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LOUIS PHILIBERT DEBUCOURT
(1755–1832, Paris)

L’Hiver (Winter). Coloured aquatint etching. 33.3 x 51.5 cm. Signed and dated in pencil in the artist’s own hand: “P. L. Debucourt 1807”. Fenaille 204 I (of III).


Together with Jean-François Janinet (1752–1814) Louis Philippe Debucourt was one of the principal colour engravers in 18th century France. From 1785 he experimented extensively with new printmaking techniques, recognizing the importance of colour as a means of artistic expression in printmaking, an aspect which had previously been largely ignored. In contrast to Janinet, Debucourt in his heyday only made prints after his own designs. His best and most innovative works date to the period of the ancien régime, when he produced a series of genre pictures of the fashionable life of Paris society that are remarkable for their technical mastery and sharp observation.

After 1800 Debucourt decided, probably for economic reasons, to dispense with the laborious technique of colour printing from several plates. He opted instead for simpler methods in which the colours were applied by means of a plate inked à la poupée. Thereafter the artist increasingly used designs by befriended artists such as Boilly, Prud’hon and Carle Vernet. The works he created after 1800 are generally treated somewhat disparagingly in the older literature and, indeed, there can be no denying that many of Debucourt’s prints from this period lack the brilliance of his early multi-plate colour prints. Nonetheless, the present rare trial proof shows an experienced draughtsman at work with a keen sense of observation and a pronounced talent for the reproduction of light and atmosphere. The evocative winter landscape has panoramic breadth and the bitter Siberian cold is all but tangible. The branches on the trees are frozen stiff and form decorative patterns against the grey winter sky. Debucourt shows considerable skill in his depiction of the crisp snow and the muddy ground, the texture of which can almost be felt. A pretty young woman with a little girl on her arm takes quick little steps through the slush and, as she does so, loses one of her elegant little shoes that are hardly appropriate for such harsh winter weather... Her husband, a gentleman dressed like a dandy with a top hat, walking stick and stylish English boots, shows no apparent interest in her, staring hard through his telescope at the sign of a nearby inn that offers the prospect of refreshment and protection from the freezing cold. A superb trial proof of great clarity, before letters. Minor signs of ageing, slightly foxed, otherwise in excellent condition.