33 Newbury Street Boston, MA 02116 617.266.8001
As one of the 19th centuries most gifted printmakers, Manuel Robbe approached printing from a painter’s point of view and in the process, created an extraordinary body of graphic work that to this day has not been completely documented. Robbe was born on December 16, 1872 in Paris and came of age at a time in which unprecedented changes were occurring in the evolution of art. Japonisme, the influence of Japanese art (and in particular the Ukiyo-e prints) had swept through Europe, dramatically altering the way in which visual space was rendered. The Impressionists had made great strides in their depiction of the dissolution of form, and the old academic traditions seemed to be falling away as new ways of capturing “reality” emerged. Robbe, who had shown tremendous talent from an early age, eagerly moved into this frothy mix as he honed his talents with studies of painting and printmaking. It was the later, however, that would bring him long lasting fame. Because of his introduction to Edmond Sagot, one of the great publishers of the day, Robbe’s innovations in printmaking were nurtured and his abilities truly allowed to take flight. Sagot had opened a gallery in 1881 that specialized in the sale and promotion of original prints, something that was quite unusual for the time. He recognized Robbe’s talent for printmaking and in 1898 began to represent him. Sagot was quite dedicated to promoting Robbe’s career, along with that of Jaques Villion, Marcel Duchamp’s brother, and Paul Helleu.
Robbe’s somewhat Impressionistic style of printmaking, which was greatly enhanced by his development of the sugar lift aquatint technique, created a strong response with the art buying public and with critics alike. Gabriel Mourey, the esteemed editor of “The Studio”, was one of his greatest admirers and frequently referenced Robbe’s work in his publication, which no doubt had a tremendous impact on the artist’s career.
In addition to his innovations in aquatint, Robbe’s art was elevated from commonplace printmaking by his use of “a la poupee”, a technique in which colors were hand applied to an etched plate with the use of a special brush made of rags. Not only did this greatly enhance the painterly quality of his prints, but it effectively made each work unique in that colors were frequently changed from impression to impression. Robbe was so committed to his explorations in printmaking, that he had a set of presses set up in his studio so that he could truly focus on his chosen medium. Robbe’s subject matter generally consisted of depictions of bourgeois women enjoying quite moments in life, whether sitting quietly at the dressing table, observing a work of art, or enjoying a walk in the park. Although the subject was many times quite tame, it was his brilliant technique that truly made the art interesting. The admiration for his prints was so great, that he was regularly shown at the Salons of the Societe des Artistes Francais, and later the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Robbe was awarded a Gold Medal for his prints at the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was a major turning point in the life of the artist. Robbe enlisted for duty and became a well-respected pilot who was heavily involved in action. Following the war, however, Robbe attempted a return to the world of art, but found that it had forever changed. Various forms of abstraction were taking hold and there was no longer a demand for his subject matter. Ultimately he chose to set up an atelier for the printing of other artists’ work. With the passing of time, however, interest in Robbe’s art has intensified and has again gained great popularity worldwide. Today, Manuel Robbe is recognized as one of the most innovative printmakers in history, and his art represents one of the great buys available to collectors of original prints.