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Biography of Henri Rivière
The painter, engraver and illustrator Henri Rivière was born in Paris in 1864.
Little is known about his childhood period. However, a few significant events will influence his entire life; driven out of Paris by the war of 1870, his family took refuge in Ax-les-Thermes, in Ariège, with an uncle. For the young boy, the discovery of nature will be a revelation and a marvel.
In 1880, the young man was trained in pictorial art by the history painter Emile Bin; he initially provided illustrations for various newspapers in Montmartre.
Strongly inspired by the work of Gustave Doré, he began his career with drawing, then in 1882 engraving, particularly etching. At the same time, in 1886, he began a career as director and set designer for the Théâtre d'ombres at the Chat noir cabaret, shows that he improved by creating highly innovative colour sets. He was artistic director until the famous cabaret closed in 1897. Henri Rivière then devoted himself exclusively to painting and engraving and established himself in the history of printmaking (etching, woodcutting, lithography) and watercolour.
Henri Rivière was a key player in the revival of colour printing at the end of the 19th century.
It was in the shop of Siegfried Bing ("L'Art nouveau" in Paris), frequented at the end of the 1890s, in the company of his friend George Auriol, that he had the revelation of the new aesthetics of Japanese graphic art. From then on, he combined off-centre layout, flat colours and synthetic silhouettes in his works. Henri Rivière willl be especially famous for his colour representations of the often nostalgic landscapes of Brittany, which he exhibited in 1892 at the Société des peintres-graveurs.
A Japanese artist par excellence, he gathered an important collection of Japanese prints that nourished his work. His style is often compared to the famous Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) to whom the Japanese government conferred the title of "National Treasure" in 1953.
From 1885 to 1895, Henri Rivière stayed every summer in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, while travelling to other places in Brittany, always fascinated by the sea, which was to be one of his most important themes.
In 1888, Auguste Lepère and Félix Bracquemond, together with other engravers, created the magazine "L'Estampe originale" in order to interest artists and amateurs in the new processes and trends of engraving, especially in colour. It was during this period, when Japanism had a great influence on the decorative arts, that Henri Rivière produced, from 1888 to 1902, his famous album "Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel", inspired by Hokusai's "Les Trente-six vues du Fuji-Yama" (Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower).
In 1917, Henri Rivière definitively stopped expressing himself through printmaking and devoted himself to watercolor, which he had been practicing since 1890 during his peregrinations in France. The watercolours he painted on the motif are now of a more colourful and impressionistic expression; the artist produced about a thousand of them. He travels a lot, spends the Second World War in Buis-les-Baronnies where his wife dies in 1943. A year later he lost his sight, and began to dictate his memoirs, which were published in 2004 under the title "Les Détours du chemin - Souvenirs, notes and sketches -1945-1947".
Henri Rivière died in Sucy-en-Brie in 1951.