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The Forest of Rochecardon. Etching, burin and roulette on blue paper. 23.2 x 29.6 cm. 1800. Audin-Vial 1918, vol. 1, p. 405; Grafe 4 I (of III).
At the suggestion of his teacher, Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, the Lyon-born landscape painter Jean-Michel Grobon, experimented with printmaking every now and then. Between 1795 and 1812 he made a total of six etchings, all but one of which were reproductions of his own paintings. The Forest of Rochecardon is his undisputed masterpiece. The etching is remarkable for its great artistic maturity and impressive technical refinement. Moreover, it is an important art historical document in that it reproduces the no longer extant landscape painting with which Grobon made his successful debut at the Paris Salon of 1796.
As Marie-Claude Chaudonneret has pointed out, Grobon’s contemporaries considered The Forest of Rochecardon to be a completely novel work of art. Art critics emphasized Grobon’s unadorned naturalism, the subtle distribution of light and his self-determined interpretation of nature, which set his art apart from the academic landscape painting of his day (see M-C. Chaudonneret, exhibition catalogue Les Muses de Messidor. Peintres et sculpteurs Lyonnais de la Révolution à l'Empire, Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1989–90, pp. 95–96). In this respect Grobon was a child of his time and the painting established his reputation as a true ‘élève de la nature’. As an artist he thus followed in the footsteps of none other than the natural philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was very fond of these woods near Lyon, where he often retired to meditate in the seclusion they offered.
The present etching is a first-class work of art in its own right, however, and testifies to Grobon’s outstanding talent in transferring the qualities of his painting to the medium of printmaking. His highly sophisticated, intricate etching technique, the outstanding feature of which is the subtle and extremely effective use of the roulette, brings out with crystalline clarity the tiniest detail of the vegetation, the dense foliage and the tree trunks and envelops the scene in mild, delightful sunlight. While the formative influence of the 17th century Dutch landscape etchers and of his teacher, Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, is readily apparent, Grobon creates a microcosm of light and atmosphere that is all his own.
The etching, which is available here in the first state and before all letters, is of the utmost rarity, the more so given that this impression is on coloured paper. In this respect it is in all likelihood a unique specimen. Another impression of the first state on white paper is in the collection of Paul Prouté in Paris (see exhibition catalogue Regency to Empire. French Printmaking 1715–1814, Baltimore – Boston – Minneapolis 1984–85, No. 114, pp. 314–15). A superb, contrasting impression with the full margins. Minor defects, otherwise in mint condition. From the collection of Etienne Grafe (Lugt 3927).