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“Pieter Dupont’s Engraved Portrait of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen”

Pieter Dupont’s Engraved Portrait of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen
In 1901 Pieter Dupont (1870-1911) completed a stunning engraved portrait of his friend
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923), titled simply Th. Steinlen. (ill. 1). Given the
rigors of the engraving technique it is a surprisingly relaxed and unpretentious likeness,
and one that emphasizes an interplay of art, literature and friendship befitting the subject
of this volume. Previous to completing this work Dupont had studied in Amsterdam at
the Rijksnormaalschool voor Teekenonderwijzers (National Normal School for Drawing
Teachers) from 1887-1889 and at the Rijksakademie (National Academy of Art) from
1899-1993. Around 1893 he was introduced to etching, apparently by his drawing teacher
Maurits van der Valk (1857-1935).1 Between 1896 and 1900 he spent much of his time in
France, initially in Paris, then in Nogent-sur-Marne and Auvers-sur-Oise. While in
France he made periodic visits to the Netherlands and reportedly took time to study in the
Amsterdam Rijksprentenkabinet (print collections of the Rijksmuseum).2 During his time
in France Dupont produced numerous sympathetic etched studies of exhausted
workhorses pulling carts along the river Seine and plow horses at work in the fields.
In the summer of 1898 Dupont met and studied with Carel H. Helweg, a professional
engraver in Amsterdam.3 Engraving, with its elegant linear vocabulary, was a natural
match for Dupont, whose development as an engraver was remarkably accelerated.
Within a year of his training with Helweg he completed a major engraving, Ploegpaard
bij Fontenay-aux-Roses, which won a gold medal when exhibited at the Exposition
Universelle in Paris in 1900. His portrait of Steinlen, started in 1900 and completed in
1901, was his fifth engraving and his first of six engraved portraits. The following year,
late in 1902, Dupont was appointed professor of engraving at the Rijksakademie in
Amsterdam. Dupont’s technical virtuosity has often invited comparisons to the great
sixteenth-century masters of engraving Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden, and, less
frequently, Hendrick Goltzius. For example, when Dupont exhibited with La Libre
Esthétique in Brusssels in 1902, Madeleine Octave Maus was inspired to note that
Dupont's engravings “caused a sensation by the Force and certainty of his lines
compelling us to go so far as to compare them to those of Dürer”.4
1 W.F. Dupont, Pieter Dupont een Nederlandsch Graveur. Zijn Leven en Werken
(Oisterwijk : Uitgeverij ‘Oisterwijk’, 1947), 26-27 ; Michiel Kersten, De Nederlandse
kopergravure [1900-1975] ('s-Gravenhage : Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst : SDU, 1989),
2 Michiel Kersten, 17 ; Irene M. de Groot, « Pieter Dupont » in : Van Gogh To Mondrian:
Dutch Works on Paper (Amsterdam : Rijksmuseum and Zwolle : Waanders, 2000) 130.
3 Michiel Kersten, 18 ; Irene M. de Groot, 130.
4 “Les gravures de Pierre Dupont ; ces dernières firent sensation par la force et la sȗreté
d’un trait que l’on alla jusqu’à comparer à celui de Dürer”. Madeleine Octave Maus,
Trente années de lute pour l’art. Les XX La Libre Esthétique 1884-1914. (Bruxelles :
Lebber Hossmann, 1980), 273. For other examples of comparisons to old master
engravers see, for example, W.F. Dupont, 69 [compared to Goltzius, Dürer, Lucas] ;
Arthur M. Hind, A History of Engraving & Etching from the 15th Century to the Year
1914 (New York : Dover Publications, Inc., 1963 [originally published 1923]), 212
Dupont’s portrait of Steinlen is the first in a series of tour-de-force engraved portraits
executed over the following eight years, and it is arguably the most complex from the
standpoint of it rich content. Steinlen was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he
remained until, at the age of twenty, he travelled to his uncle’s home in Mulhouse,
Germany, and worked as an apprentice in a textile factory.5 Two years later, in 1881, he
moved to Paris where he was quickly embraced by the artistic and literary circle of the
Chat Noir cabaret that had been founded by Swiss-born Rodolphe Salis.6 Although active
as a painter and sculptor, Steinlen is best known for his prolific production of socially
engaged prints, illustrations, and lithographic posters. His sympathies clearly tended
toward the socialist-anarchist spectrum and he often contributed graphic art to journals
that espoused radical ideas, such as Les Temps Nouveaux.7 Not surprisingly he was a
staunch supporter of Alfred Dreyfus. Dupont’s son, in his biography of his father,
indicated that Steinlen and Dupont (who met in Paris in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair)
were friends and that they evidently shared a fondness for Émile Zola.8
The site of site of Steinlen’s studio as seen in Dupont’s engraving is probably 21, rue
Caulaincourt.9 The books and artworks depicted in Dupont’s Th. Steinlein have often
been enumerated, although not always accurately, and never completely.10 Phillipe
Kaenel correctly writes that the two works of art behind Steinlen, one on his desk and one
on an easel, are a pair of lithographs titled Aujourd’hui and Demain that appeared in the
periodical Le Chambard Socialiste in March and April of 1894.11 Aujourd’hui shows a
peasant family, including a mother with babe in arms, harnessed to a plow under the gaze
[compared to Dürer] ; A.J. Vervoorn, Nederlandse prentkunst, 1840–1940 (Lochem-
Poperinge : Uitgeversmaatschappij De Tijdstroom, 1983), 39 [compared to Lucas].
5 Philippe Kaenel, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen. L’oeil de la rue, Lausanne : Musée des
Beaux-Arts, 2008), 207 ; Phillip Dennis Cate, « Steinlen, Théophile-Alexandre », in:
Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.
240 (accessed February 12, 2012).
7 For a list of Steinlen’s contributions to Les Temps Nouveaux see Aline Dardel, ‘Les
Temps Nouveaux’ 1895-1914. Un hebdomadaire anarchiste et la propaganda par
l’image, (Paris : Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Éditions de la Réunion
des Musées Nationaux, 1987), 45 (Les Dossiers du Musée D’Orsay 17).
8 W.F. Dupont, 71, where Zola is described as “de man an wien èn Steinlen, èn Dupont
zich nauw verwant moeten hebben gevoeld.”
9 Philippe Kaenel, 19 and 208 indicates that Steinlen resided at 73, rue Caulaincourt and
rented Toulouse Lautrec’s old studio at 21, rue Caulaincourt.
10 For example, W.F. Dupont, 71 ; Philippe Kaenel, 19.
11 Philippe Kaenel, 19 – while that artist’s son identified the work on the easel as “les
Assassins du Pas de Calais”, see W.F. Dupont, 71.
of a fat capitalist or landlord, while Demain shows the same family free of their yoke,
pushing capitalist down into the soil.12
The bookshelf provides a literary portrait of Steinlen. We can recognize many of the
titles. On the first shelf there are three volumes, identified on their spines as “91-00 Gil
Blas”, “Les Chats”, and “Les Feuilles - Z d'A” – all of which were illustrated by
Steinlen.13 The journal Gils Blas was famous for serializing Zola’s novel Germinal. “Les
Chats” refers no doubt to Des Chats. Dessins sans paroles par Steinlen (1898), and “Z
d’A” is Dupont’s shorthand for Zo d’Axa (1864-1930), the anarchist and satirist who
founded the journal Les Feuilles. The second shelf holds six volumes whose spines are
inscribed “A. France”, “E. Zola”, “FF”, Dans la Rue” and “H. de Balzac”. The references
to authors Anatole France, Émile Zola and Honoré de Balzac are straightforward
(Steinlen met both France and Zola in 1895).14 “FF” may refer to the French anarchist
and art critic Félix Feneon. “Dans la Rue” refers to a work illustrated by Steinlen, Dans
la rue : chansons & monologues, a collection of folksongs by the singer and founder of
the famous nightclub Le Mirliton, Aristide Bruant. The third shelf holds 12 volumes
including Zola’s novel Germinal, works by the art critic Charles Baudelaire, the writer
and novelist Guy de Maupassant, the philosopher Karl Marx, and three works identified
only by volume numbers I-III. The fourth shelf contains fifteen unidentified works.
The combination of Steinlen’s artwork and his library give a clear indication of the
artist’s commitment to socially-engaged art and to his anarchist and socialist leanings.
Unfortunately we know next to nothing about Dupont’s political stance, other than his
son’s testimony that Dupont and Steinlen were friends and shared an appreciation for
Zola.15 Given Dupont’s predilection for creating etchings, engravings and drawings of
beasts of burden, plows and plowmen, cart drivers, and other scenes of work, one might
speculate that he was sympathetic to the socialist cause, but in truth we do not have
enough evidence to proclaim this. It is clear, however, that in making reference to
Steinlen’s library, artwork and studio surroundings that Dupont was drawing heavily
upon a tradition in of intellectual portraiture in printmaking. We can look at a few
examples to suggest how pervasive the idea of the printed intellectual portrait was.
Consider, for example, these three works that were likely known to Dupon : Albrecht
Dürer’s 1514 engraving, Saint Jerome in his Study ; the imposing etched portrait of
Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) in 1882 by Félix Bracquemond (ill. 2) ; and a print by
Willem Geets that was included in the 1886-1887 Album der Antwerpsche Etsers titled
Een Liefhebber (A Connoisseur, ill. 3), which is a portrait of Auguste de Bruyne, a
bibliophile from Mechelen.
12 Philippe Kaenel, 19 In the engraving both of Steinlen’s compositions are reversed,
presumably because Dupont chose not to compensate for the fact that they would be
reversed in the printing process, and probably not because, as Kaenel suggests, Dupont
has depicted the actual lithographic stone for Aujourd’hui on the easel.
13 For a complete list of books illustrated by Steinlen see Philippe Kaenel, 216-218.
14 Philippe Kaenel, 208.
In Dürer’s print Saint Jerome is deeply focused on his work within the confines of his
study, a space that is full of the implements of the scholarly work (writing utensils, books
and objects of contemplation). In Bracquemond’s Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt, who,
with his brother Jules, helped pave the way toward realism in literature between Flaubert
and Zola, we see the man of letters surrounded by his art collection and other emblems of
cultivation and learning : an elaborate mirror reflects details of a library that include a
ceiling ornament with a Japanese chimera and a bisque vase from Vincennes.16 Next to
the mirror is a bas-relief by the French rococo sculptor Clodion, and a Japanese bronze,
probably made for export, that references a Buddhist keman.17 In the foreground a
portfolio of etchings by the sitter’s brother, Jules de Goncourt, is visible in a wooden
display stand. Finally, in GeetsEen Liefhebber Auguste de Bruyne is surrounded by
books and print portfolios that testify to his connection to arts and letters.18
While there is no reason to argue that any of these three prints was a specific source for
Dupont’s Th. Steinlen, he could reasonably have had access to them and other similar
portrait prints and therefore have been fully aware of a tradition of intellectual portraiture
in printmaking. Specifically, it seems probably that he was aware of the accomplishments
of the XVIth-century masters to whom he was often compared. We know, for example,
that Dupont had the opportunity to view old master prints ; for example, Dupont’s son
wrote of his father, “In order for a man with a conventional, even orthodox opinion about
line to reach the future of etching it was necessary to develop his own visual language,
and one may assume without hesitation that he had sampled the history of graphic art in
the print collections in Amsterdam as well as in London and Paris.”19 It would have been
nearly impossible to have been a printmaker in late XIXth-century Paris without being
aware of Bracquemond, who was a formidable force in promoting etching as an art form.
In 1862 he was a charter member of the etching organization, La Société des
Aquafortistes, and he was the first president of the La Société des peintres-graveurs
(founded in 1891), whose membership included a broad range of impressionist and post-
impressionist artists. While Geets has never been a well-known figure, Dupont very
likely knew the prints issuing from the etching societies of his day, such as the Antwerpse
Etsers (Antwerp, 1880-1891), who published Geets’ print ; La Société des Aquafortistes
(Paris, 1862-1867) ; La Société d'aquafortistes belges (Brussels, 1886-1914) ; or De
Nederlandsche Etsclub (Amsterdam, 1885-1895).
18 Leopold Le Clercq, « Les de Bruyne, libraires, antiquaires et bibliophiles malinois.
(1810-1889) », De gulden passer 13 (1935), 129-183.
19 W.F. Dupont, 65, “Immers van een man met een gevestigd, bijkans orthodox
aandoende meening omtrent de lijn, die het toekomstige etsen te volgen had om tot een
volledige eigen vormentaal te geraken, mag men zonder enig aarzelen aannemen, dat hij
de geschiedenis der grafische kunsten terdege aan de bewaarde prenten in de kabinetten
niet allen te Amsterdam, maar ook in Londen en parijs had getoetst.”
In his portrait of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Pieter Dupont drew upon an intimate
knowledge of the sitter, upon a general knowledge of intellectual portrait prints, and upon
his newly acquired expertise in engraving to produce an unforgettable likeness of one of
the key graphic artists active in fin-de-siècle Paris. Dupont’s tour-de-force technique
lends his subject the credibility, if not the dignity, of an old master print while also
asserting, with a small handful of other practitioners, the viability of engraving as a
vehicle of artistic expression in the modern world.
Stephen Goddard
Spencer Museum of Art
Pieter Dupont, Th. Steinlen, engraving, 1891.
Credit: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Museum purchase:
Lucy Shaw Schultz Fund, 1998.0690
Félix Bracquemond, Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt, etching,
Credit: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Museum Purchase :
Letha Churchill Walker Fund
Willem Geets, Een Liefhebber (A Connoisseur, Portrait of Auguste de Bruyne), etching
and drypoint 1886-1887, from Album der Antwerpsche Etsers, 1886-87.
Credit: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Museum purchase :
Letha Churchill Walker Fund, 2000.0112
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
A Connoisseur, Portrait of Auguste de Bruyne), etching and drypoint 1886-1887, from Album der Antwerpsche Etsers
  • Willem Geets
  • Een Liefhebber
Willem Geets, Een Liefhebber (A Connoisseur, Portrait of Auguste de Bruyne), etching and drypoint 1886-1887, from Album der Antwerpsche Etsers, 1886-87.