Manuel Robbe

Meditated Reading

Manuel Robbe

Meditated Reading

This early 20th-century drypoint etching by eminent French artist Manuel Robbe (1872-1936) depicts a lady reading within the comfort of her own bedroom.

It’s a celebration of beauty, escapism, and education.

Perched upon the corner of her bed alone, she disappears into literature, a world beyond the trappings of high society. As an educated woman her role is ever-evolving - on one hand, a fashionista, on the other, a decision-maker and connoisseur. Within her own space, she can simply read, away from the prying eyes of Parisian peers. It’s a moment of meditation.

Robbe was fascinated with females, their beauty, elegance, sophistication, and mind. His etchings sing with abundant delicacy, a soft focus, and a dreamlike sense of detachment. They’re contradictions - on one hand, personal and intimate, yet simultaneously detached and aloof. At first glance, they appear to portray the sitter as an object of desire, yet look closer and they celebrate freedom of thought. Here, this songbird is liberated - the stark bars of the bedframe behind her. It’s symbolic of changing expectations and a greater appreciation of women as human beings!

What was she reading that so engrossed her, do you think?

Robbe was a master of his craft, one of the finest etchers of his generation. He worked tirelessly to develop new techniques that elevated his work to new expressive heights. Ultimately, he sought to get closer to the finished result and, as such, adopted a complex process involving drypoint and aquatint. His colour plates were ‘à la poupée’, which means they were inked with various colours to allow for one pressing rather than several different pressings (one for each colour). He also invented a method known as ‘sugar lift’ to gain extra subtleties. You can see this here, note the blur, the soft edges, the mist-like quality.

Living in Paris during the ‘Belle Époque’ afforded Robbe the opportunity of working with an interesting circle of artists including Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Works by all three sit comfortably alongside his etchings. He also trained with the best, via the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

His etchings were shown at various prestigious exhibitions such as the Salon of Societe des Artistes Francais and the Universal Exhibition, where he won a medal. He’s represented in numerous public collections including the Van Gogh Museum and the V&A.

Signed in pencil lower right and numbered 31/40 lower left. Held within a contemporary glazed frame.

Learn more about Manuel Robbe in our directory.

Medium: Drypoint etching with aquatint on wove paper
Overall size: 24½” x 31½” / 61cm x 80cm
Year of creation: c. 1907
Condition: Artwork presents well.
Artist’s auction maximum: £8,592

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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