This late 19th-century drypoint etching by French artist Marcellin Gilbert Desboutin (1823-1902) depicts his contemporary Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). It’s an informal sketch capturing the eminent impressionist painter in a thoughtful mood.
In 1877, Renoir was creating early masterpieces with ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ shown at the third impressionist exposition among others. Monet displayed his ‘Gare St. Lazare’, Caillebotte, his ‘Paris Street; Rainy Day’, and Morisot, her ‘La Psyché’. As with previous exhibitions, the event was infused with various artistic wranglings - Monet and Degas vehemently disagreeing over whether new artists should be encouraged to join. With Degas also insisting that artists should boycott the official Paris Salon.
The results were mixed with many visitors mocking the works as sub-standard and ludicrous. One wealthy banker apparently examined Renoir’s masterpiece, frowned silently, before demanding his money back. Oh, how times have changed.
Marcellin Gilbert Desboutin was immersed in the artistic circles of Paris and close friends with Edgar Degas. He’d moved there in 1873 following 16 years in Florence - squandering a fortune on old masters, gambling, and parties. His lifestyle was one of excess, lavish extravagance, and high society - the impressionists would’ve welcomed him with open arms. A year before this etching, he’d exhibited 17 works alongside the impressionists but also continued to court the Academic world.
Can you imagine the discussion during the sitting? Desboutin, keen to continue exhibiting at the Salon, while his friend Degas was calling for a boycott. Renoir in the midst of it all, with rumours of a possible breakup following a lack of sales. No wonder he’s thoughtful. Maybe they drank wine?
Desboutin also produced portraits of his other artistic friends including Degas and Berthe Morisot. He sketched quickly using a drypoint needle on copper to capture their personality without delay. It’s a particularly creative medium as it affords greater spontaneity. He also sat for others - Manet, Renoir and, famously, for Degas’ L'Absinthe (1876) alongside actress Ellen Andrée.
Titled ‘Renoir’ in the plate lower right and held within a contemporary frame.
Medium: Drypoint on paper
Overall size: 12” x 15” / 31cm x 39cm
Year of creation: c. 1877
Condition: Artwork presents well.
Artist’s auction maximum: £7,302
Marcellin Gilbert Desboutin
Desboutin trained under Louis-Jules Etex at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and later under Thomas Couture. His works are held in numerous public collections including the British Museum (26 pieces) and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, which holds another copy of this etching. In 1895, he was awarded the Legion of Honour and, in a packed Montmartre restaurant, toasted:
“Gentlemen, drink to Manet in painting, in Chabrier music, Villiers and Duranty in literature!”.
Learn more about Marcellin Gilbert Desboutin in our directory.