The Artist

Henri Rivière

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French, 19th – 20th century.

Born 11 March 1864, in Paris; died 1951, in Paris.       .

Painter (gouache), watercolorist, engraver, lithographer, illustrator, poster artist, draughtsman.

Genre scenes, landscapes. Stage sets. Japonisme.


Biography :


Henri Rivière was a pupil of Emile Bin. He shared his first studio in Paris with Paul Signac, who encouraged him to visit Brittany in the mid-1880s. At first he produced theatre decorations for the Theâtre Antoine, Comédie Française, Theâtre du Vaudeville and Opéra-Comique. He was best known for his active collaboration at the shadow or Rodolphe Salis at his artists’ café and cabaret Chat Noir (Black Cat) until it closed in 1897, where some of his plays, often inspired by Caran d'Ache, and poems and music by Georges Fragerolle, achieved great success. He also produced the posters for them. The publisher Enoch published coloured albums of these plays, with texts by Fragerolle: Clairs de Lune (Moonlight), Héro et Léandre (hero and Leander), Tentation de Saint Antoine (Temptation of St Anthony) in 1887, Le Juif Errant (The Wandering Jew) and La Marche à l'Étoile (Guiding Star) in 1890, Sainte Geneviève de Paris (St Genevieve of Paris) in 1893 and L’enfant Prodigue (The Prodigal Son) in 1894. His attempts at shadow theatre gave his engravings atmospheric effects and variations in light.

He learned etching in 1882, engraving on wood in 1888 and lithography in 1889. He was also a painter and produced mainly watercolours of Paris and typical Breton landscapes with a powerful and sober Realism. Hi travelled to Brittany every year, from May to October, painting on the spot in various locations. He also took inspiration from other places such as Alsace, Savoy, Cassis and Paris.

He and his predecessors Auguste Lepère, Emile Bernard and Félix Vallotton were among the main representative of the revival of engraving on wood. His work consists above all of engravings and series of engravings, which he himself printed in colour. He collected Japanese prints and became the friend of Tadamasa Hayashi, a print seller in Paris. He produced his own tools and colours, obtaining antique velum, and often practicing the Japanese method of ukiyo-e, engraving using a penknife, drawing his subjects from daily life and images from a passing world. He was a great admirer of Hokusai and Hirosige (1797-1858) and their influence may be detected in all his prints, with their asymmetrical framing, and their simplicity of design, arabesque borders flat colours. He used the processes of coloured wood engraving, applied watercolours with a sponge to obtain new shades and used successive impressions for one print. His assimilation and mastery of engraving on wood are particularly evident in The Sea, Studies of Waves and Sailing Boats, six pieces produced from 1890-1892, and Breton Landscapes, 40 pièces produced from 1890-1894. From 1994-1902, his Japanese style period, he produced lithographs, with the series Aspects of Nature, from 1897 to 1899 and in 1908, The Beautiful Country of Brittany, from 1898-1917, Parisian Landscapes in 1900, 36 Views of the Eiffel Tower in 1902, La Féerie des heures from 1901-1902 and In the North-westerly Wind in 1906.

Rivière played an active part in the beginnings of Art Nouveau by encouraging contemporary interest in Japanese art, by taking inspiration from it for the style, technique and the themes of his own prints, by his production of 36 views of the Eiffel Tower based on the 36 views of Mount Fuji by Hiroshige, and by his study of the effects of wind, rain and snow.

Rivière exhibited in Paris, at the Salon des Artists Français and then at the salon of Société National des Beaux-Arts, of which he became a member in 1891. He won a gold medal at Exposition Universelle in 1900. Solo and retrospective exhibitions of his work include Henri Rivière. La Bretagne en Couleurs (Henri Rivière. Brittany in Color) at the museum Musée Départemental Breton in Quimper in 2003. He was an illustrator and produced drawings for satirical journals in Montmartre, such as La Revue Illustré (Illustrated Review), Le Chat Noir (Black Cat) and Le Courrier Français (French Mail), and for Les Farfadets (The Elves) by Mélandri, Voyages (Travels) by Emile Goudeau and Voyages (Travels) by A. Kempis.


(Source: Benezit)

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