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Jean-Michel Grobon

(1770–1853, Lyon)

Vue de Lyon; Prise du Quai St. Antoine. Etching, burin and roulette on ivory-coloured wove paper. 39.8 x 55 cm. 1812. Grafe 6.

This large, imposing view of the city of Lyon dates to 1812 and is the last of Jean-Michel Grobon’s etchings. One of the artist’s own paintings again served as a model for the reproductive print. While the subject matter with its host of accu­rately observed genre-like details is conventional, the work is remarkable for its highly individual and extremely sophisti­cated etching technique. Grobon was a true master in his field, yet his explorations in printmaking were limited to a relatively short period in his artistic career and he exerted little influence on his contemporaries. One reason may well have been that his prints were extremely rare. His excursions into the realm of printmaking were evidently no more than a sideline, his main focus being on painting and his teaching  activities at the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon.

The present work depicts the Quai St. Antoine along the River Saône, where passers-by are taking a walk or having a rest, while others go about their daily business. There is a wealth of astutely observed detail, for instance the microscopically small coaches and riders on the Pont de l'Archevéché, the out­lines of which stand out crystal clear against the hazy backdrop. Gently roll­ing hills and the silhouette of the mediaeval cathedral of Saint-Jean stand out on the other side of the wide river.

It is Grobon’s distinctive artistic style which makes this print a remarkable work of art. The roulette creates the softest of transitions on the cobble­stones of the quay along with delicate, shimmering light effects. By contrast the still waters of the river appear transparent and silky smooth. The massive Romanesque-Gothic building, the architectural details of which are rendered with linear precision and great sharpness, provides a strong contrast with the cloudy sky and hazy background and absorbs the viewer’s attention. These subtle tonal differences raise Grobon’s work above the level of a mere veduta, giving the print a high degree of artistic refinement and a singular quality. The innumerable little staffage figures appear for a moment to have stopped what they are doing, thus creating an impression of supernatural calm and a state of entrancement.

A superb, harmonious and contrasting impression with wide margins. Minor ageing and blemishes in the margins, otherwise in pristine condition. From the collection of Etienne Grafe
(Lugt 3927).

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