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Title

: Bonnard and Vuillard as Lithographers

Author

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Date

1963

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
“Here, when something is taken up, everybody wants to participate in it. At the moment, prints are the exclusive interest here. It is a mania. The young artists no longer do anything else.” (Camille Pissarro, letter to his son, Lucien, 13 April, 1897.)1The closing decade of the nineteenth century was notable not only for the emergence of the Nabis and the spread of Art Nouveau but also for the unprecedented efflorescence of the art print.2 The modern woodcut with its starkly contrasting unrelieved areas of black and white was being cut by Felix Vallotton as early as 1892.3 Henry van de Velde had carried the woodcut to the point of non-objectivity by 1893, and the following year Gauguin, while in France between his two Tahitian sojourns, produced a series of remarkably vigorous woodprints with planes of color supplementing the dark tones.4 At the same time Munch was translating the decorative swirls of Van Gogh and the programmatic flatness of Gauguin into color lithography.5 The walls of Paris were enlivened by the posters (a form of color lithography) of Chéret and Toulouse-Lautrec, announcing forthcoming books, periodicals, and entertainments.6Above all, it was the color lithograph which flourished in Paris in the 1890s. Color, long used by the Japanese for their woodprints and already highly developed in Western engraving by the end of the eighteenth century, was introduced to lithography slowly, and perfected only during the last years of the nineteenth century, although its use as an adjunct to lithography has been envisioned in the late eighteenth century by Senefelder, the inventor of the basic process.7 About 1835, patents were taken out on color processes by Engelmann in Paris, and others elsewhere, but these technical advances gave impetus to commercial, rather than art printing.8 With the invention of the cylindrical printing press by Siegal in Berlin in 1852, the production in quality of the inexpensive chromolithograph became possible as did the calendar picture and reproduction of paintings.9 The art lithographer, whether working in black and white or color, did not adopt the metal plate of the cylindrical press but continued to draw on stone, even for the poster with its large dimensions. However, when color was used—and the first example of the multi-color print goes back to 1835, the year of Engelmann's patent—the tendency was to suggest or simulate some other medium. Manet's Polichinelle of 1876, although laboriously printed from seven stones with the assistance of a professional lithographer, resembles a watercolor; Bonnard's early efforts (1892-3) could easily be duplicated by Japanese woodprinting. How then did the artist learn to exploit color lithography for its own intrinsic qualities? Curiously enough he learned from commercial lithography; not from the cylindrical press with its mechanical facility which actually tended to inhibit the lithographer much as photography did the portrait painter, but from the poster. At its most prosaic a poster is an expression of commercial fact of fancy, an exhortation to buy some product or witness some event, but in the hands of Jules Chéret, whose posters festooned the walls of Paris from 1869, the words became progressively accessories to pictures of real artistic merit. The esteem which the poster enjoyed in the 1890s both with artists and critics, and even the general public, is largely due to Chéret.10 Posters were so eagerly sought by collectors that in 1896 Chéret founded Les Maîtres d'Affiche which produced in color, but in reduced size, the most famous posters of the day. He was awarded the Legion of Honor, and, in 1889 and again in 1890, was honored with exhibitions in Paris. It is no wonder that Bonnard's first print, an advertisement for champagne, is a poster in style of Chéret. The same year (1891), Toulouse-Lautrec, having seen Bonnard's poster, produced his first color lithograph, also a poster.While Impressionism with its stress on color made color seem more natural, if not essential in the print, its insistence on spontaneity and the immediate registration of sensation was not sympathetic to the process of color lithography. An Impressionist painting captures a happening while and when it is occurring; a color lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, with all its pungency and pregnancy, is the end product of a tedious and intricate technique, more commensurate with the highly cogitative and conceptual art of the Post-Impressionists. In its complexity and duration, it is analogous to Seurat's pointillism.11 The fact that his closest adherent, Signac, was one of the first painters to exploit color lithography successfully attests to its compatibility with Post-Impressionism.12The reaction against Impressionism gave rise to a new interpretation of the purpose of art. The young painter was no longer content to create an autonomous, isolated easel painting. Jan Verkade, the Dutch painter who became a Nabi, recalls in his book, Le Tourment de Dieu, “In the early part of the 1890’s the war cry went up from studio to studio: “No more easel pictures!. . . Painting must not usurp a freedom which cuts it off from the other arts!. . . There are no such things as paintings, only decorations!’”13 This view is confirmed by another Nabi, Maurice Denis who wrote in 1892 with reference to his friends:
One of (them) might do fanciful and attractive posters. Another could make wallpapers of imaginative design, very modern tapestries and furniture of unusual style. A third might produce sombre mosaics or dazzling stained glass windows. Where is the industrialists who would willingly avail himself of the valuable collaboration of these decorators so as to consume a little of the time they devote to the execution of far too many paintings?14
In 1895 stained glass windows designed by Bonnard and Vuillard for Tiffany of New York were exhibited at the official Salon.15 Tapestries were actually executed from the designs of the Nabi Paul Ranson and the sculptor Maillol who met frequently with the Nabis. Although the opportunity to design tapestries did not materialize for Bonnard and Vuillard, many of their large decorative panels are reminiscent of ornamental wall hangings of an earlier epoch. Their enthusiasm for the decorative arts was also fired by Gauguin who wrote from Tahiti in 1892, “Windows, faience, etc. . . . my real aptitudes are for these things rather than for painting in the strict sense of the word.”16 And thus, the enthusiasm for the print which in the 1890s invariably was cast in a useful form: the poster, the book jacket, theater programs and magazine illustrations. In one instance Bonnard fashioned a four-panel folding screen about five feet tall from prints and in another he contributed explanatory illustrations for an elementary text on music.17Prints were rarely made for the artist's own delectation but were commissioned by dealers or publishers for some specific enterprise. Bonnard, Vuillard and Toulouse-Lautrec all designed posters for La Revue Blanche, one of the leading critical journals of the day. They also provided illustrations for its stories or full-page insertions and contributed to its portfolio of prints, published in 1895.18 All three were contributors to L'Estampe Originale which brought out three portfolios a year from 1893 to 1895.19 The names of periodicals like L'Epreuve and L'Affiche et L'Estampe are in themselves evidence of the widespread interest in the print.20 The theater was another source of commissions. Vuillard and Toulouse-Lautrec both designed programs for Lugné-Poë's symbolist Théâtre de l'Oeuvre and Bonnard collaborated with the Théâtre des Pantins where Jarry's Ubu Roi was performed with marionettes to the accompaniment of Claude Terrasse’s music.21 But by far the most important patron was the enterprising Ambroise Vollard, who in 1893, three years after his arrival in Paris from the small colony of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, opened his own gallery on rue Laffitte.22 Two years later he gave Cézanne his first one-man show and made his first venture as an art publisher with a portfolio of prints by the twenty-eight-year-old Bonnard. (Vollard was also twenty-eight at the time.) In 1896 in initiated L'Album des Peintres-Graveurs which was to be published annually but appeared only once again in the following year. Both Bonnard and Vuillard contributed to these two albums and Bonnard in addition designed the cover of the 1897 edition.23 It was also Vollard who ordered from each a portfolio of twelve prints; from Bonnard, Quelques Aspects de la Vie de Paris in 1895 and from Vuillard, Paysages et Intérieurs four years later.Of the five lithographs in color by Bonnard and Vuillard in the Institute collection, four were commissioned by Vollard, while the fifth, The Garden in Front of the Studio, appeared in an album entitled Germinal which was brought out by the German art critic, Meier-Graefe in 1901. Children Playing Games by Vuillard and Canoeing by Bonnard were both included in L'Album des Peintres-Graveurs of 1897. Bonnard's Girl by a Lamp was to appear in the third of Vollard's albums which was projected for 1898 but never materialized, and Vuillard's Avenue is one of the twelve Paysages et Intérieurs published by Vollard in 1899.That mastery of color lithography which Bonnard and Vuillard demonstrate in all their prints in the Institute collection was not easily achieved. The theories and styles of art, current among the Nabis and which Bonnard and Vuillard, as members of the Nabis, subscribed to in the early 1890s, while they sanctioned and even encouraged color lithography, worked against their discovering its full potential. In characteristic early paintings by Bonnard and Vuillard, the paint defines large, flat areas, in keeping with the precepts and example of Gauguin, and is bound by firm but curving contours. The influence of Japanese art is also evident, especially in the reliance on pattern rather than on modeling or color modulation to enliven the large, uniform areas of paint. One of Bonnard's first art lithographs in color, The Family Scene of 1893, is in essentially the same style, although here the japonisme—one is reminded of the colors of Harunobu and the courtesan portraits—is more pronounced. Its uniform, textureless planes of color, also to be seen in Bonnard's piquant poster of 1894 for La Revue Blanche, could have been achieved as well by woodprinting.24 The fact that the poster, although it prepared the way for the art lithograph and continued in the 1890s as one of the most important manifestations of lithography, was no more conducive to the discovery of the subtleties inherent in color lithography than the Japanese woodcut. Of the various tools and techniques available to the color lithographer—crayon, brush, the engraving needle and splatter—only the brush appears to have been used by Bonnard in The Family Scene of 1893 and for the figures in the La Revue Blanche poster of 1894.For Vuillard the problem was somewhat different. Up to 1896, when he received his first commission for a color lithograph from Vollard, he had worked almost exclusively in black and white. His concept of lithography was, therefore, a traditional one, of light against dark, harmonized and related by intermediate gradations. His lithographs, now reminiscent of Daumier, now of Redon, are extraordinarily rich and varied: opaques stand next to transparents, lines contrast with shapes, lights merge with darks, scratched lines pierce the darks, and all this is accomplished without sacrifice of that spontaneity so highly prized by Vuillard and Bonnard, too. Considering their comprehension of the medium, color lithography confronted each with a different challenge: Vuillard had to learn to assimilate color to his accomplished black-and-white technique; for Bonnard, already practiced in color, the reverse was true.Whether Vuillard or Bonnard achieved this synthesis first isdebatable. The former, in The Dressmaker of 1894, shows a remarkable adaptability to color. Transparent yellow ochre patches overlay crayoned blues, but are limited to the margins. The rest of the page is drawn in the gradations of a single tone (in this case blue), familiar to the traditional lithographer. The comprehension is there but as yet expressed only tentatively. The following year, Bonnard using four and five colors creates in the twelve plates of Quelques Aspects de la Vie de Paris prints which are unmistakably lithographic, and at the same time characteristically Bonnard.The five lithographs in color by Bonnard and Vuillard in the Institute collection date from 1897 to 1901, and are, therefore, fully mature works.25 In each case one finds a range of colors: red-green-blue or yellow-red-blue plus one or two related tones. Uniformly colored areas without textural differentiation are exceptional. For example, the yellow sword in Vuillard's Children's Games changes from a gouache-like opacity on the right to open chalkiness on the left. Even the seemingly black-clad figures are scumbled with patches of blue and perforations of red. Bonnard's sweet, intimate Child by the Lamp is a veritable lithographic tour de force. The plastery wall shifts unpredictably from tan to rose, and like an ancient palimpsest gives way to green smudges and lines or flecks of blue. A green shadow on the left is broken by intermittent streaks of rose and delicately incised lines. The textural range is now as astonishing for its economy of means as for its diversity: the lithography porosity of the lamp base, the coarseness of the shade, the subtle variegation of the tablecloth and the smoothness of the child's white skin.The airiness and luminescence of Children's Games and Canoeing and the inclusion of a light source in the Child by a Lamp are indicative of a renewed interest in Impressionism. As early as 1892, Bonnard and Vuillard, who were less susceptible than the other Nabis to the doctrines of Gauguin, were already turning from Synthetism. According to Rewald, “Bonnard immediately sensed that the quality of happy improvisation, which characterized his (earliest) efforts was checked by Gauguin's concepts. Like Vuillard he liked to work by instinct: with impassioned brushstrokes, controlled only remotely by intellect and will.”26 Andrew Ritchie explains that Vuillard having realized the program of Gauguin, “proceeded to explore as early as 1893, in what one feels is a Mallarméan spirit, the mysterious possibilities of an infinite graduation of color to extract thereby the subtlest overtones, the essential perfume of intimate objects and activities. . .”27 If the “mysterious aura” is attributable to the Symbolist poet, Mallarmé, the formal means by which it was evoked—“an infinite gradation of color”—represents, as Ritchie suggests elsewhere, a reversion to Impressionism. Another factor which may have encouraged Bonnard and Vuillard to re-examine their artistic beliefs was the departure of the persuasive Gauguin in 1891 for the South Seas.Considering their achievement in color lithography, one would naturally expect both artists to continue to work in this medium. Actually, The Garden in Front of the Studio (1901) is Vuillard's last color lithograph. The few prints he produced during the remaining forty-three years of his life are all black-and-white and are about equally divided between etching and lithography. Bonnard, although more prolific in graphics, executed only five color lithographs, including three posters, between 1900 and 1947, when he died.28 Only one, the Place Clichy of 1923 rivals his earlier works in quality. The diminished interest in color lithography, and the print in general, is attributable partly to personal reasons—for example, the steady support Vuillard received from a circle of middle-class portrait patrons after 1900—and partly to the financial risk attendant on the publication of prints. L'Estampe Originale survived only two years; its spiritual successor, Vollard's Album de Peintres-Graveurs was discontinued after the second edition, and La Revue Blanche, with which both artists were closely associated, closed its doors in 1903. Not until 1913 was Vollard to publish another portfolio.29Thus, the five lithographs in color by Bonnard and Vuillard in the Institute collection are more than embodiments of two great modern masters. Neither artist produced superior works later, nor have they often, if ever, been surpassed by succeeding artists. Needless to say, they would suffice and survive on their artistic merits alone. In addition, they are of prime historical importance for they recall for us a decade of discovery and renewal in the graphic arts and a dedicated effort by artists to bring art and life a little closer.Endnotes
  1. Camille Pissarro, Letters to His Son Lucien, edited by John Rewald, New York, 1943.
  2. The Nabis were a group of artists and intellectuals of Symbolist persuasion who met regularly, beginning in 1888. Its most vocal members were Denis and Sérusier; also participating were Bonnard, Vuillard, Roussel, Ibels, Ranson, Séguin, Piot and Lacombe. Several foreign artists also belonged: Meyer de Haan and Jan Verkade from Holland, Mogens Ballin from Denmark and Rippl-Ronaï from Hungary. For a detailed account of the Nabis see Agnés Humbert, Les Nabis et Leur Epoque, Geneva, 1954.
  3. See Louis Godefroy, L'Oeuvre gravé de Félix Vallotton, Paris, 1932, pp. 93 ff.
  4. These abstract woodcuts by Van de Velde were published in Van Nu en Straks. Gauguin's woodcuts are dated 1891-3 (the first Tahiti sojourn) by some critics, 1894 (when he returned to France prior to the second trip to Tahiti) by others. According to Marcel Guérin, L'Oeuvre gravé de Gauguin, Paris, 1927, Vol. I, pp. xiii-xiv, they were cut at Pont-Aven in 1894.
  5. Munch was represented in Vollard's Album de Pientres-Graveurs of 1896 with a color lithograph entitled Anxiety (Angstgefühl). See Una A. Johnson, Ambroise Vollard, Editeur, New York, 1944, p. 104, no. 104.
  6. For the development of the poster and its influence on art lithography see Robert Goldwater, “L'Affiche Moderne, a Revival of Poster Art after 1880,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, December, 1942, pp. 173-182.
  7. Color engravers and their methods are the subject of Charles Russell's French Colour-Prints of the XVIIIth Century (The Art of Debucourt, Janinet and Descourtis), London, 1949. An excellent historical and technical account of lithography is given by Pennell and Pennell in Lithography and Lithographers, London, 1915:1798
    lithography invented by Alois Senefelder1799
    the process patented in Munich; 1801 in London, 1802 in Paris, 1803 in Vienna1807
    first artistic application; Durer's Missal of Maximilian copied1818
    Senefelder publishes A Complete Course in Lithography; translated into English and French in 1819Another basic source on lithography is Carl Wagner's Alois Senefelder, Leipzig, 1914.
  8. According to the Pennells, op. cit., p. 42, the Comte de Lasteyrie, who had learned lithography from Senefelder in Munich in 1812, published a series of copies of Greek vases, printed in two colors, black and red, about 1815. Color was employed earlier (see note 7) for the reproductions of the Missal of Maximilian, but only one color was used for each plate. In 1838 Engelmann was awarded a prize of 2,000 francs by the Societé d'Encouragement which had offered it ten years before a lithograph in color. Gustave von Groschwitz, “The Significance of XIX Century Color Lithography,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, November, 1954, pp. 242-266, mentions another early color lithographs: Jeane-Baptiste Isabey's La Dame Voillée and Les Petits Enfants, printed from two-color stones by Engelmann in 1818 and in appearance rather like chiaroscuro woodcuts; August Bouquet's and Emile Lysore's Landscape of 1837; and R. Hubert's Moulin à Barcelonette, printed by Engelmann in 1838.
  9. Douglas Cooper, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1955, p. 38: “It soon became fashionable to admire posters for their artistic and pictorial rather than their publicity value. Zola, for example, writes in his novel L'Oeuvre, 1886, of a group of young artists emitting cries of admiration at the sight of a three-colored poster in a rue de Seine, advertising a circus. Simultaneously amateurs began to make collections of posters, and then the complications began, for as only a small number of each was printed, they had to resort to tricks of all sorts to satisfy their lust for possession, even bribing bill-stickers to hand them over in pristine condition, or peeling them off the wall when they were wet.” Ernest Maindron's essay entitled, “Les Affiches Illustrées,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, October and November, 1884, attests to an interest in the poster as early as the 1880s. The essay is accompanied by two full page color reproductions of Chéret's posters.
  10. See The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, no. 2, 1957, on Seurt's Port en Bessin by William Homer.
  11. According to Jean Larin, L'Estampe, Paris, 1959, Vol. I, p. 394, Signac executed lithographs in color about 1894.
  12. Quoted from Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1954, p. 19. The actual source is Dom W. Verkade, Le Tourment de Dieu, Paris, 1926, translated as Yesterdays of an Artist Monk, London, 1930.
  13. Quoted from John Rewald, Pierre Bonnard, New York, 1948, p. 23. Maurice Denis (pseud. Pierre Louis) made the statement in an article entitled “Pour les jeunes Peintres,” Art et Critique, February 20, 1892.
  14. Ibid., p. 26.
  15. Paul Gauguin, Letters to His Wife and Friends, edited by Maurice Malingue, London, 1946, p. 174, letter no. 132 to Daniel de Monfried, August, 1892.
  16. A page from Le petit Solfege illustré is reproduced in Charles Terrasse, Bonnard, Paris, 1927, facing p. 44, and the four-panel screen is reproduced in Roger-Marx, Bonnard Lithographe, Monte Carlo, 1952, pp. 92-3.
  17. For an account of the Review Blanch see Gauthier, “Lithographs of the Revue Blanche,” Magazine of Art, October, 1952, and Annette Vaillant, “Livre de famille,” L'Oeil, no. 24, Noel, 1956, pp. 24-35.
  18. L'Estampe Originale was published by Le Journal des Artistes under the direction of Roger-Marx and André Marty. In addition to the Nabis, its contributors included Toulouse-Lautrec, Redon, Renoir, Whistler, Rodin, Puvis de Chavannes, Pissarro, Gauguin and others.
  19. L'Epreuve appeared in 1895; L'Affiche et l'Estampe, directed by André Mellerio and Clément-Janin, lasted from 1897 to 1899. Bonnard designed a poster for the latter, and in 1898 a cover for its album of prints, La Lithographie en Couleurs, both illustrated in Roger-Marx, op. cit., pp. 71 and 137. Other print media also had their zealous adherents; the woodcut (or wood engraving) was used chiefly in Rémy de Gourmont's L'Ymagier (1894-6) and exclusively for L'Image (1896) which was co-directed by Roger-Marx. The role these periodicals played in the modernization of typography and book design is discussed by François Chapin, “L'Art graphique et les Revues,” L'Art de France, no. 2, Paris, 1962, pp. 307-318.
  20. Vuillard's many programs for the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre are reproduced in Roger-Marx, L'Oeuvre gravé de Vuillard, Monte Carlo, 1948, pp. 56-75.
  21. All of Vollard's publishing ventures are listed in Johnson, op. cit.
  22. The standard references for the prints of Bonnard and Vuillard are by Roger-Marx. See notes 17 and 21.
  23. A sketch for the poster, now in the Musée national d'Art moderne, Paris, and reproduced in Humbert, op. cit., pl. 6, shows the subtlety and spontaneity so characteristic of Bonnard.
  24. The Garden in Front of the Studio of 1901 was Vuillard's last color lithograph.
  25. Quoted by Rewald, op. cit., p. 14 from Verkade, op. cit.
  26. Ritchie, op. cit., p. 13.
  27. Two posters for Le Figaro, 1904, a poster for the Ballet Russe, 1914, the Place Clichy, 1923, and Woman Seated in Her Bath, 1942. All are reproduced in Roger-Marx, op. cit.
  28. Picasso's Saltimbanques, a series of fourteen etchings and drypoints.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. Children Playing, 1897. Color lithograph, 10 1/4” x 17 5/8”. Collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Putnam Dana McMillan, 1957.
  2. Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867-1947. Canoeing, 1897. Color lithograph, 12 1/2” x 20 3/4”. Collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Putnam Dana McMillan, 1961.
  3. Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867-1947. Child by a Lamp, 1898. Color lithograph, 12 3/4” x 18”. Collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Bruce B. Dayton, 1957.
  4. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. The Avenue, 1899. Color lithograph, 12 1/2” x 16 1/2”. Collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Mrs. Charles Pillsbury, 1958.
  5. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. The Garden in Front of the Studio, 1901. Color lithograph, 25 1/4” x 19 1/4”. Collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Mrs. Charles Pillsbury, 1958.
  6. Jules Cheret, French, 1836-1932. Folies-Bergère Poster, 1881. Color lithograph.
  7. Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867-1947. France-Champagne Poster, 1891. Color lithograph, 30 3/4” x 19 3/4”.
  8. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. Seamstresses c. 1890. Oil on canvas, 18 3/4” x 21 5/8”. Collection of Mrs. Charles Vider, New York.
  9. Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867-1947. Family Scene, 1893. Color lithograph, 12 3/8” x 7 1/8”.
  10. Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867-1947. La Revue Blanche Poster, 1894. Color lithograph, 23” x 29 3/4”.
  11. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. Folding the Wash, 1893. Lithograph, 9 1/2” x 12 3/4”.
  12. Jean Edouard Vuillard, French, 1868-1940. The Dressmaker, 1894. Color lithograph, 10 1/2” x 6 1/2”.
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Source: Melvin Waldfogel, "Bonnard and Vuillard as Lithographers," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 52, no. 3 (September, 1963): 66-81.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009