French, 1847 - 1898
Among the most original prints made in France during the last quarter of the nineteenth century are those by Félix Buhot. Born in 1847 in the small Normandy town of Valognes, Buhot moved to Paris in 1865, where a year later he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts, studying painting and drawing under various artists. Buhot first learned to etch in about 1873, producing his first etching later that year and quickly establishing himself as a successful printmaker. The young artist made his living by decorating fans and illustrating lithographic sheet music. Buhot lived and worked most of his life in Paris, with frequent visits back to northern France and extended trips to England where he met his wife, Henrietta Johnston, whom he married in 1881. By 1892 Buhot had ceased making prints, and in 1898, after suffering prolonged bouts of deep depression, he died at the age of fifty-one.
Along with Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, Félix Buhot numbers among the most experimental printmakers of his day. In exploring the unique aspects of etching, he developed an approach to printmaking that was very painterly; in fact, he called his prints “paintings on copper.” A true printmaker’s printmaker, Buhot delighted in all the technical variables and regularly combined multiple processes to produce a single print: he achieved even greater tonal variation by employing the more traditional techniques of etching, drypoint, and aquatint along with several less familiar methods. Unlike many contemporary printmakers who disliked photography, Buhot heartily embraced the medium and used it as a creative aid. He also used different inks and papers for varied effects. His most original contribution to the history of printmaking is an illustrative device he termed marges symphoniques (symphonic margins): by amplifying the main subject, such illustrations became an integral part of the print.
In his many prints of city views and seascapes, Buhot was intent on creating a specific atmosphere, especially the effects of weather, particularly rain, snow, mist, and fog. He turned to his immediate neighborhood in and around the boulevard de Clichy in Montmartre, Paris, for inspiration for his prints of everyday city life. Buhot delighted in portraying the varied street life of the vibrant capital city not only in different seasons (Winter in Paris, 1879) but also in moments of public display, from a festive holiday celebration (National Holiday on the Boulevard de Clichy, 1878) to a somber death observance (Funeral Procession on the Boulevard de Clichy, 1887). His city views also include London scenes (Westminster Palace and Westminster Bridge, both of 1884). And Buhot’s love for the sea is evident in the many prints exploring its ever-changing atmospheric conditions and moods. Buhot’s boat trips to England inspired two of his most characteristic prints, A Pier in England and Landing in England, both from 1879.
With his experimental printmaking techniques, Buhot became one of the best-known, admired, and collected printmakers of his day. He achieved success for his prints at the annual Salons between 1875 and 1886, and a number of his works were published in leading periodicals and books. He also found critical acclaim and support for his prints in the United States, especially after his first one-man exhibition in 1888.