Parisian art lovers with a taste for engravings are well served this season. After the Musée Marmottan Monet’s show “Engraving the Light” (reviewed in “Treasures from Lac Leman”) comes a selection of two hundred pieces in “Treasures in black & white” from the Petit Palais’ Cabinet of Graphic Arts. Prints by Dürer and Rembrandt are prominent, just as they were at the Marmottan Monet, but the work of many other artists abounds too.
The first half of the exhibition, featuring prints by the two artists mentioned above as well as Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, and others, comes from the collection of twelve thousand pieces accumulated by Eugène Dutuit (1807–86) and his brother Auguste (1812–1902). The collection entered the Petit Palais in 1902 (the same year the museum opened), having been left to the city of Paris by Auguste at his death. When Henry Lapauze (1865–1925), the director of the Petit Palais, wanted to open a “Museum of Modern Prints” within the Palais in 1908, he combined the Dutuits’ gift with pieces—three thousand of them—donated by the public in response to a call for quality drawings and engravings. Hundreds of artists and their friends answered the request; engravings were provided by the likes of Edgar Chanine, Jules Chéret, André Devambez, and Théophile Steinlen. Adolphe Albert, the painter and friend to Toulouse-Lautrec, gave the museum several Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs. The Dutuit collection of Old Masters was thus joined with the works of many modern masters.
Eugène Dutuit began collecting prints in the 1830s by befriending art dealers and experts. He became enough of an expert himself to write two books: a printmaking manual and a monograph on Rembrandt’s complete works. He began purchasing Dürer’s engravings early on and came to own prints almost all the artist’s engravings. The exhibition opens with Dürer’s The Rhinoceros (1515), of which Eugène owned three copies, including one from the first printing. Never had a rhinoceros—a repulsive looking animal—been seen in Europe before Muzaffar Shah II presented on to King Manuel I of Portugal in 1515. The rhinoceros, named Genda, created a sensation. Dürer didn’t see the animal himself but followed descriptions and more rudimentary drawings from several sources.
Early in his career, Dürer, sensitive to Italian sneers about barbarian artists from the North, had worked carefully to master the Vitruvian ideals. That he did so is manifest in his 1504 Adam and Eve, in which Adam looks to be a simple-minded youth while Eve is brimming with the curiosity that led us where we are now. Elsewhere, the erotic Coat-of-Arms of Death (1503) shows a bearded satyr, symbolizing death, caressing a belle while an enormous skull on a shield lies at his feet. Eugène wrote that the piece “was a very beautiful example of one of the master’s most beautiful works.”
The engraver Martin Schongauer (ca. 1450–91) was regarded by Dürer as a master. Eugène owned Schongauer’s Temptation of Saint Anthony (1470–75), which shows the old saint wrapped in a turning ball of demons and monsters. (Give the demons smartphones and Saint Anthony’s torture begins to look like a daily scene on the Paris Métro.) In 1635, Jacques Callot (1592–1635) produced his own version of Saint Anthony’s torment, this time on a larger scale than Schongauer’s and within an impressive landscape. The exhibition displays the two versions side by side. Eugène admired Callot as an immediate predecessor of Rembrandt.
Callot’s engravings in a section titled “The World’s a Stage” are the high point of the exhibition, and perhaps more so because Callot is less known now than he was two centuries ago. Several etchings from Callot’s series The Bohemians (ca. 1621–25) and Great Miseries of War (1633) are here, as is The Pantaloon, or Cassandre (ca. 1618–19), from the Pantaloons series (ca.1618–19). Cassandre features a pantaloon, a greedy stock character central to commedia dell’arte, skulking across the stage in front of an Italian town. Callot spent close to ten years (1611–21) in Florence, and Italian commedia dell’arte strongly influenced him. Another engraving from the series, The Two Pantaloons (1616–17) shows two giants on tiptoes, perhaps in the Boboli Gardens.
Eugène Dutuit fell in love with Rembrandt’s work as a young man visiting Holland. The only painting in the exhibition is his Self-portrait in Oriental Costume (ca. 1631), which Eugène bought in Ghent in 1840. Rembrandt was twenty-six when he painted himself in Armenian dress; amber light shines on his short figure and adds a glow to the otherwise dark scene and costuming. Rembrandt frequently drew and painted himself in various poses, as in Frowning Eyebrows (1630), or Rembrandt with Spiky Hair (1630), in which his wild hair curls in every direction. In 1639, at the height of his success, he presented himself in the style of Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, leaning comfortably forward in the garb of an Italian Renaissance gentleman. The dramatic chiaroscuro of The Shell (1650) displays Rembrandt’s characteristically striking use of light and shadow.
Goya was another of Eugène’s favorites, and the exhibition includes several of the artist’s nightmarish etchings from The Caprices (1816–23) and The Follies (1816–23) series. The latter’s Way of Flying (1816–23) implies that Goya foresaw, as Leonardo did, that man would one day learn to fly. But in Goya’s vision this flight is taken by creatures more bat-like than human. Folly of Fear (1823) predicts the coming of a giant figure of death—a massive harbinger in black robes looms over a crowd of surprised men. Perhaps Goya was inspired by the horrors of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, both copious in agonies. His verve for portraying nightmares persisted into his eighties—the art historian Kenneth Clark believed that the artist might have actually taken joy in depicting fear.
Multiple works by Toulouse-Lautrec are also on display. The lithograph Nicolle at the Gaieté-Rochecourt (1893) shows a catlike woman, her face eerily lit like a jack-o’-lantern. More pleasant is the Art Nouveau–inspired cover he contributed to the first issue of L’Estampe original (1893). The scene, a colored lithograph, shows Jane Avril, the Moulin Rouge’s star dancer and Toulouse-Lautrec’s muse, herself reading a lithograph fresh off the printing press. From the same year comes Dress Rehearsal at the Folies-Bergère: Emilienne d’Alençon and Mariquita (1893), which captures the vitality of a night in the music hall. But Paris’s gaiety is far from perpetual (despite what tourists might think), as Théophile Steinlen’s Vagabond under the Snow (1902–03) reminds us. The publisher and art dealer Georges Petit (1856–1902) donated to the Palais several color prints, including Johannes-Martin Grimelund’s Village Street under the Snow at Sunset (early twentieth century), an evocative scene with a pastel air. Finally, there is Odilon Redon’s mysterious Auricular Cell (1893), which was also featured in L’Estampe originale the year of its founding. It makes for a fascinating conclusion to a journey into the world printmaking.