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Pierre Michel Alix

(1762–1817, Paris)

Premier Acte Civil de la République d’Athènes. Colour etching. 54.3 x 92.8 cm. Apparently unrecorded.

This impressive print is evidently unrecorded in the descriptive literature, which seems strange if only because of its imposing format. Could this be due to a lapse on the part of the author of this catalogue? The address shows that Jean Duplessi-Bertaux (1747–1819, Paris) was also involved in making the etching. Like Alix, Duplessi-Bertaux made several hundred prints, but a comprehensive catalogue of their printed œuvre has yet to appear, which may be one reason why the present etching is not to be found in the critical literature.

Both artists were students of Jacques Philippe Le Bas. Alix made his reputation as a reproductive engraver with a sequence of portraits of well-known personalities of the French Revolution. This gifted but conformist artist was not exactly consistent in his political loyalties, serving every government from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration. His extensive œuvre includes a portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette after Vigée-Lebrun as well as large-format allegories replete with unrestrained revolutionary ardour. Under the Directoire, Alix turned to less highly charged themes such as mythological subjects and genre scenes. All these works are distinguished by a complete mastery of very varied printing techniques, which are often ingeniously combined and whose technical refinement marks the final phase of French multiple-plate colour printing.

The present composition, which bears a lengthy dedication to Bonaparte, is a characteristic example of this category of reproductive prints and shows how Alix’s art was now eagerly serving the propaganda purposes of the young Republic. The model was a watercolour by the historical painter Victor Maximilien Potain, who in turn was a pupil of Vincent’s. The refined lavis technique ingeniously reproduces the delicate colour nuances of the original watercolour.

We are witness to a scene from the period of the ancient Republic of Athens, in which a successful military commander demonstrates his civic virtue by having the name of his youngest son entered in the city’s register. Numerous personages have gathered for the occasion in a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Their gestures are varied and eloquent, emphasizing the solemn nature of the event. A grim-looking scribe of the res publica, who is seated next to an aged dignitary, performs the administrative act, while on the left a priest brings in a sacrificial offering.

A superb, delicate and nuanced impression with margins around the platemark. The colours perfectly preserved. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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