Lucien Pissarro



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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944
Wood engraving on paper
Image: 178 × 64 mm
Transferred from the Library 1982

Catalogue entry

PISSARRO, Lucien 1863-1944
Floréal 1890, reprinted 1981
Wood-engraving 178 x 64 (7 x 2 1/2) on handmade Hosho wove paper approximately 245 x 153 (9 11/16 x 6); reprinted from the original wood block by Iain Bain and David Chambers, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1981, as part of a portfolio of 29 prints in an edition of 175
Printed monogram ‘LP’ bottom left and engraved ‘FLORÉAL’ bottom of image
Transferred from Tate Library 1982
Purchased from Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1981

Twelve Woodcuts in Black and Colours by Lucien Pissarro (also known as The First Portfolio), London 1891, no.8
Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1905-29, I, no.52
Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, no.55
David Chambers, Lucien Pissarro: Notes on a Selection of Wood Blocks Held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1980, pp.11, 24-5, reproduced p.25 and front cover
Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford 1993, pp.140, 226, 230-4 note 1, 276 note 3, 586 note 2, reproduced pl.53a

Lora Urbanelli, The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro & a Bibliographical List of Eragny Books, Cambridge and Oxford 1994, reproduced fig.13 [p.76]
Lora Urbanelli, The Book Art of Lucien Pissarro with a Bibliographical List of the Books of the Eragny Press 1894-1914, Rhode Island and London 1997, reproduced p.68, fig.10

This wood-engraving was included in Pissarro’s first published collection of his prints, Twelve Woodcuts in Black and Colours, also known as the First Portfolio. Tate’s version of the design was printed in 1981 for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from the original wood block carved by Lucien Pissarro in 1890 (for a general discussion see the ‘Introduction’).
In 1890, shortly after settling in England permanently, Pissarro was introduced to Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) and Charles Shannon (1863-1937). These two artists had been pupils of the French wood-engraver, Auguste Lepère, and were now central figures of the Vale Group, artists and writers who maintained a special interest in the revival of wood-engraving. Ricketts founded his own private press, the Vale Press, Chelsea, in 1896, but he and Shannon had been undertaking publishing projects such as the art and literature magazine, The Dial, as early as 1889. He was impressed by Pissarro’s work, particularly his colour wood-engraving, and offered to publish a collection of wood-engravings, Twelve Woodcuts in Black and Colours by Lucien Pissarro, which was begun in 1891 and completed in 1893. Pissarro exhibited the finished wood-engravings at the Salon des Indépedents in Paris in 1891 and with the Groupe de XX in Brussels in 1892.
Twelve Woodcuts was the culmination of assembled designs conceived for several different projects over a number of years. Pissarro’s initial attempts to get his illustrations for children’s literature published, either in France or England, were unsuccessful. He was told by various editors that his watercolours for Il Etait une bergère [Once Upon a Time There was a Shepherdess] (see Tate, P08182) were too expensive to reproduce in colour and in any case an English market would not like the Catholic French flavour of the story.[1] Prior to Pissarro’s move from France, friends and family in England sent him copies of current children’s literature to keep him appraised of what English editors might be looking for, including examples from the most successful illustrators for children of the time, Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), Walter Crane (1845-1915) and Randolph Caldecott (1846-86). Pissarro’s cousin Esther Isaacson, who lived in London, suggested he should try producing illustrations on the theme of the seasons or months. Diaries for children, and calendars and illustrations of child subjects, were very popular and marketable at the time. Kate Greenaway’s almanacs, which she produced almost every year from 1883 to 1897, were notable, comprising a yearly calendar that included detailed information on full moons, tides and postage and included twelve large illustrations showing children engaged in various activities, on the page for each month.

Pissarro followed Greenaway’s formula in his designs for two separate projects. The first was a series of illustrations for the months and the seasons, and the second was L’Almanach des petits enfants [The Little Children’s Almanac]. Neither of these schemes came to fruition, for the designs were rejected once again by English editors of publications such as The Little One’s Own, the Child’s Pictorial and the English Illustrated Magazine.[2] However, many of the finished wood-engravings intended for either of these series, including Floréal, were eventually published as part of the Twelve Woodcuts. The title derives from the name for the eighth month of the French Republican Calendar, the official calendar of France from 1793 to 1805. The Republic abandoned the structure of the Gregorian Calendar and rationalised the year into four seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn), each divided into three months of thirty days each. This created a few ‘leftover’ days called the ‘Jours complémentaires’ which were made into public holidays. The redefined months were assigned new poetic names related to the world of Nature and reflecting the time of year. Spring was made up of three months, Germinal, Floréal and Prairial. Floréal, which covered a period of time equivalent in the Gregorian Calendar to 20 April-19 May, literally means month of blooms or month of flowering. The calendar was a radical attempt to introduce the ideals of the French Republic into the everyday lives of its citizens, ideals which were not very far removed from Pissarro’s own anarchist beliefs. In particular, it reflected the importance of the agricultural classes in France, with each day bearing a name derived from the natural world. The Gregorian Calendar was reinstated in France by Emperor Napoleon I in 1806, although the Republican Calendar was in use again for a brief time in Paris in 1871 during the Commune.

Sketchbooks in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum contain preparatory drawings executed by Pissarro in around 1888-9, before his move to England. They include sketches which demonstrate that Floréal was originally conceived as a calendar design representing the month of May.[3] Other designs published in Twelve Woodcuts connected with the seasons and months include April (see Tate, P08185) and Little May.[4] Floréal, which was originally printed in brown ink on yellow-brown paper, shows two young children catching blossom as it falls from a tree. Anne Thorold has suggested that they are based upon Pissarro’s younger brother and sister, Paul-Emile and Jeanne.[5] The Pissarro family was a large one of seven children (although the second child, Jeanne, called Minette, died in 1874 aged only nine) with a gap of twenty-one years between the eldest, Lucien and the youngest child, Paul-Emile. In 1888, Jeanne (usually known as Cocotte, and not the same Jeanne, who had died) would have been aged seven and Paul-Emile, about four. The two children in the wood-engraved illustration appear to be girls. However the figure of the smaller child could easily have been adapted from that of a very young boy and, as a child, Paul-Emile was frequently dressed in his elder sister’s hand-me-downs in order to save money.[6] Preliminary sketches for the smaller child show that he/she had blond hair and was holding out an apron for carrying apples rather than flowers. The wood-block was cut by Pissarro in France although many of the other wood-engravings for Twelve Woodcuts were completed in England, from a general stock of earlier drawings sketched in France.

Floréal is one of the most typically Art Nouveau of Lucien Pissarro’s prints, both in its decorative design and in the style of lettering, comparable to the Paris Métropolitain railway letters of the 1890s designed by Hector Guimard (1867-1942), and advertising posters of the Belle Epoque in colour lithography by artists such as Jules Chéret (1836-1932). The design is also comparable to the mannered style of early drawings and screens by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). In 1889 Bonnard won a competition to design a poster advertising champagne, and his winning entry, France-Champagne in colour lithography was published in 1891 and became very popular.
David Chambers has noted that the semi-circular blank flaw which appears in the foot of the black border that surrounds Floréal, also appears in the proof pasted into Pissarro’s ‘Catalogue de Gravures sur Bois’.[7] The block therefore must have been damaged during or shortly after the cutting process. For a technical discussion of wood-engraving see the entry for P08185.

Nicola Moorby
January 2003

[1] Fiona Fitzgerald, ‘The Prints of Lucien Pissarro from 1886 to 1896’, unpublished M.A. thesis, University of East Anglia 1981, p.13 note 36.

[2]Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford 1993, p.135.

[3] Reproduced in David Chambers, Lucien Pissarro: Notes on a Selection of Wood Blocks Held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1980, p.25.
[4] Reproduced in Lora Urbanelli, The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro & a Bibliographical List of Eragny Books, Cambridge and Oxford 1994, fig.11.
[5] Thorold (ed.) 1993 p.230.
[6] Information supplied by Anne Thorold, February 2003, Tate catalogue file.

[7] Chambers 1980, pp.24-5.

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