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Paris to Madrid Race

Paris to Madrid Race

Manuel Robbe - French - 1872 - 1936
$5,500 unframed - Edition: c 100

Born in Paris on December 16, 1872, he was descended from a northern French family from the town of Berthune. He studied painting and etching, and soon became an accomplished engraver, specializing in the medium of aquatint. He exhibited regularly at the Salons of the Societe des Artistes Fransais. Edmond Sagot, one of the most significant publishers of prints at the turn of the 20th century, was a great admirer of Mauel Robbe, and regularly published color prints by him.

Between then and the outbreak of the war in 1914, Robbe executed a large number of aquatints in color and in black. In 1900 Manuel Robbe was awarded a Gold Medal at the Universal Exhibition for his prints. In 1905 he transferred his allegiance from the Societe des Artistes Fransais to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, in whose annual salons he was henceforth to exhibit.

In 1902-03, the prestigious art critic Gabriel Moury, writing for the English based The Studio, noted that "Robbe especially excels in depicting the modern woman. A somewhat Special type of modern woman." Moury was sensitive to Robbe's wide range of feminine types acknowledging that some of Robbe's prints either focused on "the lady, the artist's wife or the model seated or reclining or standing, in a studio or a drawing room, or studying some work of art."

Robbe produced his strongest work in the two decades immediately before and after 1900. Guided by the renowned printer Eugène Delâtre he mastered the intricacies of etching and aquatint, exhibiting by 1898 in the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Robbe soon became a leading artist of the celebrated Parisian publisher Edmond Sagot, who promoted him along with the young Jacques Villon. While Villon's work shows more the influence of late 19th century "japonisme", there is a notable similarity in their subject matter and aquatint technique.

Robbe's personal vision is found in his visualization of the women of Paris during the intriguing era of the Belle Epoque. His personal views are even more powerful, as Robbe was a great technician in drypoint and in color aquatint, inventing a technique known as "sugar-life" which gave his prints a startling subtlety. Robbe's technique was developed over several phases. He printed his design with a mixture of sugar, India ink and gum Arabic, on his zinc plate. This was followed by heating the plate and working with the soft-ground etching process until the desired result was achieved. Finally, Robbe painted the subject on the zinc plate with an oil paint brush. For this process he used a special brush made of rags. This process was used by French engravers of the 18th century. In completing his image, Robbe used his fingers to play with the tone on the zinc plate, whereby many of this color prints appear completely unique. He arrived at new shades of color every time he pulled an impression; for example, park scenes appear in spring colors and also in colors associated with autumn.

Active in experimental printmaking methods, Robbe was an innovator of the à la poupée process of printing many colors from a single plate: colors are painted directly onto the plate before printing, giving each impression the appearance of a monoprint with uniquely varied coloring. Robbe's "painterly" aproach to printmaking, with its echoes of impressionism, is perfectly suited to the qualities of à la poupée aquatint.

Robbe produced over 200 aquatints and drypoints, as well as posters promoting bicycles and corsets. His work was widely admired, earning him invitations to exhibit at numerous Salons of the day and, in 1900, a Bronze Medal at the Exposition Universelle, Paris.

The influences on Robbe were varied. Renoir's influence is apparent in his upper middle class women of the Belle Epoque, especially in scenes of women in their boudoirs, with children in the parks, and playing the piano, in the promenades and the streets where the essence of happiness is expressed.

The prints of Manuel Robbe are valued for their wide-ranging palette and an imagery whose familiarity is often transcended by reportorial detail. Robbe's depictions of daily life -- particularly of women shown in artists' studios, en promenade with a companion or child, or in intimate rendezvous -- make him a leading chronicler of Belle Epoque society.

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