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HENRI RIVIÈRE  (1864-1951)

Henri Rivière is considered to be the greatest engraver of the end of the 19th century. A native of Paris, friend of Paul Signac and Edgar Degas, he frequented the Montmartre artistic community and became artistic director of the famous Chat Noir cabaret in the 1880s and 1890s, designing all kinds of ingenious sets. He renovated the art of engraving thanks to his mastery of technical processes and his assimilation of the principles of Japonism.

 

Discovering Brittany in 1885, where he met Renoir, Rivière spends half of his time there each year, surveying the Pink Granite Coast and the Finistère coast to sketch the seascapes, the work of the peasants, the work of the fishermen. He particularly liked Tréboul then Morgat in Finistère and Loguivy, near Paimpol, in Côtes-d'Armor, where he bought a house called “Landiris” in 1895.

Engraving first on wood, after months of hard work, Rivière managed to reproduce the Japanese engravers' method as an autodidact in order to obtain prints in several colors. This discovery earned him fame in the 1890s and critical acclaim. From 1897, he abandoned woodcut for lithography (printing from a stone matrix).  

In 1913, Eugène Verneau, his lifelong printer, died. After 1917, Rivière gave up lithography, devoting himself to the technique of etching and, above all, to watercolour, which he had been practicing since 1890. He had executed more than seven hundred watercolours during his life, which 'he painted in front of the motif during his daily outings to explore nature: exhibited only once during his lifetime, in 1921, Rivière kept them in his studio until his death.  

After 1916, his wife's health declining, Rivière no longer frequents Brittany but settles in Provence, with a milder climate, where he spends the winter months. Blind in 1943, he wrote his memoirs, published in 2004 under the title Les Détours du Chemin. He died surrounded by his friends in 1951, in Sucy-en-Brie.  

Also set designer, photographer, poet and collector of Asian art, Rivière owned many prints by the great Japanese printmakers, Hokusai and Hiroshige, whom he admired. Most of Rivière's work is now kept at the National Library of France following a donation in 2006.

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