Lovely late 19th or early 20th Century French Impressionist engraving
by Manuel Robbe (1872 - 1936)

As one of the 19th century’s most gifted printmakers, Manuel Robbe approached printing
from a painter’s point of view and in the process created an extraordinary body of graphic work.
Robbe was born in Paris on December 16, 1872 and studied at the Lycées Condorcet and Louis-le-Grand then
at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
He came of age at a time in which unprecedented changes were occurring in the evolution of art.
The Impressionists had already started to change people's perception of 'reality' with their
dissolution of form and hence the old academic traditions were quickly falling away.
Japonisme, the influence of Japanese art (and in particular the Ukiyo-e prints) had also swept
through Europe dramatically altering the way in which visual space was rendered.
It was at this period that Robbe, who had shown tremendous talent from an early age, was honing his
skills under the tutelage of Eugene Delatre, considered one of the greatest Parisian printers of his day.

With Delatre's help he soon mastered the complexities of etching and aquatinting, eventually perfecting his own complex
technique which required a large number of steps to produce the variety of blacks, whites and greys for which he is most renowned.
His production techniques included using a ‘poupee’ a special cloth-covered ball used to hand apply colour to an etched plate.
Not only did this greatly enhance the 'painterly' quality of his prints but it effectively made each work
unique in that the colours were frequently changed from impression to impression in both tone and the amount applied.

His introduction to Edmond Sagot, one of the great publishers of the day, was probably the major turning point in Robbe's career.
Sagot nurtured and his abilities and printing innovations which truly allowed him to take flight.
Sagot had opened a gallery in 1881 that specialized in the sale and promotion
of original prints, something that was quite unusual for the time.
He recognized Robbe’s talent for printmaking and in 1898 began to represent him.
Sagot was quite dedicated to promoting Robbe’s career, along with that of Jaques Villion amongst others.
Besides Edmond Sagot, the esteemed editor of “The Studio”, Gabriel Mourey, was one of Robbe's greatest admirers and
frequently referenced Robbe’s work in his publication, which no doubt also had a tremendous impact on the artist’s career.

The admiration for Robbe's prints was so great, that he was regularly shown at the Paris Salons of the Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-Arts
and was awarded a Gold Medal at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.
His subject matter generally consisted of depictions of bourgeois women enjoying quite moments in life,
whether sitting quietly at the dressing table, observing a work of art, or enjoying a walk in the park.
Although the subject was quite tame, it was his brilliant technique that truly made the art interesting.

He was quite prolific, producing over 200 aquatints, etchings and drypoints in his life.
His prints were designed to be hung on a wall framed up just like an oil painting would be and
and many of his images are the perfect representation of life in the Belle Epoque,
the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s.
Most of his prints were in editions of 40 to 70, with only a very few of 100 proofs.

Our lovely example of his work is of two gorgeously clad women relaxing under trees watching
two young girls play with a doll.
It is a study of his use of black, white and grey to evoke a quiet mood of an era long gone by.
There is the faintest hint of colour in the trees and the girls' hair etc but other than this Robbe has
relied on his unique printing style to convey the ambience of this scene rather than with the use of colour.

It is numbered 49 in the lower left corner and signed in pencil in the lower right hand corner.
It also has a paper impression below the signature that reads E Sagot, Paris so it must be one of
the series of images that Edmond Sagot showcased in his Paris print gallery.

The frame measures 76cm x 86cm and the actual image is 49cm x 38cm.
The frame is not original to the print but would be from the 1970s or 80s I would imagine.

It is under glass and hence not easy to take great photos of unfortunately but
any fan of Belle Epoche or Impressionism will love this example of period engraving.


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