Friday, January 17, 2014

Edouard Chimot and the Lost Girls of Montmartre


It’s a while since I posted about the master of the Art Deco nude, Édouard Chimot. Of course if Chimot were simply a depictor of the nude, there wouldn’t be much to say about him—boudoir pictures are boudoir pictures, and that’s it. But Chimot is a much more complex artist than that—one in whom the twin themes of Eros and Thanatos, Love and Death, are inextricably intertwined.

Édouard Chimot, Le café-concert maudit
Colour etching with aquatint for La montée aux enfers, 1920

Of course Love sells better than Death, so sensuous nudes inevitably predominate in Édouard Chimot’s work. But his obsession with prostitutes, drug addicts, and good girls gone bad, means that the spectre of death and destitution hovers behind and around Chimot’s nudes, turning them from decorative erotica into perverse memento mori. They are women “soumises à leurs passions mortelles et délicieuses”, as the critic André Warnod put it.

Édouard Chimot, La Mort
Etching with aquatint for L'enfer, 1921

In my previous post, The fast rise and long slow fall of Édouard Chimot, I mentioned that Chimot had apparently been commissioned in 1903 as architect of the Villa Lysis in Capri, for the dissolute Baron Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen. It seems from the current Wikipedia entry on the Villa Lysis that this is not quite the case, based on a study of Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen’s correspondence with Chimot; Chimot’s role was more likely that of interior decorator. In a comment on my earlier post, Martin Stone notes that “he was also the art director of Fersen's review Akedemos (1909-1910).” The inscription above the door of the Villa Lysis, AMORI ET DOLORI SACRUM, certainly shows that Édouard Chimont and Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen were kindred spirits, for the same words could also be inscribed above Chimot’s work: A Shrine to Love and Sorrow.


Édouard Chimot, L'enfer
Etching with aquatint for L'enfer, 1921


When speaking of the art of Édouard Chimot in the context of this post, I am speaking only of the work created before the Wall Street Crash. Anything published after 1931 (allowing for projects already in the pipeline to emerge) is the work of a lesser, lighter artist. The intensity and complexity of Chimot’s work in the 1920s is completely missing.


Édouard Chimot, Ce sont les autres qui meurent
Etching with aquatint for L'enfer, 1921


All the images in this post are etchings with aquatint published between 1919 and 1922, the years when Chimot exploded onto the Paris art scene. These established him as a central figure in the world of printmaking and fine press publishing. He was the artistic director of the publications of both La Roseraie (the atelier and publishing house of Roger Lacourière) and of Les Éditions d’Art Devambez. In the latter role, especially, Chimot was crucial to the artistic development of many important artists of the twenties.


Édouard Chimot, Les Après-Midi de Montmartre
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919


Édouard Chimot, Le rouge et le noir
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919



The etchings that made Chimot’s name, published in 1919 as Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, are precious evidence of Chimot’s pre-war work. They were made in 1913, but publication was delayed by the Great War. You can see that the hairstyles and clothes (when worn) are quite different from the 1920s etchings. The difference in style is not huge, but in these early etchings one can still see the influence of Symbolists such as Félicien Rops, Louis Legrand, Armand Rassenfosse, and Henri Thomas. Édouard Chimot was to take the aesthetic of these artists into the twenties, and blend it seamlessly with the glittering curves of Art Deco.


Édouard Chimot, Moulin Rouge
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919


Édouard Chimot, La fille et sa mère
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919



The Après-Midi de Montmartre etchings were printed on a hand press by Eugène Delâtre, in an edition of 170 copies. I love the connection they make right back from the post-war world into the dying days of the Belle Époque.


Édouard Chimot, Opium
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919


Édouard Chimot, Épave
Etching with aquatint for Les Après-Midi de Montmartre, 1919



After the war, Édouard Chimot established himself in an atelier in the rue Amphère in Montmartre. The atmosphere there is well described by Chimot’s close friend, the poet Maurice Magre, in Magre’s introduction to Chimot’s edition of Jean de Tinan’s La Petite Jeanne pâle. Magre writes, “L’atelier de Chimot est un coin de Paris où Montmartre d’aujourd’hui se condence à certaines heures, se cristallise, donne tout son comique, toute sa couleur et parfois toute sa peine. C’est toujours la pensée d’un individu qui crée et qui groupe. C’est la pensée de Chimot, son amour pour cette forme de l’existence parisienne qui a créé le miroir vivant, aux facettes varies, qui donne en tournant ces images qui ne sont jamais banales et qui toutes sont representatives.”


Édouard Chimot, Soirs d'opium
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921


Édouard Chimot, Est-ce celle que j'aime
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921


Édouard Chimot, Dans la fumée bleue
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921




Chimot’s “living mirror” of Bohemian life in Paris is never more truly reflective than in his etchings for Maurice Magre’s 1921 collection of poems, Les soirs d’opium. These colour etchings with aquatint were, like the similar etchings for Magre’s La montée aux enfers a year earlier, printed by Eugène Delâtre with Chimot’s assistance. Édouard Chimot was not by nature a colourist, and the wonderfully subtle tonalities of the etchings for both these projects are probably attributable to Delâtre, a master printer of colour etchings à la poupée. Certainly Chimot never achieved any colour effects like this again.


Édouard Chimot, Volupté
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921


Édouard Chimot, Rosaire de souvenirs
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921


Édouard Chimot, À une amie
Colour etching with aquatint for Les soirs d'opium, 1921




Les soirs d’opium was published in an edition of 513 copies by L’Édition (Georges Briffaut); the etchings are printed on wove paper with the watermarks MBM and J. Perrigo.


Édouard Chimot, La petite Jeanne pâle
Colour etching with aquatint for La Petite Jeanne pâle, 1922


Édouard Chimot, Noctambulisme
Etching with aquatint for La Petite Jeanne pâle, 1922


Édouard Chimot, Quatre heures du matin
Etching with aquatint for La Petite Jeanne pâle, 1922





La Petite Jeanne pâle, already mentioned above, was published in 1922 by Éditions Léo Delteil in an edition of 393 copies. The etchings were not printed by Delâtre, but at La Roseraie by Philippe Molinié and Eugène Monnard under the direction of the artist.


Édouard Chimot, Sa mince visage parmi l'ébouriffment des cheveux de soie frisée
Etching with aquatint for La Petite Jeanne pâle, 1922


Édouard Chimot, Les rideaux d'arbres dépouillés rétrécissent doucement l'horizon
Etching with aquatint for La Petite Jeanne pâle, 1922



Édouard Chimot only spent a very few years at peak velocity. His art is at its best in these few years after the Great War. After about 1922, Chimot’s work becomes slowly more facile and crowd-pleasing. He remains a really interesting artist right through the 1920s, with flashes of real brilliance, especially in etchings close to his heart, such as those for Maurice Magre’s Les belles de nuit in 1927. But if you are looking for the purest of the impure, look no further than the art of Édouard Chimot, 1919-1922.

6 comments:

Thomas Groslier said...

Excellent! je partage sur Facebook…

Thomas Groslier said...

Excellent, je partage votre article sur Facebook

Jane Librizzi said...

Neil, there is so much here, it will take a bit to process it all but one thing that strikes me immediately is how much we forget. The roll call of just the well known who died from venereal diseases a century ago is a lengthy list (Manet, de Maupassant, etc.. The nun who taught my college course in Modern Drama tried to convince us that Ibsen's "Ghosts" was still relevant, but before AIDS, the young didn't want to hear it - it was so old-fashioned. Chimot is one of many artists who showed us what 'projection' in psychological terms looks like. And what an underrated artist.

Jane Librizzi said...

Neil, the more I look at them, the more I agree with you about Chimot's delicate use of colors. Opium Evening and Is She the One I Love? seem to float in some imaginary sky and are the more memorable for not being anchored in reality, but then love and drugs are things that do that, don't they.

Neil said...

Merci, Thomas.

Neil said...

Thanks as always for your perceptive comments, Jane. I wish Chimot had illustrated Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal and Les Paradis Artificiels while he was at the peak of his powers. It was a real missed opportunity.