Henri Rivière: La Féérie des Heures
In 1888 Henri Rivière met Eugénie Ley, who was to become his wife in 1895. Rivière recalls in his memoirs that thanks to her prudent management of their finances, starting in the early 1890s, the young couple was able to spend four months in Brittany every summer. After a few years of stays in assorted fishermen and farm houses, the Riviere constructed a small stone house in Loguivy-en-Ploubazlanec. They returned there every summer through 1913 to spend the warmer months at their second home, which they had called Landiris. From this base, the artist would set out most mornings to discover and paint in watercolors the surrounding landscape.
If you are mostly interested in seeing images off this series,
scroll to the bottom of this essay.
It is clear that during these early summers in Brittany, Rivière amassed quite a body of work. Many of these compositions became the basis for color woodcuts, which Rivière created assiduously in the early 1890s. But he faced rejection from most print collectors for his emulation of Japanese style woodcuts. He soon abandoned this technique and focused his energy on other artistic pursuits, such as the shadow theater at the Chat Noir. Left however with many compositional concepts that had not been developed into woodcuts, Rivière revisited some of them in the late 1890s and early 1900s, when he started creating color lithographs printed and published by Eugène Verneau.
Verneau was mostly known as a printer of posters, programs, and assorted commercial lithography. He seems to have had the ear of many fine artists interested in creating color lithographs as fine arts, rather than simply as commercial work. Rivière remembers him as a friend, whom he described as generous, good-natured, jovial, and quick-witted. After some random collaborations, Rivière and Verneau initiated what was to become one of the most ambitious projects in color lithography ever undertaken. From 1897 through 1906 (and even as late as 1917), Rivière worked for many months each winter at the shop of Eugène Verneau, 108 rue de la Folie Méricourt (in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement). Cumulatively Rivière spent two and a half year at the shop. Aided by a technician names René Toutain, who was often surprised by the artists technical demands, both men created all manner of color gradation effects which had never been obtained in lithography before. These color lithographic effects remain to this day barely equaled, let alone emulated by any fine artist.
In 1901 and 1902 Henri Rivière drew a series of 16 color lithographs on stone in oblong format: La Féérie des Heures (ENG: The Enchantment of Hours). The format of these prints, generally printed in 12 colors, was inspired without a doubt by Japanese wall hangings (kakemono, kakejiku). The 7 vertical and 9 horizontal compositions lent themselves to depict impressionistic landscapes, focusing on the expansiveness of the seas and skies the artist inhabited one season each year. While Rivière only depicted a single clearly defined season with his snowy rendition of La Neige, what the series lacks for in “seasonality”, it makes up for in other diverse atmospheric effects. Nearly all compositions are quiet, with the exception of L’Averse, La Tempête, and Le Vent. Yet a variety of weather phenomena make appearances. In addition to snow, wind and rain, Rivière also depicts fog, and even a rainbow. Being in Brittany almost exclusively in summer, his Hours are those of summer days, not of a varied time of year.
Dusk and dawn, light coming in at low angles and creating shadows, assorted moon, and sun rays, as well as blue, yellow, and overcast-gray-sky light, all make appearances. Even night is colorful. On the waters the artist lets pink, green, blue and gray light reflect. In varied skies white, orange, lemony-yellow and many gradations of these colors, expand well beyond the outer line of each composition.
This is an ode to those moments we spend in nature waiting for magic to happen. What Rivière shows us, is man marveling at time effortlessly fading from the unmemorable to the immemorably unforgettable. La Féérie des Heures is Rivière’s way to embody in color lithographs the ineffable he experienced in his hours in Brittany.
Written by Bernard Derroitte
Final note - on Thursday 28th of novembre 1901, the famous art critic Arsène Alexandre said the following in Le Figaro (page 5, 47th year, 3rd series, # 332):
In the foyer of the Antoine theater, Mr. Henri Rivière is exhibiting his new suite of [decorative] wall prints, the Féerie des Heures. We should boldly state that it is the most complete, the most attractive work that this beautiful artist has given us. We find in these lithographs all the qualities of color and poetry which had made Rivière’s fame at Shadows [theater] of the Chat Noir [cabaret]. Moreover, these prints have an undefinable compositional power and strength of the line. As impressions of color lithographs go, it does not seem that one could not push perfection any further…
Printed in editions of 1000 on smooth wove paper. There was also an edition of 25 printed in chine paper, signed and numbered in blue pencil.
Images: 24 x 60 cm; 9 ½ x 23 ⅝ inches.
The first 8 were printed and published by Eugène Verneau in 1901.
The next 8 were printed in late 1901 or early 1902.
These prints were sold individually for 7 francs; the series of 16 for 100 francs. Impressions from the deluxe signed edition of chine sold for 20 francs.
1. L’Aube (English: Dawn)
2. Le Soleil Couchant (The Setting Sun)
3. L'Arc-en-Ciel (The Rainbow)
4. La Brume (Fog)
5. Le Premier Quartier (The First Quarter)
6. Les Reflets (Reflections)
7. L’Averse (The Shower)
8. Le Vent (Wind)
9. La Pleine Lune (The Full Moon)
10. La Tempête (The Storm)
11. Le Calme Plat (Dead Calm)
12. Le Crépuscule (Dusk)
13. L’Orage qui Monte (The Rising Storm)
14. La Neige (Snow)
15. La Nuit (Night)
16. Les Derniers Rayons (The Last Rays)