1894, Henri Rivière (1864 - 1951)
woodcut in ten colours on China paper,
41 cm x 73.3 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
This is one of the largest and most technically complex woodcuts produced by the French artist Henri Rivière. He printed the elongated image in three parts, following the example of Japanese printmakers. He used ten colours for each part, with a separate wooden block for each colour, making a total of no fewer than thirty blocks. The colours have a transparent character, as Rivière – like the Japanese – used water-based ink. This set him apart from most French printmakers, who worked with water-fast, opaque printer’s ink.
At first sight, this image seems to consist entirely of an impenetrable forest. Between the trunks, however, we see three women doing their washing. The print is part of a series of forty scenes featuring life in Brittany. The Breton countryside was immensely popular among the most recent generation of artists, who found unspoiled landscapes there and people living in primitive conditions. Themes like this fitted their quest for a modern, decorative style, with simplified forms.