Rue du Gros Horloge a Rouen


Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Rue du Gros Horloge a Rouen, etching and aquatint, 1883-4, signed and inscribed “3 etat” and numbered “no. 7”. Reference: Delteil 54. Third state of three. From the “edition” of 12 in this state; there were also 2 proofs taken of the first state, and five of the second. (There were also 15 posthumous impressions taken, but of course they are not aesthetically comparable to the lifetime impressions.) In very good condition, with wide margins, 7 1/2 x 5 11/16, the sheet 11 13/16 x 9 7/16 inches. On laid paper, with the watermark Glaslan.

A fine impression of this great rarity.

Pissarro was perhaps the most active printmaker of the Impressionists;  printmaking was an essential component of his career, and he was deeply involved in the process of creating and printing his prints.  By mid-career Pissarro had made many etchings, using fairly conventional techniques (although of course aesthetically his work was hardly conventional), but it was Degas who introduced Pissarro to a range of unusual ways of working with the etching plate – especially the use of aquatint. At this point Pissarro was about 50. He worked closely with Degas for several years; they both enjoyed working carefully and painstakingly to refine an image or composition, and often incorporating accidents or unanticipated results in the print.

Rue du Gros Horloge was made about 5 years after Pissarro first began working on the refinements of printmaking with Degas.  Among other innovations, they developed a variant of the aquatint technique called “maniere grise”, in which they scraped the plate with an emery point; that technique appears to have been used in this print. As noted, Pissarro and Degas both loved to re-work their plates through a number of states, carefully giving the plates different shadings and nuances, e.g., there are at least two layers of aquatint in this impression, as well as some carefully wiped plate tone. Of course this meant that the plates could withstand only very limited printings, and today these prints are of the utmost rarity.

Pissarro did not like professional printing of his etchings, and so he printed his plates himself (also Degas apparently printed many Pissarro proofs). The concept was not to produce a large edition of prints similar in appearance (only about 5 of Pissarro’s prints were in fact editioned during his lifetime); printmaking for Pissarro was a way of experimenting, achieving variations in light, mood, sensibility, with each proof. He did not intend to earn much money through printmaking (and he never did).

In 1883 Pissarro was painting at Rouen, and returned to Paris with a number of sketches and full of recollections, which he used in developing the Rouen prints, which were probably completed in early 1884; Pissarro did not yet have a printing press of his own, so he used printing facilities in Paris. These are among his most engaging prints, and Rue du Gros Horloge is among the most successful of this group.