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The Seven Works of Mercy. Seven etchings. Each approx. 23.3 x 16.4 cm. Inventaire du Fonds Français 1–7, P. de Baudicour 1–7, each I (of II). Watermark: Fleur-de-lis in double circle.
The small corpus of etchings made by the Parisian painter, etcher and sculptor, François Hutin, encompasses around a dozen prints, of which the series entitled The Seven Works of Mercy is his undisputed graphic masterpiece. In the seven scenes, set against a background of magnificent ancient buildings, palaces and obelisks, the needy are presented to their benefactors who will look after them and, in doing so, perform Christian acts of charity, such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, as related in the Bible. These delightful prints are notable, in particular, for their stark chiaroscuro contrasts and dense cross and parallel hatching, which occasionally generate an almost flickering effect.
Although the theme of the seven works of mercy was frequently treated in 17th and 18th century French art, Hutin gives the subject matter a very novel and highly unconventional twist. The individual scenes are remarkable for their great inner vitality and narrative pathos as well as their striking lighting effects, which occasionally create an almost eerie atmosphere.
Having initially been taught by Bon Boullogne, François Hutin went on to study at the Paris Academy and was later awarded two medals. In 1737 François followed his son Charles, an Academy award winner, to Rome, where – thanks to the “favourable talent” he demonstrated at the advanced age of fifty-one – he was made a pensionnaire at the Académie de France. After seven years in the eternal city Hutin père returned to Paris, where he was soon awarded the title of “peintre du roi de Pologne et duc de Lorraine”.
Hutin’s best-known series of prints was ultimately revived by his son Charles. He reprinted impressions from the plates after his father’s death, re-engraved the letter “F” in the signature, changing it into a “C”, and published the prints under his own name as part of the series he issued in 1763 entitled Recueil de différents sujets composés et gravés par Charles Hutin à Dresde. The present, virtually unspoiled prints are rare impressions of the first state published by his father. The complete series can confidently be described as a rarissimum.
Very fine, contrasting impressions with wide margins around the inky platemarks. Minor staining, one print with a little sealed tear in the margin, with traces of an old album binding on the left, other minor handling marks, otherwise in uniformly excellent condition.
Literature: Elizabeth M. Rudy, “On the Market: Selling etchings in eighteenth-century France”, in: Perrin Stein, Artists and Amateurs. Etching in 18th-century France, exh. cat. New York, The Metropolitan Museum, New York 2013, p. 49, 120,
cat. no. 70.