Riviere: Wicked Winds!

Henri RIVIÈRE (1864-1951)
L’Enterrement aux Parapluies

Etching and aquatint printed in blue ink on wove japon paper, 1885.
References: Toudouze pg. 159; Fields pg. 85.
Edition of 15.
Signed with the artist’s red monogram stamp (Lugt 1360).
Plate: 8 ½ x 7 inches.

In many of Rivière’s early etchings atmospheric qualities are a strong compositional factor.  Considering impressionism, and the depiction of weather and light, was the artistic topic du jour in the mid-1880’s, this is not surprising.  Wind in particular seems ever present in young Henri’s prints.  In our composition, windswept rain falls diagonally from the upper right onto the row of mourners, following the hearse.  While this subject matter could easily have been gloomy, it is really quite the opposite.  The row of umbrellas all but masks the mourners.  The only distinguishable figure, aside from the undertakers at the front of the line, is a woman in the middle of the row who looks like she is being knocked off balance by the wind.  The city has all but disappeared, and if it weren’t for the front of the line indicating the subject, one could just as easily imagine this crowd huddled by the side of a horse race, as on its way to the cemetery.  A woodcut, as well as a watercolor of the same subject matter exist, and prove just how successful the artist considered this composition to be.

The quality of  the impressions of Rivière’s  early etchins epitomize his unwillingness to compromise, even at a young age.  This etching shows the artist’s deliberate commitment to excellence.  Technically speaking the artist, just 19 years old at the time this print was editioned, shows maturity beyond his years.  The japon paper used is of high quality; the printing, of a carefully mixed hue of dark blue ink, shows deliberate calibration.  The copper plate was etched in at least four states; using an etching needle, a drypoint, aquatint, stopping out, and burnishing.  This is the work of an artist in control. Rivière’s early etchings, printed in blue ink, should be regarded as part of the proto-history of fine art color printmaking in France in the 19th century.  These prints pave the way for the “explosion” of the technique in the early 1890’s.  They are also part of the true “impressionist” print history.   While Rivière is mostly recognized today as a printmaker for his color woodcuts, which were heavily influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, one also has to recognize the esthetic quality of his early etchings.  The watercolors from 1880 onward, as well as the etchings from that time, show a young artistic mind at work: influenced by his surroundings, and equally motivated by his own imagination. Henri Rivière started his existence as an artist in earnest at age 18, when he met Rodophe Salis, the owner of the famous cabaret, Le Chat Noir.  Rivière was artistically precocious and had already been painting and drawing for a few years; but he was completely unknown and was not selling any work.  The many artists passing through Le Chat Noir, and who sent materials to be published in its eponymous weekly publication, were a major influence on Rivière’s artistic development.  Rivière first helped out a bit with the publication of the magazine, for which he became the editor-in-chief in 1883.  The work at the cabaret enabled Rivière to make a living, and thus freed some of his time to make art.  His constant presence at the Chat Noir, which was frequented by many art aficionados, also helped him develop his artistic reputation. Interestingly, Rivière stepped away from formal painting at that time; while he did continue to draw and to make watercolors.  At that time, Rivière primarily turned his attention to printmaking, first timidly, then with immeasurable commitment.  The first 20 prints coming out of his hands, including ours, were etchings, and date from 1882 through 1885.  They can be divided into two groups: landscapes and “dark inventions”.  The latter are subjects such as funeral parties, a scarecrow, a guillotine, etc.

They are moody and generally printed in bluish-black ink.  These prints are extremely scarce, printed in editions of just 5 to 20 impressions.  Very few of these works have survived and only a handful can be found in public collections in the United States.

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