Many printmakers in the fin de siècle called for a revival of the woodcut — the very first and simplest printing technique, dating back to the Middle Ages.
It was used as a means of reproducing other artworks in as much detail as possible and so, in the eyes of many, had lost its essential characteristics.
Along these lines, Félix Bracquemond asserted, ‘A print ought to bear the clear characteristics of the material from which it was created... I demand of the woodcut that it is frankly carved by means of beautiful white cuts that leave in relief unmodulated blacks.’
The essence of black and white
Printmakers wanted to return to the woodcut as a pure and robust means of expression, contrasting deep blacks with the white of the paper.
To that end, Félix Vallotton no longer cut away all the wood until only fine, drawing-like lines were left. Instead he cut away his lines very sparingly, to keep the black surface of the inked-up wooden block as intact as possible.
We can see how far he went in Money, in which more than three quarters of the block has been left black.
A polished style
Émile Bernard was searching for a new, more naive art in an unpolished style, which led him back to the medieval origins of the woodcut.
He found inspiration in the line woodcuts of artists like Albrecht Dürer, whom he saw as the representative of a primitive, yet all the more honest art and the values that went with it.
Herbert Furst, The Modern Woodcut (From its Origin), A Study of the Evolution of the Craft, London 1924
Félix Bracquemond, Etude sur la gravure sur bois et la lithographie, Paris 1897
Jacquelynn Baas, The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France 1850–1900, Ann Arbor 1984
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