Domme in the Dordogne
Best known for his leadership in the revival of the artistic woodcut in late 19th-century France, Auguste Lepère was also an accomplished draughtsman, wood engraver, painter and etcher whose favorite subjects were Paris and its inhabitants. His artistic training began at the age of thirteen when his father François Lepère (1824-1871), a sculptor, enrolled Auguste in the school of Burn Smeeton (active 1840-1860), an English wood engraver working in Paris. Reproductive wood engraving was widely used for illustrations in journals of the time and offered a dependable livelihood. Lepère became an expert both in making reproductive drawings from which others prepared wood engravings and in cutting the engravings himself, as well as a painter of sufficient skill to have his paintings accepted at the annual Salons from 1870 until the early 1880s. Painting became an avocation, however, as Lepère pursued wood engraving. The first published wood engravings signed by him, both reproductive prints after other artists, appeared in 1875; Lepère provided the drawings, with the engraving cut by others. His first wood engraving of his own design, a print showing the construction of the Church of the Sacred Heart on Montmartre, appeared in the May 12, 1877 issue of Le Mond illustré (Lotz-Brissonneau 132). He also carved wood engravings for drawings by other artists. In the 1880s Lepère’s business of providing reproductive prints expanded, leading him to hire others to assist him, while he continued to publish original prints. He abandoned his atelier in 1884, and after 1885 pursued original prints, including woodcuts for journals and illustrations in books and prints sold as single sheets. He exhibited his prints in the Salon, receiving medals in 1881 and 1887. In 1888, Lepère and his friends Tony Beltrand (1847-1904), Daniel Urrabita Vierge (1851-1904), Henri Boutet (1851-1919) and Henri-Patrice Dillon (1851-1909) published an album of ten original prints including four wood engravings as L’Estampe originale. The album also included an etching by Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914) and an introduction by art critic Roger Marx (1859-1913). The album received glowing reviews and was followed by two others in 1889 and 1891. Lepère’s artistic experimentation continued in 1889 with hand-colored wood engravings, a chiaroscuro woodcut and a color woodcut cut into the sidegrain of a block and printed using water-based inks in the Japanese manner. Also in that year he learned etching from Bracquemond. In the Exposition des Peintres-Graveurs at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1890, Lepère exhibited 41 works in a variety of media: paintings, etchings, a watercolor and 23 woodcuts and wood engravings. Also in that year he exhibited his prints at the Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1893 Lepère’s etching and aquatint Blanchisseuses (The Washerwomen; Lotz-Brissoneau 91) was published as part of André Marty’s (1857-?) series also named L’Estampe originale. His work is thought by scholars (e.g., Baas, below) to have encouraged Henri Rivière (1864-1951) to pursue woodcuts in the Japanese style and provided inspiration for such artists as Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) and Paul Gauguin (1843-1903) in the 1890s, leading to the revival of the medium. His experimentation led him to use multiple wood blocks to print line as well as flat color blocks, achieving notable atmospheric effects. After 1900 Lepère was financially able to spend more time painting, and his earlier work was republished in portfolios, which became popular in both Europe and America. He also illustrated a new edition, published in 1903, of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s (1848-1907) work A rebours (Against Nature), first published in 1884 with illustrations by Odilon Redon (1840-1916); the 1903 edition contained 220 color woodcuts by Lepère. He was made a member of the Legion of Honor in 1911. (TNB 5/2010) Selected bibliography: Baas, J. and R. S. Field. The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France, 1850–1900, pp. 40-49. Exhibition catalog. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1983. Fifty woodcuts, wood-engravings and lithographs by Auguste Lepère: from the A Lotz-Brissonneau collection. Exhibition catalog. New York: M Knoedler, 1934. Vital, Christophe. August Lepère: 1849-1918. Saint-Sébastien, France: ACL Edition; Société Crocus, 1988.