Graphic Arts Displays

Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) and the cathedrals of France

Room 68

Joseph PennellLa cathédrale de Chartres : le déambulatoire nord© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Joseph Pennell was a talented architectural illustrator during the golden age of the American illustrated press. With the economic growth of the 1890s, journal publications enjoyed great success among middle-class readers. Travel documentaries, or travelogues were particularly popular. The Harper's Monthly, Scribner's and Century Magazine periodicals thus decided to publish an account of the journey of an author and an illustrator who they sent out to explore the world.

In 1888, the editor of New York's Century Magazine, Richard Watson Gilder, asked Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer to write a number of articles on the cathedrals of France, following preliminary work on English cathedrals with Joseph Pennell. The latter made four scouting trips to France. Armed with his pad of large format vellum paper, he produced ink washes enhanced with gouache in incredible architectural detail.

When Pennell donated his works to the national museums in 1908, he expressed his wish to offer France a testimony of the state of conservation of the cathedrals at a time when the safeguarding of heritage had taken on such importance that it had become a State matter. However, these works are not simply "architectural and historical artistic portfolios" illustrating the highly instructive comments of Mariana Griswold.

Souvenir images of travel diaries, they also provide a powerful depiction of local life and the picturesque urban landscapes of France that fascinated Pennell. Worshippers, farmers, craftsmen and passers-by bring life to these works, suggested by several expressive ink lines in the foreground. In the background, the realism of the architecture results from the precise details, emphasised by vibrant contrasts of light.
Marianna Griswold wrote five articles on French cathedrals, while Pennell's wife, the journalist Elisabeth Robins Pennell published a set of her husband's drawings in 1899.

Eugène Boudin and Brittany

Room 69

Eugène BoudinBretonnes sur un quai, près d'un bateau© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / DR
"It is the other end of the earth for us and yet it is not as far as Egypt or Persia" (Boudin, letter to his friend Ferdinand Martin, 15 June 1868). A great traveller, Eugène Boudin scoured the earth looking for inspiration. He was very fond of Brittany for its light and the new range of subjects it afforded him. The faithful and never caricatured representation of the region corresponds to a key moment in the artist's personal journey and the decisive changes in his treatment of landscapes.

Deeply attached to the Finistère department for family reasons, Boudin visited the communes of Plougastel and Faou in 1865, 1867-1868 then every year until 1874. The Impressionist painter thus pursued his quest to paint from nature with the production of almost 700 watercolour sketches with impulsive strokes and colourful notes. He touched on subjects that he then addressed during other trips, in a different light. His market scenes mainly depict Trouville, Brussels and Rotterdam.

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