1823 Cérilly – Nice 1901
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L’Homme à la pipe – Man with a Pipe, self-portrait ca. 1879
drypoint with burnishing and traces of roulette on laid paper; 450 x 380 mm (17 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches)
signed and dated Janvier 1880 in pen and ink at lower right, dedicated in pencil à l’ami et confrère H. Guérard
Clément-Janin 63 fourth state (of five)
crowned shield with letters AM and countermark D & C BLAUW
Marcellin Desboutin was born into a well-to-do family in Cérilly in central France. He went on to study briefly in the Parisian studios of the sculptor Antoine Etex and the painter Thomas Couture before an extended period of speculation in Italy resulted in his financial ruin. Pushing fifty, and in attempt to finally earn a living, he took a studio in the Batignolles district of Paris where he had some success as a painter but especially as a printmaker. He also became something of a fixture in the local cafés (first the Guerbois and ultimately the Nouvelle-Athenes), holding court among such artists as Manet and Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Fantin-Latour.
Starting in 1873 Desboutin began to experiment with drypoint and established his reputation with his many refined and innovative self-portraits in the technique, works that may have contributed to the revival of interest in drypoint during the 1880s by such artists as Tissot, Rodin, and Helleu. L’Homme à la pipe is one of four self-portrait prints that Desboutin sent to the Salon between 1879 and 1897 and is widely regarded as his finest work. The artist is seen here from the side with a pipe clenched between his teeth, his head turned as he looks out at the viewer with a somewhat worldly-wise expression. His bohemian persona is further established by his long, unkempt hair and beard, the beret on the back of his head, and his loose white shirt. The pipe, a recurring attribute of bohemianism, directly references Courbet’s famous early self-portrait with a pipe of 1848–49 (Musée Fabre, Montpellier), one of the iconic images of dissolute artistic bohemianism. Desboutin himself was represented in the role of the archetypal disheveled bohemian a generation later by several contemporaries, often with his pipe. It appears, for example, in Manet’s full-length portrait of 1875, L’Artiste (Marcellin Desboutin) (Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paolo) and in Degas’s double portrait Desboutin et Vicomte Lepic of ca. 1876 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) in which Desboutin is seen working on a drypoint. Indeed, according to one anecdote, Desboutin himself described his pipe as “the main tool of my trade” (quoted in Alexander Sturgis, Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century, New Haven 2006, p. 110).
As the artist’s biographer, Noël Clément-Janin, noted in 1922, Desboutin seems to have retouched the plates incessantly during the printing process, but often only very lightly. Therefore, while Clément-Janin describes five of the most distinct states for L’Homme à la pipe, he believed that the artist might, in fact, have created 30–40 states of this print, further noting that “nous n’avons jamais recontré deux épreuves absolument semblables” (we have never found two impressions that are entirely the same; Clément-Janin, p. 229).
We are able to offer a fine impression of the fourth state of this print here. Desboutin dedicated it to Henri-Charles Guérard (1846–1897), a Parisian painter, printmaker and printer who was best known as an etcher. Married to the artist Eva Gonzalès Guérard was also friends with all the major representatives of the French etching revival, among them Bracquemond and Buhot.