Rodolphe BRESDIN: La Fuite en Égypte - 1855
[The Flight into Egypt]
Lithography, 227 x 175 mm. Van Gelder 85 II-1 (of 3), Préaud 46.
Impression of the first state from the lithography transferred onto another stone, printed on white chine (sheet: 232 x 178 mm) pasted on heavy wove paper (sheet: 360 x 274 mm).
Superb impression. Generally in very good condition. A tiny scratch of 1 mm in the black area bottom center.
Little is known about the chronology of the successive editions of La Fuite en Égypte. We have to refer back to informations given by Dirk van Gelder, Maxime Préaud and Arsène Bonafous-Murat.
Rodolphe Bresdin first drew La Fuite en Égypte on a first stone, from which only 4 impressions are thus far known. These impressions are more or less trimmed and are referred to as 85 I in the catalogue raisonné by Dirk van Gelder. The lithograph was then transferred onto another plate and slightly retouched by Bresdin, who reduced the width and lightened the torrent and the background (referred to as 85 II-1 by Van Gelder.)
The borderline was then strengthened (especially bottom left) and text was added in the bottom margin: litho Bertrand & Barthère Toulouse and Rodolphe Bresdin f (referred to as 85 II-2). The title Ste FAMILLE (‘The Holy Family’) is lithographed in the margin of one impression. In other impressions, Barthère’s name is missing (impressions referred to as 85 II-3). Title is also sometimes missing.
Dirk van Gelder assumes that all these editions date from years 1855-1857. He notes that Bresdin came to Paris in 1861, leaving his stone in Toulouse, probably at Bertrand’s workshop. He draws also our attention to the fact that “among the scarce impressions of this lithograph […] some are incomplete, cut by Rodolphine [Bresdin] […] with the bottom corners cut down, the upper corners cut in a semi-circle, even the whole upper part cut in a semi-circle”.
Our impression is one of the very scarce copies of the first edition (or state) from the second stone.
Bresdin made several etchings and lithographs of the Holy Family, especially the scene of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. He surrounds characters sometimes with rocky landscapes, sometimes with thick forests. La Fuite en Égypte from 1855 is one of his most accomplished works. The general composition as well as numerous details prefigure Le Bon Samaritain [The Good Samaritan], lithographed in 1861.
Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus are sitting next to a river, surrounded by tall trees with complex branches delineated against a cloudy sky. In the background, a group of three characters (maybe the Holy Family itself, as suggested by Van Gelder), is walking towards a fortified city, visible in the distance. In this engraving, there is no trace yet of the multitude of strange animals that will later people the giant trees in Le Bon Samaritain. Still, the branches seem to have a life of their own, mirroring the tumultuous torrent and, in the lower right-hand corner, the two monkeys are observing us.
In the chapter “Le Maître au Lapin” (The Master with the Rabbit) from his book Ceci n'est pas un livre (“This is not a book”, 1860), Alcide Dusolier describes this print at length. He admires the way Bresdin artfully creates an enchanted atmosphere of mystery through minute work and realist details. According to Dusolier, the real subject of the lithograph is in fact the majestuous tree: “I think The Holy Family is only a placeholder subject: through it, the public is made aware that the artist wants to give them a strong mystical impression. If not through the characters in the print, how and through what means will this impression be produced? This is achieved thanks to the tree I have described, this oak tree in which the draughtsman has thrown a whole world of religious poetry.”