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Félix Hilaire Buhot (French, 1847-1898)


Also known as:  Buhot, Felix Hilaire; Buhot, Félix-Hilaire

Like Edgar Degas and James McNeill Whistler, Félix Hilaire Buhot ranks among the most experimental and popular printmakers working in late 19th-century France. He was born in 1847 in Valognes, Normandy, whose seaside and pastoral vistas, bustling marketplaces and quaint thatched-roofed cottages fueled his artistic imagination. In 1865, Buhot studied painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris with Jules Achille Noel, and after serving in the Franco-Prussian War, he returned to Paris in the 1870s, successfully establishing himself as a printmaker. Many of his etchings from this period capture the street life of the theater district, Montmartre, home to his studio on the Boulevard de Clichy. Apart from his Paris base, Buhot also found inspiration for impressionistic landscape subjects in London, where he married Henrietta Johnston in 1881, and at Dinard on the coast of Brittany, where they lived from 1889-94. Although his works received critical acclaim in Paris and the United States well into the 20th century, they briefly fell out of favor following World War II with the advent of Abstract Expressionism only to regain heightened interest among print collectors over the last fifty years.

Collectors prize Buhot for his technical ingenuity in the media of etching, aquatint and drypoint. As a “multi-state” printmaker, he strove to achieve the greatest number of variations from a single plate rather than a uniform image; in this regard, his work presages the modernist printmaking of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. To achieve these variations, Buhot utilized assorted papers, including vellum, wove paper, India and China papers and pre-inking. He often treated the papers with watercolor, coffee or tea dyes, turpentine or kerosene. Buhot also employed different inks, sometimes thinned with turpentine (a l’essence), which produced a lighter, atmospheric quality; he even added ink or watercolor marks to the paper after printing, or scraped the paper to effect highlights. In addition, his various modes for inking the plate - sometimes with a roller, sometimes with a rag (au chiffon) - and for altering the plate with aquatint or drypoint, created impressions that ranged from crisp to hazy. Without a doubt, Buhot’s greatest technical innovation was his use of “symphonic margins,” or illustrations in the borders of the central image. Based on the marginal decorations of medieval manuscripts, copies of which Buhot studied as a youth in his hometown library, these peripheral sketches contribute to the overall design, while commenting on the main narrative.

Buhot’s prints can be seen in numerous institutions nationwide, notably the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Boston Public Library, the New York Public Library, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., which possesses over 100 of his prints and drawings.

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