Lucien Pissarro

Le Patissier


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944
Wood engraving on paper
Image: 165 × 58 mm
Transferred from the Library 1982

Catalogue entry

PISSARRO, Lucien 1863-1944
Le Patissier circa 1884, reprinted 1981
Wood-engraving 165 x 58 (6 5/8 x 2 5/16) on handmade Hosho wove paper approximately 245 x 154 (9 11/16 x 6 1/16); reprinted from the original 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 signature ‘L.VELLAY’ bottom left and printed name ‘KIESZ[LIN]G | P[AR]IS’ in border in reverse at foot of image

Transferred from Tate Library 1982
Purchased from Anthony d’Offay Gallery, July 1981

Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, manuscript studiobook, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1905-29, I, no.22
Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, no.8
David Chambers, Lucien Pissarro: Notes on a Selection of Wood Blocks Held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1980, p.12, p.18 reproduced

Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford 1993, pp.46, 266 note 1
Lora Urbanelli, The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro & a Bibliographical List of Eragny Books, Cambridge and Oxford 1994, reproduced [p.48] fig.2
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.11, fig.i

This early wood-engraving, Le Patissier [The Pastry Cook] by Lucien Pissarro, remained unpublished in his lifetime. It bears a signature engraved into the block ‘L.VELLAY’. Vellay was the maiden name of Lucien Pissarro’s mother and it was his father, Camille Pissarro, who suggested he use this alias to avoid association with the already famous Impressionist painter.[1] Later, at least by 1886, Lucien designed a suitably aesthetic monogram signature which he engraved into his woodblocks and which appears on most subsequent prints. Due to its decorative nature it usually does not look out of place as part of the overall design. 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 about 1884 (for a general discussion see the ‘Introduction’).

The other inscription that partly overlaps the image is the mark of the block maker ‘KIESZ[LING] | P[AR]IS’ stamped into the wood. Kiessling was a block-maker in Paris, and correspondence between Lucien and Camille Pissarro documents that they purchased stock from him a number of times.[2] The text is visible because the other face of the block had already been used for the lower section of another engraving, La Bergère [The Shepherdess]. The design for Le Patissier was engraved on the reverse side of the block which can still be seen in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum.[3] The quality of the wood block was of critical importance to a wood-engraver. The Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, published in 1854, states that


Boxwood is the only kind that can be successfully employed in wood-engraving ... It should be of a clear yellow colour, as equal as possible over the whole surface, without spots or variations of tint, which mark inequality of growth and consequently of hardness, and which are sometimes quite evident in the impressions taken from such blocks, the white portions being softer and more absorbent of ink, and retaining it more tenaciously.[4]

Pissarro’s blocks were usually of boxwood although in a letter to J.B. Manson he noted that he occasionally used pearwood which, being softer, resulted in a different effect.[5] From 1890, after his permanent move to Britain, he almost exclusively bought his wood from T.N. Lawrence, a long established London blockmaker whose company is still in operation today.

Pissarro’s wood-engravings at this stage were still quite experimental. He was largely self-taught and never properly trained in this art, although it is likely that he received some instruction from the renowned French wood-engraver Auguste Lepère (1849-1918). Although probably completed fairly soon after Le Curé (see Tate, P08182), Le Patissier is already a more complex and effective print. The two main tools used by Pissarro for wood-engraving were the graver (or burin) and the scorper.[6] The graver makes clean incisions into the block and produces white lines when printed. Black lines are created by scraping away wood from around a line and this is achieved with the use of a scorper, a chisel-like tool, also sometimes called a gouger. Alan Fern has suggested that when engraving Le Patissier Pissarro also experimented with the use of a tint tool.[7] Tint tools were used to produce fine, even, parallel lines which when printed created the effect of a tint or shade. Mostly employed by reproductive engravers for representing water or sky, or for grey shading, it was possibly used in Le Patissier for the fine white lines on the arms and back of the pastry boy which give the figure some solidity.

Archive notes in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford suggest that the model for the figure of the pastry cook might have been Paul Murer, the son of Eugène Murer (1840-1906), a novelist, amateur painter and collector who owned a pastry business and a hotel in Rouen.[8] Murer knew a number of the Impressionists and collected their work, sometimes accepting paintings from them in exchange for meals. In particular he was an enthusiast for the work of Camille Pissarro, eventually owning over twenty by the artist.[9] 1878, Murer had paid Camille Pissarro to paint his portrait and in 1887 Lucien had contributed an illustration for Murer’s published novel, Pauline Lavinia.[10]

Nicola Moorby
October 2002

[1] Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Cambridge 1993, p.46.

[2] Thorold (ed.) 1993, pp.182, 190, 266, 271, 707.
[3] David Chambers, Lucien Pissarro: Notes on a Selection of Wood-Blocks held at the Ashmolean Museum, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1980, pp.18-19.

[4] Charles Tomlinson (ed.), Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, vol.2, London and New York 1854, p.610.

[5] Lucien Pissarro, Notes on the Eragny Press, and a Letter to J.B. Manson, Cambridge 1957, p.11.

[6] Pissarro 1957, p.13.
[7] Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, p.113.

[8] Chambers 1980, p.19 and Thorold (ed.) 1993, p.23.
[9] Anne Distel, Impressionism: The First Collectors, translated by Barbara Perroud-Benson, New York 1990, p.212.
[10] Portrait of Eugène Murer 1877 (private collection), see Ludovic Rodo Pissarro and Lionello Venturi, Camille Pissarro: Son art - son oeuvre, 2 vols, Paris 1939, no.469.

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