Even during his lifetime, the French illustrator and etcher Jean-Jacques de Boissieu was greatly appreciated among private collectors, fellow artists and members of the higher nobility throughout Europe. His oeuvre is diverse, encompassing landscapes and genre scenes, as well as interiors and portraits. As a result of his masterly handling of light-dark contrast (chiaroscuro), he was even compared with Rembrandt.

This exhibition now makes it possible to rediscover the artistic contribution of Boissieu in the form of a compilation of around 100 sheets. Special attention is paid to Boissieu’s entirely unique representation of people and his specific new way of presenting landscapes – which both reflect the intellectual world of the second half of the 18th century, a period characterised by important political upheavals and decisively influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1768).

As a protégé of Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808), a well-known Paris copper engraver, publisher and art dealer, Boissieu, initially trained in Lyon in painting on silk, met the most important art collectors of the capital, making a name for himself as a reproduction engraver and an experienced landscape etcher. A formative moment in Boissieu’s development as an artist was a journey to Italy he made in the retinue of the Duke de La Rochefoucauld. The impressions Boissieu gathered during this journey had a major influence on his style for the rest of his life.

Boissieu allowed himself to be inspired by the surroundings of Lyon, his home city, for the motifs of most of his works. Like many other artists of his time, he also oriented himself, with regard to composition and motif, to the Dutch painting of the “Golden Age”. His transformations of select paintings into the print graphic medium are much more than mere reproductions. Boissieu partially altered the works by consciously omitting or adding individual figures or groups of figures, and they always bear the artist’s characteristically graphic signature, coming to life thanks to his typical treatment of light and shadow.

In his landscape graphics, Boissieu was interested in the representation of the landscape far from the frenzy of activity, in the “grandeur” of nature, which is, however, at the same time ephemeral.

Alongside landscape, the treatment of people plays a major role in Boissieu’s work. He shows the people around him in typical portrait studies, observes the interaction of children and their elders and records country people going quietly about their business. The world is reflected as a version of the old ideal of Arcadia, a peaceful place of social harmony.

Already during his lifetime, Boissieu’s etchings were frequently used for independent study of the art of etching or served as direct templates for new works. After his death, besides his landscapes, it was especially the sheets designed with many figures inspired by Rembrandt that served as templates for print graphic reproductions.

Important here is Ignace-Joseph de Claussin (1795-1844), who was known for his research on the oeuvre of Rembrandt, and who produced near facsimile etchings of Boissieu’s drawings. Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) also considered Boissieu’s print graphics to be exemplary in terms of technique and motif, and credited him with being one of the greatest graphic artists of the past.

The exhibition has been conceived in close collaboration with the Graphische Sammlung des Fachs Kunstgeschichte der Universität Trier.

It is placed under the patronage of the Institut français du Luxembourg.

Catalogue« Le Rembrandt français ». Jean-Jacques de Boissieu (1736-1810), Trier / Luxembourg 2015, 300 pages, texts in German with abstracts in French and English,
ISBN 978-2-919878-06-2, price of sale: 20 €


10 October > 10 April 2016