Le Petite Equilibriste

Villon-PetitEquilibristeBigJacques Villon (1875-1963), Le Petite Equilibriste, drypoint, 1914, signed in pencil lower right [also signed and dated in the plate]. Reference: Ginestet and Pouillon 287, only state, from the edition of50. In very good condition, with margins (tape stain in margin lower right edge), 8 5/8 x 6 1/2, the sheet 12 3/4 x 9 7/8 inches. ON a BFK RIVES cream wove paper, with their watermark. Archival mounting (mylar unattached mounts between acid free board, glassine cover).

A very fine impression of this important early cubist composition.

Villon’s experiments with printmaking were an important part of his work throughout the “Fin de Siecle” period, and up until about 1913 most of his output was essentially realist/modernist. His move to cubism in prints in 1913 was a major shift. Le Petite Equilibriste was one of his most successful smaller format cubist prints.

Le Petite Equilibriste translates to “The Little Tightrope Walker”. The ultimate source was a pencil and watercolor sketch Villon made at the Medrano Circus in 1913; it shows a tightrope walker falling downward through space and light, balanced on one hand and encircled by spirals that describe the movement. In this etching/drypoint he obliterates the figure but one can still discern the point of balance on the tilted diagonal, the “figure” is traced through the swirling curves, multiple arcs, arabesques. The idea is to give the effect of motion, within the cubist idiom. In this print Villon covered the entire surface with closely spaced ruled verticals – this coveys a sense of structure and stillness – and used swirling lines to trace the movement of the figure. The dark angular silhouette pointing downward describes the trajectory of the figure’s swirling plunge.

Le Petite Equilibriste is rather astonishing as a print because of how extensively the plate has been worked. For example, looking at the plate “close up” the print is full of ink scattering – it appears that acid has been systematically dripped on the plate, in lines in some areas, and drips in others. Some areas appear to have been worked extensively with a burnishing tool, others are worked so fully with a drypoint needle that the lines tend to blend into one another.

Of course at this stage of his career Villon was quite conversant with etching techniques, and so it appears that he realized that to achieve a vibrant, many dimensional cubist effect, he needed to develop a complex, heavily worked on plate. Some of the impressions of Le Petite Equilibriste that we’ve seen appear rather the worse for all this wear; in this impression the effects that Villon wanted to achieve work magnificently.