Buhot, La Ronde de Nuit
Buhot, Victor Hugo
Buhot, Une Matinée d’Automne
Buhot, Le Petit Chasseur
Lalauze, Autour du Piano
Lepère, Le Matin, Carrefour
Lepère, Station d’Omnibus
Bracquemond, Léon Cladel
Buhot, Baptême Japonais
Somm, Calendar for the Year 1881
Buhot, Un Grain à Trouville
Buhot, Fête Nationale
Buhot, Fête Nationale
Lepère, Île de Grenelle
Lepère, Fin de Journée
Buhot, La Place des Martyrs
Buhot, Matinée d’Hiver
Buhot, Matinée d’Hiver
Buhot, Matinée d’Hiver
Lepère, Chiffonniers
Lepère, La Cathédrale de Rouen
Buhot, Première Vignette
Buhot, Deuxième Vignette
Buhot, Idée du Premier
Buhot, Idée du Premier
Vallotton, Caricature Portrait
Lepère, La Rue du Pot-au-Lait
Lepère, La Ravine en Juin
Lepère, Départ pour Greenwich
Lepère, Embarcadère
Buhot, Un Débarquement
Buhot, Un Vieux Chantier
Beltrand, La Tamise à Londres
Buhot, Le Port aux Mouettes
Buhot, Le Port aux Mouettes
Buhot, Petite Marine
Buhot, Petite Marine
Goeneutte, Jeune Fille Cousant
Goeneutte, Petite Fille
Lepère, Dimanche aux Fortifs
Lepère, Dimanche aux Fortifs
Béjot, À Paris
Buhot, Le Petit Enterrement
Buhot, La Falaise
LBDF, Pâques Fleuries
Lepère, La Rue des Barres, Paris
Laboureur, Le 14 Juillet
Buhot, Les Oies
Buhot, Les Oies
Buhot, Pluie et Parapluie
Lepère, La Cité Vue
Buhot, Les Voisins
Buhot, Le Hibou
Click on an image above or a title at the left to view the work.

          When, a few years ago, an impression of a Lepère wood engraving with a hand-written dedication to Félix Buhot came on the market it was, for me at least, the first tangible evidence that two of my favorite artists actually knew each other.  Buhot (1847-1898) and Lepère (1849-1918) were almost exact contemporaries.  Besides that, they had both studied drawing with the same teacher, Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran,  and at the same time.  They both aspired to be painters, a field in which neither of them had much commercial success.  Both of them, though, achieved international renown as print makers.  And, so far as I can tell, though both were fine draughtsmen and supreme print-making technicians, neither of them influenced the other.

            So why put them together?  Simply because they were, in so many ways, the opposite faces of the same coin.  The “coin” was the artist’s view of France in the last quarter of the nineteenth century (and for Lepère, the first decades of the twentieth). The opposite faces were those of temperament, but also of technique.  Buhot was a melancholic, drawn to night and fantasy and also to depictions of weather, usually rainy or stormy.  Lepère’s was a sunnier and more dispassionate disposition and drawn to the everyday life of people and places.  Buhot’s first print-making technique was etching and he stayed with it until the last years of his life, when he no longer could stand the acid fumes and he turned to lithography.  Lepére first established himself as a professional wood engraver, only later mastering etching, side-grain woodcuts and lithography.

            Buhot was taught to etch largely by Adolphe Lalauze, a conservative artist and anything but an experimental etcher.  From such pedestrian beginnings, Buhot developed almost an obsession with the variety of effects that  could creatively be produced from a copper plate through a myriad of techniques, multiple states, the use of antique papers, the chemical modifications of both ink and paper, the inclusion of pictorial margins and insertions around and into the main images, experimental printing techniques using several different inks and even physical changes to impressions already printed, all towards the end of making each impression unique.  There are uniformly printed editions of some of his plates, but that was a concession to commercial reality, the necessity of making a living.

            Lepère was apprenticed at an early age to the British wood engraver Burnt Smeeton (who had a studio in Paris) for the express purpose of being able to make a living.  Wood engraving, at the time, was the principal means of reproducing images in books, magazines and newspapers, and competence in the field meant continual employment.  That changed, but before it did, Lepère had, almost single-handedly, transformed a commercial technique into an art form on a level with any other, bringing to it a depiction of light, life and movement that had rarely been seen before.  Later, he learned etching from Félix Bracquemond, a master of the technique and also took up color woodcuts with the Japanese methods of water-based inks, producing some of the first such prints in the western world, and finally lithography.  Almost effortlessly, it seemed, he became a master of every technique he essayed.  He was, at times, experimental (some of his “etchings” are actually painted on the plate with a brush dipped in acid), but while there are sometimes differences among impressions of the same print, his goal was a relatively uniform edition of the finished state of the print.

            From these contrasting personalities, techniques and aims come two very different bodies of work, each estimable in its own way.  Buhot’s prints must be judged the way old master prints (and the later Whistlers) are judged: on the effectiveness of the individual impression.  The rarity of a print is sometimes because only a few were made, but more often because one impression is more personally satisfying than another.  Lepère’s prints may be rare for a number of reasons.  The earlier etchings were often printed in tiny editions; even the later ones were usually limited to 35 impressions, rarely 50.  The wood engravings were made for publication in journals, but the journal impressions are generally not from the original blocks.  Proof impressions were made, but few of them.  Luckily, the print publisher Desmoulins had impressions taken from the original blocks of many of the best images and these were issued, signed and numbered by the artist, in editions of 35.   Other such editions also exist.  It should be mentioned, however, that the Lepère prints that were issued in large, even unsigned, editions are rarely inferior to the proofs.  He was that kind of an artist; the work was in the plate or block or stone, not in the printing.

            Buhot was influential but, to my knowledge, had no real pupils.  Works by Norbert Goeneutte, Henri Somm and others show that influence.  Lepère passed his wood engraving skills on to his colleagues and collaborators, Eugène Dété, Tony Beltrand, and Ernest Florian, and had one, highly important pupil, Jean-Emile Laboureur – whose work, interestingly, shows no influence of Lepère’s style.  Eugène Béjot’s etchings would seem to show more influence of Lepère than of Buhot (if of either), but he inscribed a set of  lithographic sketches to Buhot.   Valloton was worlds apart from both artists, but he is included here for his caricatural portrait of the novelist Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, like Buhot, a resident of the town of Valognes in Normandy, and the most important literary influence on that very literature-inspired artist.