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Vicomte Ludovic Lepic
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Saint-Péray, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A French aristocrat who pursued art rather than a military career, Vicomte Ludovic Lepic is remembered for his “variable etching” (eau-forte mobile) technique, creatively spreading ink and selectively wiping an etched plate with a rag to produce a variety of images from the same etched plate. His technique had a profound influence on modern printmaking. A painter, costume designer and sculptor as well, Lepic was also an amateur archeologist, the founder of an archeological museum, an avid sailor, a breeder of dogs, an equestrian and a man-about-town who was a close friend of Edgar Degas (1834-1917). The son and grandson of Army generals, Lepic was born in 1839 in Saint-Péray in southern France on an estate owned by his mother’s family. Having shown an interest in art, his father arranged for lessons with two Belgian artists working in Paris, Gustaf Wappers (1803-1874) and Charles Verlat (1824-1890). Lepic learned etching from Verlat, and created his first significant etching in 1860. By then he had met Degas, who would portray Lepic in eleven works over then next thirty years. Lepic rapidly became a skilled etcher and in 1862 was invited to join the Société des Aqua-fortistes (The Society of Etchers), formed by art dealer Alfred Cadart (1828-1875) and others to publish original etchings. Lepic’s etching of a dog begging for its master, Pour les pauvres (For the Poor, IFF 16) was published in the Society’s sixth album, in February 1863. Lepic’s three large etchings of dogs were accepted at the official Salon of 1863; he would exhibit annually at the Salon until 1886. In 1863 Lepic entered the studio of Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), where he became friends with Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). After Gleyre closed his studio, Lepic entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study under the academic painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889); he also studied costume design. In 1865 he married Joséphine de Barral (1843-1907), from an aristocratic military family. Lepic became an experimental printmaker. His monotype Tête de Chien (Head of a Dog, 1866, Baltimore Museum of Art), was created entirely by inking, without any etched or engraved lines. By the next year Lepic had developed the variable etching technique. Lepic met Marie Sanlaville (1847-1930), a leading ballerina at the Paris Opera, sometime before 1870; she later became his mistress. Travel to Holland, Naples and Pompeii help to turn his artistic focus from animals to landscapes and marine scenes. His friend Degas invited him to join with fifteen other artists to form an association to sponsor independent exhibitions, leading to the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, which Lepic helped to plan. Lepic showed seven works, watercolors and etchings. He became estranged from his wife from around 1874 and lived an independent life with a studio in Montmartre. The substantial inheritance he received after the death of his father in 1875 made him financially independent. In that year he painted murals in the restaurant at the new Paris Opéra, and may have designed costumes as well. He showed works at the 1876 Impressionist exhibition, with 42 items listed in the catalog. Lepic did not participate in any of the remaining Impressionist exhibitions. That year he collaborated with Degas on the monotype Le Maitre de Ballet (The Ballet Master, Washington: National Gallery of Art), which both signed; the effort led to Degas’s fascination with monotypes. Lepic published his essay Comment je devins graveur à l’eau-forte (How I Became an Etcher) in 1876; part autobiography, it described his “variable etching” technique. The next year he established a studio in Berck-sur-Mer on the English Channel; Lepic spent about half of the year there for the next eight years, often working while on his sailboat. He achieved a lifetime goal when his painting Le Bateau cassé (The Broken Boat, 1876-77, Berck-sur-Mer: Musée Municipal) won a medal at the 1877 Salon. In addition to group exhibitions, Lepic had solo shows in 1879 and 1883, the latter a large retrospective, including many watercolors painted on an 1882 trip to Egypt. Legally separated from his wife in 1881, they divorced in 1885. He received an important commission from the Paris Opéra to design costumes for three operas and a ballet performed in 1885 and 1886. Lepic skipped the 1886 Salon, but exhibited in 1887 and 1888. Beset by ill-health, in the summer or fall of 1889 Lepic moved into his mistress Sanlaville’s apartment, where he died on October 27. (TNB 8/2013) Selected bibliography: Bailly-Herzberg, Janine. Dictionnaire de l’estampe en France, 1830–1950, pp. 193. Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1985. Buchanan, Harvey. “ Edgar Degas and Ludovic Lepic: An Impressionist Friendship,” in Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, vol. 2, pp. 32-121. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1997.