Item #4863 Elle. Albert Besnard.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.
Elle.

Elle.

N.p. [France]: No printer [by the artist], 1900.

Price: $30,000.00

26 unnumbered etchings on vellum sheets of varying sizes, each signed by the artist in graphite.

FIRST STATE (of two), before the addition of the artist’s signature in the plate.

All plates in fine condition, with some glue residue on the versos at the upper corners (probably from earlier mounting), far from the images. One sheet lightly spotted. Housed in a modern custom, chemise-lined black Morocco box (41.5 x 29 cm.).

A complete set of Albert Besnard’s striking suite of 26 etchings on the theme of death, printed on vellum and signed by the artist. This is one of only four copies printed on vellum. The other five sets (the edition was limited to nine impressions) were printed on paper (vélin d'Arches.) At least one of the other vellum copies has been dispersed (a single print on vellum is held, as part of a set (of the second, 1921 issue) on paper, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Coppier (1920) and Delteil (1926) tell us that Besnard used the technique known as “retroussage” (using a piece of soft, fine muslin to slightly soften the effect of the printed lines) during the printing of two of the vellum copies. I have not been able to ascertain whether or not this is one of those two. “Les épreuves de ce premier état, tirées ‘à fleur de métal’ , sont d'une remarquable qualité, Elles sont toutes signées de l'artiste.”(Delteil)

“The title of the series of prints, Elle, refers to Death (La Mort). The series is considered one of Albert Besnard's most significant works in printmaking and depicts the omnipresence of death among the living. In this series, Death is shown in several scenes in the disguise of the mistress of the household, of a courtesan, or of a lover. Death appears in all aspects of daily life, striking when one least expects it, on the path of a horse rider or as a couple embraces in a garden. One scene is particularly cruel, as Death stands in front of a mother with two young children on her lap, and the title of the print elucidates what is at stake: Lequel? (Which One?). In Après sa visite (After the Visit), a man and a woman hide their faces in despair. On the other hand, in L'Importune (Importunate), a doctor by a patient's bedside pushes her away. In Danger passé (Danger Passed), a horse rider continues on, unscathed. Other prints demonstrate the benevolence of Death who can bring relief. In one scene, Death brings together a couple under her cloak.

“In 1900, the French banker, collector, and patron Baron Joseph Vitta (1860-1940) commissioned the series Elle from Besnard. The series was to include 50 plates, of which only 26 were editioned. (A 27th plate, titled L'homme suivant la Mort, was realized but destroyed after only two proofs were pulled). Vitta controlled the preliminary drawings, the plates, and the printed impressions, and limited the size of the edition. The first printing of the series comprised only nine proofs of each plate. A second state of the series, with the addition of Besnard's monogram, was printed in nineteen impressions in 1921. An additional set of impressions of the 1921 issue was offered to the printer of the series, Auguste Vernant. The plates were then cancelled (impressions of the cancelled plates are at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris).

“Born in Paris, Albert Besnard entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1866. He exhibited at the Salon of 1868 and won the Prix de Rome in 1874. While in Rome, he met Charlotte Dubray (1854-1931), the daughter of the sculptor Vital Dubray (1813-1892), and a sculptor herself, who benefited from the sponsorship of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland to study sculpture in Rome. After their marriage in 1879, the couple moved to London. There, Dubray had numerous contacts and Besnard received numerous commissions as a portrait painter. He also studied printmaking with Alphonse Legros. Their four children, three sons and a daughter, became artists. Besnard was the director of the Académie de France in Rome from 1913-1921 and the director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1922 to 1932. He became the first painter to be given a state funeral in France.”(Getty)

“With Elle, Besnard resurrected and modernized the ancient dance of death, adapting its imagery to current tastes while retaining the themes of the power of death and the equality of all before it. Death portrayed by Besnard (the eponymous ‘She’ of the title) is an omnipresent force that circulates among the members of modern society. Lurking in the bushes and gutters, she occasionally takes on the features of a prostitute or a lover. She is a tenacious and patient adversary, usually triumphing over her prey through trickery or duplicity. She is everywhere at once; she strikes arbitrarily and mercilessly.

“Besnard's images illustrate only a few of the countless occasions when Death manifests itself. Many scenes are imbued with black humor, the effect of surprise, and macabre turns of events. Some are poignant, others terrifying. All remind us that death plays a very real and very active role in every aspect of our lives.”(Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada, www.beaux-arts.ca)

Besnard himself established the order of the prints:

Exigeante (D. 131); Dans la Foule (D. 132); L'Accident (D. 133); L'Obstacle (D. 134); Danger Passé (D. 135); L'Inconnue (D. 136); Importune (D. 137); L'Enigme (D. 138); Le Mystère (D. 139); Après sa Visite (D. 140); Ponctuelle (D. 141); Aux Aguets (D. 142); Le Coup de Filet (D. 143); Musicienne (D. 144); Le Vertige (D. 145); Lequel? (D. 146); La Possession (D. 147); Discrète (D. 148); Le Duel (D. 149); la Présentation (D. 150); L'Orgie (D. 151); Charitable (D. 152); Coquette (D. 153); L'Avertissement (D. 154); Elle consacre l'Amour (D. 155); Indifférente (D. 156).

References: Coppier, Les eaux-fortes de Besnard, p. 186-195; Delteil, Le peintre-graveur illustré (XIXe et XXe siècles), volume 30, no. 131-156; BN. Estampes, IFF après 1800, page 343-344, no. 62