La Morgue – Rare 3rd State, before letters


Charles Meryon (1821-1868), La Morgue, etching, 1854, third state (of 7), printed in dark brown/black ink. References: Delteil Wright 36, Schneiderman 42. On a thin laid paper with a watermark with the initials CD. In excellent condition, hinge remains verso, with margins, image 8 3/8 x 7 1/2, the plate 9 1/8 x 8 1/8, the sheet 9 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches.

A superb atmospheric impression, with extensive and selective wiping of the plate, and particularly effective inking and plate tone in the ominous clouds of smoke and the shadowy areas at the left. The richness of the lines attest to the fine condition of the plate at this stage of its evolution. This is of course a proof impression hand printed by Meryon.

Provenance: Henri M. Petiet, with his blue oval stamp verso (affixed to the hinge verso); cf. Lugt 2021A).

Impressions of the Morgue in the third state are of the utmost rarity. One impression of the first state is known (National Gallery), 2 of the second (Cincinnati and Paris), and eight of the third. We have not seen other impressions of this state on the market, and believe this may be the only impression of the third state still in private hands (cf. James D. Burke, Charles Meryon Prints and Drawings, p. 70; other third state impressions are in Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, London, New York, New York PL, and Washington).

In this state the borderline and work on the composition are complete, but the inscriptions in cursive at the lower border have yet to be entered (including the name, date, address).

The Morgue is one of the Meryon’s greatest achievements, and a landmark in 19th Century printmaking. It was done as part of Meryon’s program of creating etchings of some of the wonderful architectural landmarks of Paris that had remained essentially untouched through the years, but that were likely to be demolished or moved. (The morgue, moved after the etching was made, stood on the Ile de la Cite; it was built in 1568, and was formerly an abbatoir.) The superimposed roofs, the collision of angles, the striking contrasts of shadows all create an aesthetic excitement that was new to the art of its time, and eventually became recognized as an early expression of modernism, presaging cubism, and even precisionism. The composition has a mysterious quality – not only because of its subject matter, but because of the extraordinary mood Meryon achieves through the interplay of lights and shapes.