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Ker-Xavier Roussel (French, 1867-1944)

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Prints and Drawings: Prints by Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Charles Camoin,
Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Henri Edmond Cross, Edgar Degas, Sonia Delaunay, Maurice Denis, André Derain, Susanne Duchamp, Raoul Dufy, Jean-Louis Forain, Paul Gauguin, Marie Laurencin, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Berthé Morisot, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Georges Rouault, Ker Xavier Roussel, Paul Signac, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon,
Maurice de Vlaminck, James A. McNeill Whistler, and others.

Drawings by Albert Besnard, Andre Barbier, Henri Edmond Cross, Jean-Louis Forain, Eva Gonzales, Marie Laurencin,
Maximilien Luce, and Georges Rouault.

Hand-colored prints by Mary Cassatt, Marc Chagall, Sonja Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.

For a review of the show that concludes, "Art exhibits in Madison rarely get this good," click review.
Roussel met Edouard Vuillard at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris and convinced him that, like Roussel himself, he wanted to be an artist. The two were close personally as well as artistically: Roussel married Vuillard's sister and the two were both involved in founding the Nabis (Prophets) group along with Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis. After a trip to the south of France with Denis (which included meeting Cezanne), Roussel found the subject matter with which he was to occupy himself for most of his career as an artist, the world of nymphs, fauns, centaurs, and the landscapes of the classical myths in which they were to be found (see the background of V. J. Roux-Champion's portrait of Roussel below). As we look at his works, most of them seem to be seen from a great distance of time or space and seem to lack the clarity of representation that we might expect, but that lack of clarity seems to result from the summoning up of images from a past alien to our own present, in a mental universe long, long, ago and far away.

Roussel offers us a world that often seems to lack clear laws of causation and where consequences seem disproportionate to their causes. The story of Orpheus, son of Apollo, the god of music, and Calliope, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory), the muse of heroic poetry, offers an example. Orpheus is beloved by the gods, partly for Apollo's sake, perhaps, but mostly because of the power of his songs, sung to the strains of his lyre, which can move the trees, the stones, the beasts, and the birds to become his audience so long as he sings. Yet when Orpheus, having fallen in love with Eurydice, summons Hymen, the god of marriage with a hymn, he discovers that though Hymen comes, his office cannot be fulfilled: "for though the god appeared, he did not bring / the words that customary use has sanctioned, / not countenances radiating joy, / nor omens of good fortune for the couple; / even the torch he carried merely sputtered, emitting only tear-producing smoke, / not catching fire when he whirled it round. / And the aftermath was even more unpleasant, / for as the bride was strolling through the grass, / attended by the naiads, she dropped dead, / bitten on her ankle by a snake" (Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Charles Martin [NY: Norton 2004], Book X, lines 5-15; Roussel illustrates this moment below). Usually in the Metamorphoses when disaster strikes it is caused by the gods' wrath at impious words or acts, but there is no sign of that here. Even when Orpheus descends into Hades and begs the gift of a restoration of his life with Eurydice, a gift that Persephone and Hades are unexpectedly willing to grant, it is his very love for Eurydice that makes him break the condition stipulated for Eurydice's release, that he not look back at her until the two have left the underworld. Grief stricken, he sings a series of songs about the disasters caused by excessive love (without arousing Venus' wrath!), and vows to forswear women, but it is only the women themselves who are aroused to homicidal fury and decapitate Orpheus (Metamorphosis XI, 1-75), and it is the women who then become the objects of divine wrath, not Orpheus, whose singing head and miraculously-sounding lyre, can still move the gods to pity. In the world, it would seem, pastoral landscapes may not be so pastoral after all and that, as the English poet Sir Thomas Wyatt observed in his second Satire, "each kind of life hath with him his disease."

Charles Chasse, in his study of the Nabis, says that Roussel "needed the open air, an air more spiced with perversity than the air of the fields normally is, but an air which is nevertheless not that of gardens,which are too close to human habitation for his liking. If once he had painted his first Silenus, he had no further wish to paint anything but Silenuses and nymphs, it was because he had found in them exactly what he was looking for: beings entirely made up of sensuality and grace who feel themselves eternally young, protected from old age and death. In him this was not pastiche, but an escape, a voyage to a country where the kiss once started never ends" (p. 65). To answer this, one need only look at the works below to see that the kiss most definitely stops, that the creatures of this mythographical world are often presented as despairing, awkward, frightened, and yearning for something else, something unavailable in their world in which even the children of the gods are subject to fate and accident, to fear and death. Roussel was the subject of a monograph (which also serves as a catalogue raisonné of his prints) by the philosopher Alain (Emile-Auguste Chartier, whom André Maurois praised as "one of the greatest men of our time," adding, "I myself would not hesitate to say, the greatest"). Alain's The Gods, like Roussel's art, rejects 19th-century dialectics and logical positivism, preferring instead images and stories through which a "common philosophy" based upon the community of religious and mythological traditions can be explored.

Roussel was part of the circle of artists (which included Forain, Rouault, and Chagall) who fell under the spell of the ambitious projects proposed by Ambroise Vollard, the greatest dealer in Paris during the early part of the 20th-century, who enticed artists to begin grand print projects which often advanced as far as the printing of an entire edition (as in the case of Chagall and Rouault) but sometimes resulted only in the production of a few proofs, as in the case of the Forain nudes in our show and a number of the Roussel lithographs. We have 18 lithographs by Roussel, of which 12 are editioned works and 6 are rare proofs for various Vollard projects that never came to fruition.

Selected Bibliography: Georges Bernier, La revue blanche: Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism and Symbolism (NY: Wildenstein, 1983); Henning Bock, Ker-Xavier Roussel. 1867 - 1944. Gemälde. Handzeichnungen. Druckgraphik. Ausstellung Kunsthalle Bremen 1965 (Bremen: Hauschild, 1965); Charles Chasse, The Nabis and Their Period, trans. Michael Bullock (NY: Praeger, 1969); Albert Kostenevitch, Bonnard and the Nabis (Bournemouth: Parkstone Publishers, 1996); Jacques Salomon, Introduction a l'oeuvre grave de K. X. Roussel par Alain: Catalogue Raisonné (Paris: Mercure de France, 1968); Jeanne Stump, Ritual and Reality: Prints of the Nabis (Lawrence: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, 1979).
V. J. Roux-Champion (French, 1871-1953). Portrait de Ker-Xavier Roussel. Original etching for his portfolio, Dix Peintres de XXe Siécle in 1927. 250 impressions on various papers. Image size: 190x158mm. Price: $450.
Petit couple dansant sur une plage / Little couple dancing by the edge of a pond (S 79). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape. Image size: 105x180mm. Price: $1500.
Jeune fille assis au bord d'une rivière / Young woman seated by the banks of a river (S. 74). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape. Image size: 145x215mm. Price: $1500.
Une des filles de Leucippe suivie par deux cavaliers / One of the daughters of Leucippus followed by two riders on horses (S. 73). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape, here the story of the daughters of Leucippus as told in Ovid's Fasti, Book V, lines 709ff. Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces), Leda's twin sons, fell in love with the daughters of Leucippus, Phoebe and Hilaeira, who were priestesses of Athena and Artemis, and betrothed to Idas and Lynceus, the sons of Aphareus; but Castor and Polydeuces being charmed with their beauty, carried them off and married them. The result is a battle in which Castor is killed, Pollux kills Lynceux, and Jove, Castor and Pollux's father, kills Idas and grants the sole survivor, Pollux, immortality. Pollux prays that Castor may share it with him, and Zeus grants that each may successively spend 6 months of every year in Hades and the other 6 in heaven. This very pastoral scene is thus pregnant with the violent consequences to follow and suggests that deeper issues may lie beneath the innocent-seeming surfaces of the world. Image size: 151x218mm. Price: $1500.
Eurydice piquée par un serpent / Eurydice bitten by a snake (S. 77). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape, here the story of the death of Eurydice, bride of Orpheus (see Ovid, Metamorphoses, book X.1–XI.117), who dies on her wedding day, bitten on her ankle by a snake. Orpheus, grieving, goes down to Hades and sings a song so beautiful that Pluto and Proserpine grant Eurydice her freedom provided that Orpheus does not look at her until they have climbed back into the world of light. Orpheus, alas, fails and Eurydice dies a second time, leaving the poet, Apollo's son, whose songs were so beautiful that even trees and stones, were moved to listen grief-stricken and miserable. Ultimately even his songs cannot keep him from death as the infuriated Maeneads, slay him and send his head and lyre, miraculously moaning, down the river. Though the Bacchantes were maddened when they committed this sacrilegious deed, they are punished for it nonetheless by the god Bacchus himself. This very pastoral scene is thus also pregnant with the violent consequences to follow and again suggests that deeper issues may lie beneath the innocent-seeming surfaces of the world. Image size: 151x218mm. Price: $1500.
Satyr sourant derrière une nymph / Satyr smiling behind a nymph (S. 61). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. Image size: 115x190mm. Price: $1500.
Le petit antre / The little den (S. 65). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. Seen through the opening in the rocks, two nymphs appear to be racing by, probably in the course of a hunt. Yet inside the den sits a very large creature in the darkness, perhaps thinking about them as the objects of his next hunt, perhaps to be held when darkness falls. Image size: 100x150mm. Price: $1500.
Centaure nageant sous l'orage / Centaur swimming in a storm (S. 49). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on japon, 200 impressions on chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Jacques Salomon, Introduction a l'oeuvre grave de K.X. Roussel par Alain: Catalogue Raisonné. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape. Image size: 183x143mm. Price: $1500.
Petit étang dans la foret avec un centaure / Little pond in the forest with a centaur (S. 46). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. Image size: 66x160mm. Price: $1500.
Deux petits centaures sous les arbres / Two small centaurs under the trees (S. 36). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape. Image size: 145x215mm. Price: $1500.
Petit centaure au sommet d'un pic / Small centaur at he summit of a peak (S. 34). Original lithograph, c. 1910. 50 impressions on Japon paper, 200 impressions on Chine, and 30 impressions (of which this is one) for the deluxe edition of Alain's Introduction à l'oeuvre gravé de K. X. Roussel. There is a faint bluish tint to the light areas of the lithograph. His favorite imagery represents a turning away from the modern world into a mythological landscape. Image size: 110x160mm. Price: $1500.
The Bathers: Copie d'un tableau de Cezanne (S. 27). Original lithograph, 1914. One of 100 impressions on japon. There were supposed to be 500 impressions on various other papers, but they do not seem to have been printed. This print was done for an Hommage à Cezanne by his admirers, who included Bonnard and Matisse, each of whom translated one of Cezanne's compositions into their own graphic language. Image size: 125x170mm. Price: $1750.
Bacchanale, or Personages au bord de la mer (S 117). Original etching for the portfolio, Dix Peintres de XXe Siécle in 1927. 250 impressions on various papers. Image size: 155x225mm. Price: $1500.
Bacchante (S. 57). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. The bacchantes were followers of the Bacchus, the god of wine, whose revels often turned riotous, as when the poet Orpheus had his head torn off for singing against wine and women after the death of his wife Eurydice and his failure to rescue her from the land of the dead. An extremely rare piece. Signed in the stone "K.X.R." upper left. Image size: 105x170mm. Price: $3600.
Bacchante debout au bord d'un étang / Bacchante standing by the edge of a pond (S. 55). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. An extremely rare piece. Image size: 181x140mm. Price: $3600.
Faun carrying a nymph on his back (S. 88). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. An extremely rare piece. Signed in the stone "K.X.R." lower right. Image size: 200x150mm. Price: $3600.
Water goddess (S. 70). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. An extremely rare piece. Image size: 183x144mm. Price: $3600.
Couple resting under a tree (S. 80). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. An extremely rare piece. Image size: 115x85mm. Price: $3600.
Deux femmes assisses dans un paysage / Two women seated in the country (S. 57). Original lithograph, c. 1930. Only a few proofs are known. Commissioned by the great publisher Ambroise Vollard for an album of lithographs that was never realized. The scene depicts two women enjoying an afternoon on the Ile de France in Paris, here magically transformed into an unspoiled rural Arcadia. An extremely rare piece. Image size: 149x193mm. Price: $3600.

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