Buhot’s Experimental Techniques
Along with Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, Félix Buhot numbers among the most experimental printmakers of the last half of the nineteenth century. His approach to printmaking was very painterly, and indeed 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 employed traditional techniques of etching, drypoint, and aquatint along with modern methods such as photomechanical reproduction.
Buhot altered his plates many times before he was satisfied with an image. In the first states, he usually sketched in the general design, filling in details and elaborating upon tonal passages in subsequent reworkings. The time of day or specific weather condition might even change in a later state. He inked his plates by using the customary roller and selectively applying the ink with a rag, but he also experimented with mixing turpentine into the ink (à l’essence). Buhot employed a wide variety of paper types, which he sometimes modified in color and appearance by soaking them in tea, coffee, or turpentine before printing. For Buhot, each impression was a valid expression in its own right. His finest prints carry his monogrammed owl stamp, which he often substituted for his pencil signature.
Buhot’s most original contribution to the history of printmaking is a device he termed marges symphoniques (symphonic margins). Inspired by the marginal decorations of medieval manuscripts and eighteenth-century French book illustrations, Buhot transformed the remarque, an incidental, witty sketch that earlier artists sometimes added just outside the image, into an integral element that amplifies the main subject of the print. Buhot developed two types of margins, etching the first on the same plate as the central subject and printing the second, called a “false margin,” from a separate plate.
Each time the copperplate is reworked it is called a new state, and every print pulled from a plate is referred to as an impression. In the first state, Buhot usually sketched in an image, which he elaborated upon in later states. He might also burnish, or scrape away, certain details. Within a single state, Buhot varied impressions by altering the ink application and papers. The states of Buhot’s prints are regularly identified. State iv/vii means that the print is taken from the fourth state out of seven states.