Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Adolphe Appian

I intend this post to be first in a short series about the important fore-runners or precursors of Impressionism. Although the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 is regarded as an earthquake moment in the history of art, there had been plenty of warning tremors in the years leading up to it. The roots of Impressionism lie most obviously in the plein-art painters and printmakers of the Barbizon School, and I shall in due course be looking at Barbizon artists such as Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Charles-Émile Jacque, Jean-François Millet, and Théodore Rousseau. The Barbizon artists were inspired by the example of the English painter John Constable, just as the Impressionists were inspired by J. M. W. Turner. There were also plenty of artists working outside Barbizon with similar aims of capturing fleeting sensations of light and shade and representing the landscape as our minds actually apprehend it. Most of these had some contact with the Barbizon group, and my first subject, Adolphe Appian, is a case in point.

Adolphe Appian, L'étang de Frignon à Creys
Etching, 1962
Curtis & Prouté 1 (II/III)

Adolphe Appian was born in Lyon in 1818; his birth name was Jacques Barthélémy or Barthélémi Appian, and he first exhibited under the pseudonym Adolphe at the Salon de Paris in 1835. He studied drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts de Lyon under Jean-Michel Grobon and Augustin Alexandre Thierrat. Appian was both a musician and a painter, and did not fully commit himself to the visual arts until 1852. This was the year Appian met Corot and Daubigny, both of whom profoundly influenced his style and approach; after this, while remaining based in Lyon, he made numerous trips to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint alongside the Barbizon artists. Michel Melot, in his exhibition catalogue for the centenary show of L'estampe impressioniste at the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1974, writes of Appian's wish to resolve the problems of changing light, and to render visual sensations (air, water, leaves) in etching. If you look closely at the kinds of marks Appian uses to describe skies, reflections, or seas, you will see that these are not conventional notations, but freely expressive responses, designed to evoke rather than delineate.

Adolphe Appian, Le champ de blé
Etching, 1863
Curtis & Prouté 2 (III/IV)

Although Appian remained a provincial artist, working almost always in the region of Lyon, he did make his mark on the art world, exhibiting at the Salon de Paris from 1835 and the Salon de Lyon from 1847 (and regularly at both Salons from 1855), contributing etchings to L'Artiste and the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, and most importantly publishing etchings with the firm of Cadart. Appian was a prominent member of the Société des Aquafortistes from its foundation by Cadart in 1862 until its dissolution in 1867, and remained loyal to Cadart and his widow Célonie-Sophie until the collapse of the business on 12 January 1882.

Adolphe Appian, À gorge de Loup
Etching, 1863
Curtis & Prouté 5

The 1878 Cadart catalogue advertises a Collection de 25 Eaux-Fortes (Paysages et Marines) by Adolphe Appian for the sum of 50 francs. This title, Landscapes and Seascapes, does convey in simple terms Appian's ostensible subject-matter. But the truth is that for Appian, as for the Impressionists, the true subject of art is the play of light. This is very evident in his etchings, and even more so in his monotypes. He made around 33 of these, some true monotypes (painted directly onto the plate and printed only once), others painted on top of an already-etched plate. Most of these monotypes, from the Atherton Curtis collection, are housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris; Melot's catalogue reproduces the etching Un Rocher dans les communaux de Rix alongside the same plate printed "en manière de monotype". The fact that the monotype was printed on the first state of the etching proves that Appian was already experimenting with monotype by 1865, three years before Paul Huet explored this technique and ten years before Degas. Appian was probably encouraged in his trials of different ways and intensities of inking an etching plate by Auguste Delâtre, who printed Appian's etchings from 1863 to 1869.

Adolphe Appian, Flotille de barques marchandes (Monaco)
Etching, 1872
Curtis & Prouté 34 (II/II)

Adolphe Appian made his first etching in 1853. Between then and 1896 he produced some 90 etchings, 4 lithographs, and around 33 monotypes. This is quite a serious printmaking output for someone whose main work was as a painter, and this is reflected in the fact that nowadays Appian is much more fêted for his etchings than for his paintings. The paintings tackle the same subjects as his etchings, with a strong preference for "contre-jour" motifs; these extravagant contrasts of light and dark show the influence of another artist loosely affiliated to Barbizon, Appian's friend Félix Ziem. After he discovered the light of the Mediterranean, Appian's palette lightened and his style became looser and more impressionistic.

Adolphe Appian, Environs de Martigues (Bouches de Rhone)
Etching, 1874
Curtis & Prouté 39

Adolphe Appian, Barque de pecheurs
(Barques de cabotage, Côtes d'Italie)
Etching, 1874
Curtis & Prouté 40 (II/III)

There is a good further selection of etchings by Adolphe Appian at Old Master Prints. The standard reference work is Atherton Curtis and Paul Prouté, Adolphe Appian, son oeuvre gravé et lithographié (1968).


Jane Librizzi said...

At last, an artist I've heard of! What a variety of techniques Appian used for his skies. "Le champ de ble" reminds me of the prints that Adolph Bohm did four decades later. He called this kind of thing "lammerwolken", meaning "lamb clouds." Whatever it's called, it's charming.

Neil said...

What an interesting comparison to Bohm's skies, Jane.