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

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As both the Sisley and the Cézanne maquettes suggest, however, in neither procedure was it generally the practice of Vollard's artists to make concessions to the medium into which the work was to be translated. Style and complexity of execution reflected attention to the medium in which the colour maquette was prepared. The printer was therefore faced with the job of duplicating the effects of other media.

These practices were responsible for the emergence of a new element within the Lithography Revival of the nineties: the facsimile and partial-facsimile print. In the album of 1897, these developments were firmly established. The new technical emphasis did not go unnoticed. On 6 December the critic Arsène Alexandre, in his column in Le Figaro, noted that "comme exposition d'avant garde il faut signaler à la galerie Vollard celle d'un ensemble d'estampes originales, toutes remarquables au moins par l'exécution." (41) Mellerio, more closely involved with contemporary print-making, was able to foresee the direction in which such innovations pointed. He was aware that Vollard's passion for colour lithography was compromising the purity of the original print. Although the critic wrote that he found the album interesting and worthy of examination, he was distressed by the "personnalité cachée dans les coulisses de l'album: l'imprimeur Clot." (42) While he praised the printer's extraordinary technical ability in executing colour lithographs, Mellerio cautioned that the artist must "refuser nettement les tours de force touts faits dont un habile tireur vous fait une séduction facile - mais traîtresse." (43) Echoing Roger Marx, he added that the artist must "acquérir son métier soi-même, mettre la main à la pierre...imprimer en un mot à ses estampes un cachet personnel de facture comme d'inspiration." (44) It is possible that the collectors, by then very wary of deceptions within the print market, (45) shared Mellerio's hesitation and so "continued to fight shy," (46) The quadrupled price of the second album may have been an additional deterrant. (47) In any case, it seems that Pissarro had been right: Vollard had misjudged the market and had mistakenly relied on the "tricks" of colour lithography as a guarantee of success. The second album, like the first, was a commercial failure. (48)

Cézanne's colour lithograph Small Bathers (J. 29, V.1156; fig. 8),one of three lithographs the artist executed for Vollard and the first and only one to be published, appeared in Vollard's second album. In the reviews of the exhibition which appeared in the Mercure de France and in L'estampe et l'affiche, special attention was accorded to this image of six bathers grouped closely together in a secluded outdoor setting. In L'estampe et l'affiche, the Small Bathers was reproduced along with monochrome lithographs of the more established print-makers Whistler (J. 203) and Forain (J. 61). Mellerio regarded the work as characteristic of the artist' s production: "De Cézanne, quelques figures bizarrement bâties, mais d'une certame fougue et grandeur inachevée comme presque tout son oeuvre." (49) André Fontainas, of the Mercure de France, was more unqualifiedly positive. He described the work as "des nus en plein air sur qui la lumière agit et joue merveilleusement." (50) The critical success of the print cannot, however, be regarded as an index of Cézanne's interest in lithography. It is doubtful that the artist was attracted to the medium. Rather, the impetus behind his lithographic production was undoubtedly Vollard. The artist may well have been grateful to Vollard for having given hill his first one-man show in 1895. Furthermore, he was apparently flattered that the dealer accepted all his canvases. (51) Indeed, the relationship between artist and dealer seems to have been remarkably consistent. The artist's letters of the period 1902-1903 at test to the affection, respect, and loyalty that he felt for Vollard. (52) It is probable, then, that Cézanne would have complied with the dealer's insistent requests for prints.

Because of the poor reception of his second venture, Vollard decided to abandon a projected third portfolios (53) for which, by 1899, more than a dozen prints had been assembled. (54) Among these were the two other lithographs by Cézanne: the Portrait of Cézanne a. 31, V.1158; fig. II) and the Large Bathers colour lithograph a. 30, V.1157; figs 3,4), a work based on the impressive composition of four bathers set in an open landscape dominated by Mt Ste Victoire, Bathers at Rest of 1875-1876 (V. 276; fig. I). As in the case of the Small Bathers (fig. 9), the Large Bathers was printed in black alone (fig. 10) as well as with colour stones. The "originality" of this lithographic production has been subject to debate. Although Mellerio's review of the second album touched on the problem of the facsimile print, the critic did not at that time question the authenticity of any of the works included. However, in his book on colour lithography which appeared in the following year, Mellerio stated that the work of Rodin a. 167) and Sisley a. 190) represented the triumph of the facsimile print. (55) While he dealt with the Cézanne Small Bathers somewhat differently, he nevertheless concluded by grouping the lithographs of the three artists together, regarding them as works not entirely original and yet, because of their technical excellence, not commercial in the sense of the chromolithograph. (56) The implication that all three artists were equally uninvolved in the production of their prints has persisted in the literature; (57) it is, however, incorrect. (58) Clot himself told Atherton Curtis, the American print-collector and author of several books on lithography, that Cézanne had worked much more on the preparation of the lithograph stones than had either Renoir or Sisley and that, furthermore, Cézanne had executed the drawing for the Small Bathers (fig. 9) directly on the stone. (59) Since apparently neither Clot nor Vollard demanded this participation, it must be assumed that while the artist did not have a strong interest in print-making, he was sufficiently concerned with the results to involve himself directly in the medium, if only to a limited extent.

In the literature on the Cézanne prints, the lithographs in black have not been considered apart from those in colour. A distinction is, however, essential to a study of the maquettes - works that stand both chronologically and conceptually between the black and the colour prints. As the basic element in the maquettes, the lithographs in black deserve special consideration, particularly because of significant technical differences involved in their execution. Unlike the black stone for the Small Bathers, those used in printing the Large Bathers (fig. 10) and the Portrait of Cézanne (fig. II) were prepared by the printer from drawings on lithographic transfer paper that he received from the artist. This difference in the medium of execution permits one to understand certain stylistic differences between the lithographs and, more importantly, to establish their chronology. The latter is, in turn, a key factor in establishing the sequence in which the maquettes were executed, in clarifying the different problems involved in their execution, and in assessing the degree to which the artistic intention was realized.

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