luminosity and tonality marks all of his work.

Besnard’s strongest prints frequently depict women. Not only did he find them psychologically interesting, but the female form complemented his technique. His first major series of prints, La Femme, was a sympathetic exploration of the female experience. Besnard could see beyond the clichés of contemporary society, and record the unique pains and crises that face only women. Childbirth, motherhood, lost beauty, passion, and death – all are represented in La Femme and mark Besnard as an artist who eschewed the superficial in favor of the analytical. His work in general contains many examples of strong, expressive imagery, which anticipates the work of later artists like Munch and Kollwitz.

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