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Maximilien Luce
(1858–1941, Paris)

La Cuisine (Rue Cortot). Four drypoint etchings, one with vernis-mou, printed in different inks. 10.2 x 17.5 cm. Circa 1890–95. Inventaire du Fonds Français 43.

This intimate picture shows the artist’s kitchen in his apartment in the Rue Cortot, a little street at the heart of the artists’ quarter around the Butte Montmartre. It is an early work which dates to 1890–95. The warm light from a single candle illuminates the low, dark room in which a woman of indeter­minate age is busy in the kitchen. The intimacy of the domestic scene and the dim, almost other-worldly lighting are faintly reminiscent of Luce’s great predecessor, Georges de la Tour.

The four impressions provide a vivid illustration of Luce’s creative and experimental approach to printmaking. Diverse inks and the varying intensity of the etching ensure fundamental differences in the mood and visual impact of the individual impressions. The etching printed in grey is lightly bitten, which makes it more open and transparent, whereas in the impression in brown a warm tonal effect and striking chiaroscuro contrasts predominate; the drypoint brings out the salient features and some hatchings have been added or strengthened. For the third, deep black impression the plate has been reworked with a drypoint needle. Thanks to the dense hatchings the rich ink runs together to form large, velvety black surface patterns, creating an almost Rembrandt-like chiaroscuro. The candlelight effectively illuminates the woman’s skirt, upper body and face, while the white paper tone intensifies the deliberate contrast between dark and light. The final impression, on the other hand, is almost completely dark. The artist’s use of a tone process similar to vernis-mou means that only the silhouette of the kitchen maid can be discerned and a considerable degree of formal abstraction is achieved. Minor ageing, the paper somewhat discoloured in places, otherwise in excellent condition.