Woodcut by Félix Vallotton

Robert Schumann, Portrait

Robert Schumann, portrait
Woodcut by Félix Vallotton 
(1865-1925), 1893

The Swiss artist Félix Vallotton produced an edition of 110 numbered copies of the woodcut labelled “A Schumann” as a special edition for magazine PAN. Vallotton undoubtedly saw in his mind’s eye the famous charcoal drawing by Eduard Bendemann of 1859, whilst Bendemann, in turn, had used the daguerreotype made by Clara Schumann in Hamburg in 1850 as its prototype. 

In 1898, the famous art historian Julius Meier-Graefe published a ground-breaking biography of Felix Vallotton (publisher J. A. Stargardt, Berlin, and Edmond Sagot, Paris), which also included his essay “Im Anfang war die Linie” [“In the beginning was the line”]. There, Meier-Graefe wrote: “Man kann bei Vallottons Portraits verfolgen, wie er mit jedem neuen Schritt seinem Ideal näherkommt. In dem‘Kopf der alten Frau’wimmelt es noch von Strichen; alles geht durcheinander wie auf Radierungen nach alten Holländern. Im‘Verlaine’ (1891) ist bereits eine Handschrift erkennbar, die sich nicht mehr direkt von dem Vorbild beeinflussen lässt, sondern dessen Art in ihre Eigentümlichkeit überträgt. Darauf machte er‘Wagner’ und ‘Berlioz’; hier ist die Plastik schon um vieles einfacher, die äußerliche Ähnlichkeit überrascht. Bei ‘Baudelaire’ (1892) und ‘Schumann’ (1893), vor allem bei dem wundervollen Schumann trifft die immer mehr vereinfachte Technik schon die allerfeinsten Seiten der Physiognomie, die Fleischbehandlung scheint unbegreiflich” [“In Vallotton’s portraits, one can trace how he is approaching his ideal with every new step. The ‘Head of an old woman’ still swarms with strokes; everything is mixing up, like on the etchings after the old Dutch painters. In ‘Verlaine’ (1891), a handwriting is already becoming noticeable which is no longer influenced by the prototype directly but adopts the prototype’s manner.Then he made ‘Wagner’ and ‘Berlioz’; here, the sculpture is already so much simpler, and the external similarity is surprising. In ‘Baudelaire’ (1892) and ‘Schumann’ (1893), particularly the beautiful Schumann, the steadily simplified technique already hits the very finest sides of the physiognomy, and the treatment of the substance seems beyond comprehension”]. (Quoted after: J.M.-G., Im Anfang war dieLinie [1898], in: Félix Vallotton. Idylle am Abgrund. Grafik [Félix Vallotton. Idyll on the Brink.Graphic Arts]. Edited by Felix Krämerand Hubertus Gaßner, Hamburger Kunsthalle[an Art Museum in Hamburg] 2008, p. 68 f.)

A copy of this woodcut signed by Vallotton (black ink on blueish paper) was recently auctioned off on 27.10.2007 as lot number 592 by auction house Lehr in Berlin, or realised in a post-auction sale. In the catalogue, however, the portrait is inscribed “Richard Schumann”. One copy is also found in the collection of an American college (Mount Holyoke College Art Museum) where it arrived as a gift by a former student in 1931, Helene B. Black (Five College Museums*, MH 1988.14.133, cf.  [ museums.fivecolleges.edu ]. 

Here also, it is not known that this is Robert Schumann, as can be concluded from the caption:“A man with profoundly sad or anguished, or tired expression. He supports his fleshy cheek on two fingers.”

The above reproduction was kindly provided to the Schumann Portal by a Swiss private collector who had received the Vallotton sheet in 2007 as a Christmas present. 

(I.B., tranlated by Thomas Henninger)

*art collections of the Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield, a consortium of museums in Western Massachusetts. This collaborative resource, online since 1998, provides access to information and images of over 60,000 objects held in the collections of:
Mead Art Museum at Amherst College [AC]
Hampshire College Art Gallery [HC]
Historic Deerfield [HD]
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum [MH]
Smith College Museum of Art [SC]
University Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst [UM]

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