Saturday, December 29, 2012


Captivated by darkness:
Charles Meryon and the French etching revival on view at the Hamburger Kunsthalle

HAMBURG.- With this exhibition of prints by the Paris-born artist Charles Meryon (1821–1868), the Hamburger Kunsthalle demonstrates that the renaissance of etching in the 19th century was centred in France. Meryon’s exceptional position derives from the fact that he was among the first artists in the country to rediscover the traditional technique. The “Piranesi of France” began using etching in the 1850s to depict the medieval architecture of Paris. 

His images often showed the city being attacked by fantastic creatures – a product of the artist’s creative imagination and also a sign of his declining mental health. Meryon’s etchings present Paris in a truly visionary light.

Previous exhibitions dedicated to Charles Meryon have strongly emphasised his marginal position on the 19th-century art scene. As a result, his work has mainly been presented in monographic surveys that focus on Meryon as a solitary figure who died in 1868 at the age of 46, having been finally committed to the asylum at Charenton in a state of mental derangement. 

Without calling into question the unfathomable nature of his views of Paris, Meryon can still be regarded as a child of his time. Not only was he a member of the Société des Aquafortistes, which initiated the revival of etching in France from around 1862 onwards and counted the likes of Édouard Manet among its members, his work was also openly praised by none other than the great French writer Charles Baudelaire.  

The exhibition in the Saal der Meisterzeichnung (Hall of Master Drawings) presents 20 etchings by Meryon and works from the artist’s surrounding. The exhibits are from the collection of Hamburger Kunsthalle, from the Hegewisch Collection at Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Museum of Prints and Drawings, Berlin. The Freunde der Kunsthalle have generously sponsored a publication (12,80 Euro) to accompany the exhibition. (Curator of the exhibition: Jonas Beyer.) 

NOTE:  Seeing and reading this press release on yesterday, I remembered that I had completely forgotten how much Charles Meryon's work once meant to me.  I can only say: "how good it is to meet you again," at the end of the line, precipice’s edge, in a stockroom stripped of everything except handfuls of dust and stores of ill-will.  

The etcher’s art is crafty, yet free; loose and tight; reverse-acted; acid-born.  And that’s just the skin of it.  Concentrating on heavy physical constructions and plein-aether, Meryon went deep, beneath  surfaces, into other atmospheres.  If any time at all remains to us and it doesn’t seem too crazy, perhaps this is the collection I’ll finally begin.  I’ve been looking for something good to hold onto.

Trying To Hold On -- Carla Olson (Link)

Illustrations (upper to lower):
i.      Photographic portrait of Charles Meryon by an anonymous photographer, 1850.
ii.   Charles Meryon, Le Pont-Neuf, Paris, 1853, etching and drypoint.
iii. Charles Meryon, The old entrance of the Palace of Justice, Paris, 1854, etching and drypoint.
iv.   Charles Meryon, The Notre-Dame Pumphouse, 1853, etching.
v.      Charles Meryon, Chatêau de Chenonceau, No. 2, 1856, etching.
vi.   Charles Meryon, Molière’s Tomb, 1854, etching.
vii. Charles Meryon, Le Stryge, 1854, etching.
viii.    Charles Meryon, Le pont au change, 1854, etching and drypoint.
ix.   Léopold Flameng, Portrait of Charles Meryon, 1858, rotogravure from original drawing.

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