On 8 January 2011 the Ashmolean will celebrate the work of painter, engraver and printmaker, Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944) with the first comprehensive display of his Eragny Press 1895-1914.
The Ashmolean is home to the Pissarro Family Archive – the greatest archive in the world devoted to an Impressionist painter. It is famed as a source of information about Camille and his Impressionist colleagues. However, most of the collection concerns the life and work of Lucien, founder of the Eragny Press. Exhibited alongside paintings by Camille, such as The Cricket Match, an apt subject reflecting the exhibition’s theme of the Entente Cordiale between English and French art, will be family photographs and letters from the archive.
The exquisite handmade Eragny books are the central focus of the display. These are beautifully printed using wood blocks designed by Lucien and cut by him and his wife with a degree of artistry which owed much to the influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement. These extraordinary illustrations, often printed in colour and sometimes with added gold, accompanied the texts of French and English authors, ranging from classic to modern literature. The first book, published in 1895, was the fairytale The Queen of Fishes by Gerard de Nerval, translated into English by Margaret Rust. Others include Un Coeur Simple by Gustave Flaubert (1901) and Of Gardens by Sir Francis Bacon, first published in 1625. To highlight the influence of the English art scene on Lucien’s work and his concurrent artistic contribution in England, there are a number of books from several famous contemporary private presses, including William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and Charles Ricketts’s Vale Press.
Lucien was first sent to London by his father in 1883, and he returned in 1890 when he made it his permanent home. In the same year, he delivered an important talk to the Art Workers’ Guild on the Impressionists and developments in painting in France. In turn he became increasingly involved in English artistic circles. He was introduced to the mainstream of the English Arts and Crafts Movement and to the followers of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites, later developing a close relationship with the artists of the Camden Town group. He was inspired, in particular, by the Arts and Crafts ideal of the master craftsman who involves himself in every stage of production.
His heart, however, remained in France. He named the press after Eragny-sur-Epte in Normandy where the Pissarro family lived from 1884 and where he and his brothers had received so much of their French artistic education. Throughout his career, the influence of the English designers was modified by the input of Lucien’s father who urged his son not to abandon French naivety for English sophistication.
It is this curious blend of two quite different traditions – a French artistic upbringing and the English craft revival in full swing – which gives the Eragny books their unique character.
Dates: 8 January – 13 March 2011
Venue: Temporary Exhibition Gallery 61