Buhot was born in Valognes, Normandy. An orphan at a young age, he left his native town behind at the age of 18 and went to Paris in 1865 to study are. He apprenticed with a few painters, including Isidore Pils, and seemed to have learned the rudiments of etching with Léon Gaucherel. By 1872 he was working for a fanmaker named Duvelleroy and at the same time producing watercolors of land and seascapes. He had, prior to that, taught drawing in a Parisian collège. His refined and delicate watercolors have influenced the unique character of his prints. He was able to transfer the effect of brush washes into his prints employing aquatint, engraving, roulette and drypoint.
Buhot’s first prints appeared in the early 1870’s. His biographer, André Fontaine, suggests that they were begun in 1874, the year Buhot studied etching, under Adolphe Lalauze. It was also at this time that he became acquainted with Philippe Burty, the critic and collector of Japanese art. Buhot developed a complex and varied technique in his prints, combining etching, roulette, drypoint and aquatint. He extensively reworked his plates in many states, and retouched by hand many of his proofs. At times he included convoluted “remarques”. Buhot called them “marges symphoniques ou episodiques [symphonic margins or small episodes]”. He thought of them as comments on the central subject.
A romantic at heart Buhot soon abandoned his early picturesque subjects for the masterpieces of etching. The results were “Westminster Palace” and the “Débarquement en Angleterre”, inspired by a trip to England, and a series of views of Paris. Buhot loved heavy, misty skies, and his most successful plates are those showing the dramatic effects of dusk on cities, towns or coastlines. Very few etchers come close to his gift for reproducing the atmosphere of British fog or of a Parisian evening. His had a gift for suggesting reflections in wet pavement, or for sketching passersby hurrying along, umbrellas in hand, looking like strange city birds.
Very few intaglio printmakers ever bothered to use his level of technical complexity. He took full advantage of every known process, hevaried inkings dramatically, and he selected papers with different qualities. At times he even doused his paper in turpentine (à l’essence, as he himself called it), to tone the papers beige, and thus lend them an air of age.
Self-admittedly Buhot’s life was a succession of épreuves (proofs). Playing on the word in its dual sense of trial and printer’s proof, he once wrote: “les épreuves m’ont mangé tout entire, temps et cervelle.” “The proofs have eaten me up entirely, time and brain.” As this quote suggests, Buhot was not a cheerful man, despite a successful career and what seemed like a happy family life. Like many of those for whom art is not just a profession, but also a consuming passion, he was a curious man. Buhot died relatively young, at the age of 50. He had already ceased to make prints a few years prior to his death, apparently paralyzed by self-doubt and depression.
Gustave Bourcard in his catalogue raisonné of Buhot’s prints (and updated by James Goodfriend) describes 179 etchings, and 7 lithographs. Buhot editions are generally small, printed in successions of states. His prints are sometimes signed and annotated in pencil, and sometimes stamped with one of his two “red owl” initials.
Valognes, July 9th 1847 - April 26th 1898A.k.a. Félix Hilaire Buhot