National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 19, 1972

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Cézanne, Vollard, and Lithography: The Ottawa Maquette for the "Large Bathers" Colour Lithograph

by Douglas W. Druick

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  

            12  |  13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18 

Apparently there was no immediate critical response to Les peintres-graveurs; it was, moreover, a commercial failure. (17) This is strange in view of the fact that in the previous month an exhibition of prints at Vollard's gallery, which included at least twelve of the prints published in the album, had been both a critical (18) and financial (19) success. Possibly the failure of Les peintres-graveurs to attract the collectors was related to the method of distribution. (20) Also, prints were now flooding the market; every month witnessed the publication of single prints in relatively small editions, as well as portfolios of prints by individual artists. Thus while prints were enjoying unprecedented popularity, (21) collectors were becoming increasingly selective and may have been reluctant to purchase twenty-two prints of uneven quality in order to obtain those among them which they desired.

Both the poor reception of Les peintres-graveurs, and the dealer's grandiose ambitions to distinguish himself as a publisher, noted by Pissarro, (22) probably account for the significant differences found in the second album of miscellaneous prints. Exhibited at Vollard's gallery in December 1897 under the title L'album d'estampes originales de la galerie Vollard, this second venture was considerably more ambitious than its predecessor. Larger in size, it drew even more heavily on the artists who had worked for Marty; of the thirty-one artists represented, nineteen had contributed to L'estampe originale. (23) Moreover, the album now included a two-page couverture lithograph (24) in the tradition of those done by Toulouse-Lautrec for Marty's publication. The most striking feature of the second album, however, was the number of colour lithographs included: thirty of the thirty-two prints were lithographs and twenty-four of these were in colour. This remarkable prominence of the medium made Vollard's second publication considerably more spectacular than Marty's L'estampe originale and immediately earned it the reputation of an encyclopedia of colour lithography as practised by contemporary artists. (25)

The predominance of colour lithography in the second album reflects the will of the publisher rather than the desire of the artists involved to express themselves in this medium. Vollard's particular interest in a single medium undoubtedly derived from two closely-related considerations. As an entrepreneur, Vollard was, Pissarro informs us, one who "ne s'occupera que de ce qui vend." (26) His conception of the market seems to have developed from an analysis of the Print Revival similar to that of Mellerio. In an article which appeared early in 1897, Mellerio stated that the current revival had been caused by the "démocratisation" (27) of the taste for art, a phenomenon fostered by an increasing number of exhibitions, newspaper reviews, and popular books on the subject of art. Vollard appears to have shared Mellerio's view that for the newly-created audience of collectors and speculators, original prints represented "la même dose d'art pure" (28) as works in other media and were thus purchased instead of the paintings, pastels, and water-colours that were beyond its means. However, while Mellerio did not emphasize the rôle that colour played in the psychology of print-collecting, Vollard apparently did. It seems he believed that the buyer regarded colour prints as substitutes for works in the other colour media. Such thinking was, no doubt, partially a product of his own interests. Primarily a dealer in paintings, Vollard himself undoubtedly preferred prints which could rival the "presence" of works in the major media, and so was particularly attracted to colour prints. Thus of Pissarro's numerous etchings, it was apparently only in those few printed in colour that the dealer expressed interest. (29) But as estampes murales, (30) etchings are handicapped by their restricted scale. It is in Vollard's realization that colour lithographs are better able than etchings to "tenir le mur" (31) that the explanation for his career-long interest in the medium (32) is to be found.

Pissarro described Vollard's position incisively in a letter to Lucien written in September 1896. "Pauvre Vollard!" wrote the artist, "Je lui ai dit qu'il s'embarquait dans une affaire qu'il faut connaître et que les estampes ne se vendaient pas, les marchands n'y entendaient pas grand' chose et ne s'en tiraient qu'à force de trucs, tels que les affiches, les épreuves en couleurs, etc." (33) Vollard, however, did not listen; he knew whom and what he wanted. His attitude as a publisher differed from that of Marty. Whereas the latter recruited talent for his publication, it seems Vollard virtually pressed artists into service. Pissarro was undoubtedly not the only artist who was "tormented" (34) by the dealer's persistent negotiations for prints. We can also assume that the requests Vollard made of the artist were typical. In July 1896, Pissarro wrote that "Vollard m'a commandé une litho en couleurs, une grande planche." (35) In a subsequent letter he added, 'J'aurais mieux aimé [la faire] en noir, mais il paraît que la couleur est à la mode." (36) Further knowledge of Vollard's approach is revealed in his own account that he went to 'beg." (37) Sisley to provide him with a colour lithograph for his second album.

This insistence on a particular medium is very significant. Working in colour lithography can be both complex and time-consuming. For each colour that is printed a separate stone must be prepared. Furthermore, in order to avoid unwanted overlappings of colour areas, great care must be taken in the successive printings of the colour stones. The demands of the procedure are, therefore, directly related to the number of colour stones used. Thus for artists like Pissarro, the medium may have been unattractive from both the technical and the aesthetic point of view. It is clear, however, that the dealer's interests took precedence over considerations of the artist's ability or desire to work in a complicated medium.

Vollard's attitude towards the artist and his work thus led naturally to a philosophy of print-making essentially different from Marty's. The latter had been guided by a concept of the original print which, as enunciated by Roger Marx in his preface to L'estampe originale, emphasized that the autographic nature of the artist's print distinguishes it from the reproductive print wherein the 'skill of the interpreter replaces invention." (38) Unlike Marty, Vollard acted on the principle that the end-product justified the means of execution. If an artist were interested and capable, then he might actively participate in the preparation of his colour lithographs. (39) However, in cases in which the artist was un able or disinclined to become involved with the medium, Vollard did not hesitate to request maquettes which his printer, Clot, an enthusiast for colour lithography, (40) could translate into prints.

In some instances the maquette which the artist prepared for the printer was simply a work executed in a non-print medium. The pastel by Sisley followed by Clot in making the colour lithograph Les Oies (J. 190) - which appeared in the second album - represents this type of maquette. It was often the case, however, that the artist wished to retain some direct control over the print but did not want to deal with the problems of colour lithography. In such instances it became customary to follow a procedure which forced the artist to work towards his final conception by thinking of drawing and colour as distinct and successive elements in the creative process. The artist first executed a lithograph in black which served as the skeletal or keystone drawing for the composition. He then hand-coloured an impression for the printer to follow in preparing the colour stones. Since both black and colour stones were used in the final print, the later was in part original, in part translation. The Cézanne Small Bathers (fig. 7), formerly in the collection of Gaston Bernheim de Villiers, is an example of this second type of colour maquette.

Next Page | Sisley and Cézanne maquettes 

  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  

12  |  13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18

Top of this page

Home | Français | Introduction | History
Annual Index | Author & Subject | Credits | Contact

This digital collection was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections program, Industry Canada.

"Digital Collections Program, Copyright © National Gallery of Canada 2001"