A master of etching and engraving on copper plates, woodcuts and wood engraving, Jean-Emile Laboureur was a French printmaker and painter active in the late 19th and 20th centuries, whose style was influenced by the Post-Impressionist Nabis group (named after the Hebrew word for “prophet”) and the Cubists. His prosperous family sent him from Nantes to Paris to study law in 1895, but he frequented the Académie Julien, museums and the print rooms. Laboureur abandoned legal studies after the wealthy art connoisseur Alphonse Lotz-Brissonneau (1840-1921) introduced him to Auguste Lepère (1849-1918), with whom he studied wood engraving and etching (Lotz-Brissonneau would publish the first catalogue raisonné of Laboureur’s work in 1909). Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and such Nabis as Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Félix Valloton (1865-1925) influenced Laboureur’s early work. In 1899 he began a dozen years of travel, first to several German cities, including an extended stay in Dresden examining the contents of the Print Cabinet. His visits to cities in the United States and Canada from 1903 to 1908 yielded two sets of ten etchings based on his impressions of Pittsburgh and additional images depicting New York City. After a year in London he returned to Nantes in 1909 to exhibit his works, but they were not well received. Laboureur then embarked on a trip to Greece, Italy and Turkey, during which he studied classical antiquities. Returning to Paris in 1910, he encountered Cubism, which affected his subsequent art. When World War I began in 1914, Laboureur was mobilized and assigned to the British Army as an interpreter. Finding that the equipment for wood engraving too bulky to use with an army at war, he took up engraving on copper with a burin and found a new method of printmaking. Of the 39 engravings completed in 1916, nine were published as Petites images de la guerre sur le front britannique (Small Inages of the War at the British Front, Godefroy 144-152). Also in 1916 he began his career in book illustration and design, which became a major part of his œuvre; he illustrated a total of 37 titles. Assigned to Nantes in 1917 to assist in the arrival of American troups, he completed a series of woodcuts showing the American soldiers, Types de l’armée américaine en Franceˆ (Types of American Soldiers in France, 1918, Loyer 714). After the war he married and moved to Le Croisic on the coast of Brittany and in 1927 relocated to Kerfalher, also in Brittany. He was a founder of the Société des Peintres-Graveurs independents in 1923. He continued to make prints, particularly engravings on copper, a few oil paintings and book illustrations, but commissions diminished with the onset of the Great Depression. Laboureur turned his focus to landscapes, and produced a suite of twenty-five etchings, La Brière (1931-1932, Loyer 444-468), inspired by the swamp, La Grande Brière, at the mouth of the Loire River (since reclaimed). In 1939 Laboureur was paralyzed by disease, which led to his death in 1943. (TNB 5/2010) Selected bibliography: Jean-Émile Laboureur, 1877-1943: prints, drawings, and books. Exhibition catalog. New York: Alliance Français, 1977. Jean-Émile Laboureur; estampes, dessins, livres illustrés. Exhibition catalog. Paris: Biblothèque Nationale, 1954.
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