The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections: Félix Hilaire Buhot

Félix Hilaire Buhot Une Matinée d'Hiver au Quai de l'Hôtel Dieu, 1876

April 30 – August 15, 2010

Although his entire printmaking career spanned only about 20 years, Félix Hilaire Buhot was one of the most brilliant and innovative etchers of his time. His complicated and confounding methods make him endlessly interesting, and also present challenges for those who seek to collect or rank his work.

Buhot was not often a “one-state” etcher. Print artists who work that way have a final concept in mind from the beginning, so if there are numerous “states” of the print, it is in order to more completely realize the artist’s vision. Instead, Buhot usually did not have a final ideal in mind for his prints, and instead enjoyed the challenge of achieving the maximum number of variations that could be drawn from a single plate. Changes from one state to another could be as simple as adding highlights in aquatint, to techniques that change the entire aesthetic of the image — say from day to night, or from calm to stormy weather. He would sometimes rub out sections and rework them; for example, the number of dogs varies in numerous versions of L’Hiver à Paris. Furthermore, he experimented with every part of the print: the tools, the mediums, the color and type of ink, the paper, even his signature and monograms.

Additionally, Buhot’s contribution to printmaking includes his expansion of the use of symphonic margins — those added scenes along the sides that serve as comments on the main image (see again, L’Hiver à Paris). Buhot uses these margins to call attention to aspects of the story we might not know. These were sometimes sketched in the original plate, and sometimes added with a separate plate.

The result of this experimentation is that scholars are not always certain how many states there are of some prints, since besides published images there can be numerous versions that the artist produced in very small quantities, perhaps just for himself. The order of the prints can be almost impossible to determine, and later states are not necessarily “better” than earlier states — certainly Buhot himself did not think of them as necessarily improving, but simply changing. Also, any particular state of a print may have “better” and “worse” impressions that are somewhat subjective but could be caused by differences in paper or some other factor.

Luckily for us, we do not have to determine the value of these prints, only enjoy them. Buhot’s technical variety and artistic sensibility leaves us a body of work that makes even the same print, seen in different versions, as interesting to explore as many different prints might be by another artist.

Lauren Rabb, Curator

About the artist

Buhot was born in Valognes, (Normandy) France in 1849. He was orphaned by the age of seven and was raised mainly by his godfather. He nurtured his early love for art by poring over rare illustrated books and manuscripts in his hometown’s library. In 1865 he moved to Paris, where he studied painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts. He learned to etch in 1873 and quickly established himself as a successful printmaker. Buhot lived and worked most of his life in Paris, with frequent visits back to northern France and extended trips to England. He suffered from prolonged bouts of depression, which deepened over time. By 1892 he had ceased making prints, and six years later he died at the age of fifty-one.

Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections

This series of small, rotating presentations showcases the exceptional breadth and depth of the UAMA print collection. These selections offer focused consideration of a particularly significant artist or theme, and elucidate some of the most influential developments in the Western printmaking tradition.

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Master Impressions from the UAMA Collections