Visitors who have become enamored of Henri Rivière’s lithographs of the Eiffel Tower, which he published in Thirty Six Views of the Eiffel Tower, a take-off on Hokusai’s Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, might want to head over to the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler Gallery, where there is a special exhibition of Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji through June 17 as part of the Cherry Blossom-inspired Japan Spring celebration with the National Gallery of Art. Hokusai’s series established a standard of innovation in Japanese printmaking for years to come and was heralded for its startling compositions and technical mastery. Several rare, early prints with unusual coloration are included in the exhibition.
Paris’s Eiffel Tower turns 123 today. When completed in 1889, it surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world (until 1930 when the Chrysler Building joined the scene in New York City.) Photos of the tower by Henri Rivière like this one, some of the first ever taken of the structure, are currently on view in our Snapshot exhibition.
A look at Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard reveals a predilection for the silhouette that has as one of its sources the shadow theater experiments of Henri Rivière and his colleagues at the Chat Noir cabaret. Rivière, a printmaker and photographer featured in the Snapshot exhibition, was responsible for helping to make the shadow play productions a complex, pre-cinematic art form. The Chat Noir was the place to be in the 1880s and 1890s. The Paris café was frequented by poets and writers Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Emile Zola, composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, and artists Pierre Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec. As Patricia Boyer points out in her book on avant-garde theater in nineteenth century Paris, the illustrators who created the Chat Noir productions “breathed new life into the tradition of shadow plays in France.”
Early shadow plays at the Chat Noir were made of black cardboard or zinc cutout figures projected onto a backlit screen. The shadow plays evolved, thanks to Rivière’s innovations, to incorporate glass panels upon which were painted figures and settings, placed at varying distances from the screen and with moving zinc cutouts in front of them to suggest spatial recession: the cutouts placed nearest to the screen appeared black, while those further from it yielded a variety of grays and soft colors. Continue reading