Dulac: Sacred Landscapes

Charles-Marie DULAC (1865-1898)
Paysage n°4

Lithograph printed in two tones on chine-collé, 1892-93.
Reference: BN-IFF 1.
Plate 4, before the snake remarque, for the set of 8 color lithographs titled Suite de Paysages. Early state proof, before the edition of 100 (printed in 6 different color variants). Before additional work throughout the stones, with the tint stone more prominent, before the promontory was added, and the sculpture effaced. We have never enccountered another impression of this state, which may be unique.
Image: 12 ⅜ x 19 ½ inches.
Scattered foxing throughout, not affecting the image much.

Lithograph printed in two tones on chine-collé, 1892-93.
Reference: BN-IFF 1.
Plate 4, with the snake remarque, for the set of 8 color lithographs titled “Suite de Paysages”. Printer’s proof, aside from the edition of 19 printed in these tones. From a total edition of 100 (printed in 6 different color variants), plus a few proofs, such as ours.
Annotated “Spécimen.  Tiré à 19 exemplaires numérotés de 81 à 100”, in pencil, in the hand of the artist.
Image: 13 ⅜ x 19 ¼ inches.

Despite living a tragically short life, and leaving behind only a small corpus of work, Charles-Marie Dulac needs no further introduction to those interested in early impressionist color lithography, or the rarified world of French symbolism. All of Dulac’s major lithographs were designed within a period of about three years. Born in Paris, Dulac has been trained in decorative painting and as a scene painter for the theatre and opera, before turning to fine art. Around 1890 he fell ill with lead poisoning as a result of years spent in industrial studios working with lead-white pigment. The illness proved terminal and Dulac died in 1898, at the age of 33.

Upon discovering his fatal illness, Dulac went through a religious conversion, moved to spiritual epiphany by the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and remained true to this religious calling to the moment of his death, being buried in his monk’s habit. The profound spiritual communion with nature, which Dulac discovered upon his conversion, is eloquently apparent throughout his surviving oeuvre.

It was through the medium of color lithography that Dulac discovered his true genius, even though his painting, which has not been studied, deserves far more appreciation than it commands today. The artist saw his works in lithography as continuous experiments in the search for the fleeting emotions of nature, expressing the spiritual aspects of landscapes. Dulac printed each of his lithographs in carefully chosen schemes of delicate, often muted colors, concentrating on mood rather than detail. Emotional and mysterious, these images take us through a series of atmospheres ranging from the uplifting and the beautiful to the somber and melancholy.

Our lithographs are two states of the same composition.  Paysages is one of two major series of prints Dulac produced. Only about 15 to 35 impressions were printed in each of four to six color schemes, from each pair of plates or stones, producing a total of roughly 100 to 120 numbered impressions of each image.  Our early state, presented first, includes the sculpture of a figure, reaching out towards a sea, atop of promontory. In the edition the sculpture is absent, as is the body of water which has been replaced by further terraces. This subject, which was also used in the artist’s other famous series, the Cantique des Créatures, is often titled La Terrasse de Vézelay.

Dulac painted the basilica in Vezelay both inside, and out quite a few times. Interestingly the artist decides to take out the sculpture and sea, thus focusing on the landscape, and changing the mood from a somber triumphalism to something more ominous. Yet the trivial drain pipe, hidden in the dark soil in the lower right corner, was kept, accounting for the presence of the reflection of a small pool of water. In this second state, the contrast of the ashen sky is quite pronounced, and focuses the attention on the light brightening up the cloud. A very limited number of changes between both states provide very different compositions. This is a technical trick at which Dulac excelled.

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