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Le Gros chêne creux, étude prise à Sautron. Etching, aquatint and roulette on wove paper. 65.8 x 40.5 cm. 1858. Undescribed.
Virtually nothing is known about the life and work of Emmanuel Phélippes-Beaulieux, which is surprising in view of the high artistic quality of this enigmatic scene. Le Blanc records a total of seventeen prints by this dilettante draughtsman and etcher, whose artistic endeavours were probably undertaken for his own amusement and evidently remained unknown to the public at large. ("Ses productions n’ont pas été mises dans le commerce", Ch. Le Blanc, Manuel de l’Amateur d’Estampes, II, pp. 187–188).
In its imaginative sweep and technical finesse this picture shows certain similarities with the printed work of Rodolphe Bresdin (1822–1885), whose creations also remained largely unknown for decades after his death. The silhouette of a large oak cleft down the middle dominates the composition. A peasant girl in Breton dress has sought refuge inside this tree trunk and sits lost in thought. Flowers, grasses and various types of fern have been lovingly rendered in a very detailed and versatile technique. The artist has drawn upon a wide range of different tools and techniques, such as dry point, the roulette and aquatint, to generate an astonishingly rich spectrum of tonal gradations. The contrast between the fine, delicate texture of the vegetation and the almost tactile surface of the furrowed bark has been rendered to great effect, the dry point conjuring up dense linework of immense calligraphic charm. An ethereal sky of light white clouds arches over the darkened terrestrial sphere. The whole exudes an almost surreal character. At first glance this magic garden seems idyllic, yet the picture of wild, unbridled nature it presents also emanates something eerie, almost threatening. The naiveté of the drawing lends the scenery a highly idiosyncratic, poetic expressiveness.
A superb, contrasting and sharp impression with full margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in impeccable condition.