Friday, July 27, 2018

Urushibara, Isaac, and a Jacquin of All Trades

Recently, a couple of new woodblock print designs turned up in the Urushibara family archives that regrettably did not make into the recently-published catalogue raisonné of Urushibara's prints.  I have added them to my prior post about that catalogue, but thought that they might be worth highlighting for those who had already read that post last July.

Passage de la Visitation (aka "Porche sous la neige") (c. 1910-1914) 
by Prosper-Alphonse Isaac; printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

Yoshijiro Urushibara's seal on the verso of the print

The first print is by Prosper-Alphonse Isaac (1858-1924), although there is nothing on the face of the print to indicate that it was designed by Isaac.  However, it bears Yoshijiro (Mokuchu) Urushibara's seal on the verso, which means, at a minimum, that Urushibara would have printed this copy.  A quick Internet image search, however, soon revealed that the Bibliothèque Nationale de France possessed a copy of this print that includes not only Isaac's "I" seal (indicating that it was designed by Isaac) but also Isaac's swastika seal (indicating that the blocks for this print were carved by Isaac).  The absence of Isaac's seals on my copy mostly likely means that it was a printer's proof.

Passage de la Visitation (aka "Porche sous la neige") (c. 1910-1914)
by Prosper-Alphonse Isaac; presumably printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
(colored woodblock print)

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France gives the title of this print as "Porche sous la neige" (Porch under the snow), likely a descriptive title.  However, it also gives an alternate title in brackets "Passage de la Visitation."  Another copy of this print is owned by the Musée Départemental Breton in Quimper with the catalogued title of "Passage de la Visitation - Cour in hiver [courtyard in  winter]."  Passage de la Visitation is a tiny lane in the seventh arrondissement of Paris. Not coincidentally, 11 Passage de la Visitation was the address of Isaac's residence in Paris.  It was purchased by Bernard Boutet de Monvel (1881-1949), the French painter, sculptor, engraver, fashion illustrator, and interior decorator in 1924 after Isaac's death.

 
The patio of 11 Passage de la Visitation in 1927, featuring a dining room rotunda built 
by Louis Süe in the Art Deco style with neoclassicism.
Courtesy of Sotheby's 

The patio of 11 Passage de la Visitation circa April 2016
Courtesy of AD Magazine

The other print in the Urushibara family archives required some additional research, as no other copies of this design could be located in an Internet image search.

 
Pélican et grenouille (c. 1910-1914) [#18] by Georges-Arthur Jacquin;
printed by Yoshijiro Urushibara
Personal Collection
(colored woodblock print)

 Yoshijiro Urushibara's seal on the verso of the print with pencil inscription

As with the Isaac print, this copy also bore Urushibara's seal on the version.  It also contained a  pencil inscription on the back of the print which said "No 18  By Jaqui French School."  The only problem was that I was unable to find any artist, French or otherwise, with the name "Jaqui" who made woodblock prints, let alone a woodblock print of a pelican.  Eventually, however, I discovered that there was a French artist with the similar name "Jacquin" who was active in making woodblock prints in the years prior to WWI, namely, Georges-Arthur Jacquin (1851-1932).  Neither the Bibliothèque Nationale de France nor the Musée Départemental Breton appear to own any of Jacquin's prints, and most images I could find of Jacquin's prints were either in the collection of the Petit Palais, Museé des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris or were shown in a profile entitled "Arthur Jacquin, Graveur Sur Bois," written by Maurice Pillard Verneuil for Art et Decoration, Vol. 24 (July 1908), none of which depicted this print.


Georges-Arthur Jacquin's "J" monograms

Undeterred, I continued to look for other museums who might have Jacquin's prints in their collections.  Eventually, I found that the Institut national d'histoire de l'art (INHA) had over thirty of Jacquin's prints (although frustratingly none are illustrated on-line), which were originally part of Jacques Doucet's "Cabinet d'estampes."  One of the INHA's catalogue entries, however, bore the descriptive title "[Pélican et grenouille]" (pelican and frog), the very subject of this print.  Moreover, the dimensions of the INHA's print were consistent with those of my copy.  The INHA's catalogue also noted that its copy bore the monogram of the artist "J" printed in reserve on a black background as well as the stamp of the artist overprinted in red.  The "J" monogram is only partially discernible on my copy, and then only in hindsight.  The absence of Jacquin's red seal on my copy, though, is entirely consistent with the print being a printer's proof.
  
 
Femme de trois quarts au chapeau et à la rose (1884) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
(oil on canvas)
,
So who was Georges-Arthur Jacquin, who frequently went by the name "Arthur"?  As the title of this piece suggests, he was a jack of all trades, a French painter, decorator, enameller, ceramist, and jewelry designer who also practiced woodblock printmaking and etching.  Born in Fère-Champenoise (Marne), he was a student of Géròme, MM. de Foulongne et Harpignies.  He exhibited at the Salon of 1890, the Salon de la Rose et Croix in 1892 and 1893, and l’Exposition de Chàlons in 1896.

 Box (c. 1900) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
Courtesy of the Petit Palais, Museum of Fine Arts
(iron mounted on wood, decorated in silver and gilded silver, 
partially enamelled with glass cabochons)

It is not exactly clear when Jacquin took up woodblock printmaking, but Verneuil's July 1908 profile states that Jacquin had "numerous" woodblock prints to his name.  Moreover, the Petit Palais, Museum of Fine Arts had acquired several of Jacquin's prints in April of 1908.  Since this activity occurred roughly two or more years before Urushibara's arrival in Europe in 1910, this necessarily means that Jacquin learned the rudiments of woodblock carving and printing without any assistance whatsoever from Urushibara.  In fact, as Verneuil relates in my dubious English translation, Jacquin conducted considerable research on his own on how to print with watercolors:

          "It seems very simple to the layman; to print with water, what difficulty can
          there be? This idea changes at the first trials. The difficulties present
          themselves, innumerable, and at first sight, insurmountable. . . .

          It was up to Jacquin to demonstrate and show that ingenuity and patience,
          together with a rare artistic feeling, can overcome these difficulties.  
          Gradually, patiently, he invented this process, unknown to us. He chose, 
          compared the woods for a long time, both from the point of view of their
          grain and that of their porosity, from their love for water.  One by one, he
          discovered his colors, no longer superficial colors, but rather dyes, which
          penetrate the paper and dye it in its mass, giving these transparent tones a 
          depth and velvety which our reproductions can not give an idea.  He sought 
          the best methods of inking and printing wood; the most beautiful, soft, and 
          color-loving papers.  And little by little he redrew to his use a complete and 
          perfect technique, by means of which, sure of his process, he can now freely 
          express his artistic thoughts. 

           From this process in itself, we will hardly speak; it is more, apart from the search
           for colors, a matter of hands and skill. . . . 

           Jacquin possesses it completely, and uses it as master.  And like any artist well in
           possession of his art, he manages to give his prints an aspect of making easy and
           effortless of the most enjoyable.  There is no sense of the multiple searches and
           repeated tests that each requires.  For the color to vibrate, boards were super-
           imposed without the knowledge of the amateur.  He believes that two tones, only 
           two impressions were necessary; error! there were seven, eight.  The result alone
           matters to the artist and the effort is nothing.  Jacquin does not spare his troubles,
           but arrives at the dreamed result."

Calvaire de campagne (1907) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
Courtesy of the Petit Palais, Museum of Fine Arts
 (colored woodblock print)
 
Les arbres au bord de la mer (1907) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
Courtesy of the Petit Palais, Museum of Fine Arts
 (colored woodblock print)

As noted above, my copy of Pélican et grenouille bears the number 18 of an unknown edition size.  (The INHA's copy is numbered 9.)  The stated edition sizes for a number of Jacquin's pre-WWI prints are known, and they typically tend to be 80 or 100.  Of course, there is no guarantee that Jacquin ever got around to printing a full edition.  Given the scarcity of Jacquin's prints, I wonder if more than twenty or thirty copies, if that, were ever printed for most designs.

Le Chemineau (c. 1908) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
reproduced in Art et Decoration, Vol. 24 (July 1908)
(colored woodblock print; edition of 100)

Chemineau assis (c. 1908) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
reproduced in Art et Decoration, Vol. 24 (July 1908)
(colored woodblock print)

Alas, the details of Jacquin's collaboration with Urushibara are shrouded in mystery.  I have dated Pélican et grenouille as circa 1910-1914, since Urushibara was frequently in Paris during that time period tutoring Jules Chadel and Prosper-Alphonse Isaac, and active in the Société des Amis de l'Art JaponaisI doubt, however, that Pélican et grenouille was their sole collaboration, so it is possible that additional Jacquin prints may turn up in time with Urushibara's seals on them.

(Le) Moulin à vent (c. 1908) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
reproduced in Art et Decoration, Vol. 24 (July 1908)
(colored woodblock print; edition of 100)

We do know, however, that Jacquin continued to make prints after the Great War.  One of his prints, "Arbres tordus" (twisted trees), was included in the Société de la gravure sur bois originale (SGBO)'s 1922 catalog.  Urushibara himself exhibited five of his own prints in that 1922 exhibition.  While I cannot completely rule out the possibility that Jacquin's collaboration with Urushibara took place in the twenties, stylistically Pélican et grenouille strikes me as a decidedly pre-WWI design.

Les pins au bord de la mer (1907) by Georges-Arthur Jacquin
Courtesy of the Petit Palais, Museum of Fine Arts
 (colored woodblock print) 

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