From 24 April through 22 July, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is presenting an exhibition of works by Félix Buhot (1847–1898) from the collection of Charles Hack and the Hearn Family Trust. Titled “Theme and Variations: The Multiple Sorceries of Félix Buhot,” the exhibition looks closely at Buhot’s relentlessly experimental works on paper. Multiple impressions from single etching plates are displayed serially to demonstrate the evolution of individual compositions across successive states and printings.
In the 19th century, etching enjoyed a revival as a highly collected and connoisseurial art form, seen as an authentic and intimate expression of the artist’s personality. With a marked emphasis on process, many leading practitioners sought to highlight the development of an etching over a series of states from initial sketch to fully realized composition. Collectors came to discern and appreciate subtle differences between impressions of the same print, prizing their distinctive features. Buhot went out of his way to make each impression a unique object, using what one writer called a “devil’s brew” of techniques to produce countless variants and stunning atmospheric effects.1 Weather plays a significant role: figures crouch under umbrellas to flee a downpour, sun glistens on a rain-soaked plaza, and the sky may appear bright or overcast depending on the printing of a given impression. Here we present variations on three distinct compositions in which Buhot has put weather to the fore. The authors of the interpretive texts were students in my Nineteenth-Century Prints course, offered at the University of Chicago in winter 2018.
- Unsigned review of Buhot’s 1880 Salon entry in L’Art et les Artistes, cited in Jay McKean Fisher and Colles Baxter, Félix Buhot, Peintre-Graveur: Prints, Drawings, and Paintings (Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983), 26.