Ce carnet a été préparé avec Vincent Lebel, arrière-petit-fils d’Edmond.
Il a été traduit en italien sous la supervision de Marina Miraglia et Maria Francesca Bonetti, de l’Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Via della Stamperia, 6, Roma. Accès au pdf : 15.04.2006 maquette Lebel Italien
Le Concours du Prix de Rome. Quindici anni di fotografie all’aperto e in atelier con una presentazione del nipote Jean-Edmond, tradotta in italiano dalla pronipote Aurélie Lebel con la collaborazione di Giacomo Visco Comandini
Ringrazio particularmente mio figlio Vincent, mia nipote Aurélie e Serge Plantureux per il loro meticoloso e paziente lavoro di ricerca, che mi hanno permesso di rendere questo ommaggio a mio nonno. Jean-Edmond Lebel, Parigi, il 26 dicembre 2005, 145o anniversario del viaggio a Roma
Le carnet a aussi été traduit en anglais par l’équipe de Hans Kraus, NYC.
Edmond Lebel. La mort d’Abel, vers 1857, épreuve albuminée
A Traveler’s Return
Fifteen Years of Outdoor and Studio Photographs
On the day after Christmas 1860, seven young French artists left Paris for Rome, the capital of the Pontifical States of Pius IX, the Eternal City occupied or protected by Napoleon III’s troops.
Among the group of travelers were three students from the studio of Léon Cognet, including Edmond Lebel (1834-1908), the pride and joy of his father Désiré.
This long journey and a three-year period in Rome that followed would feed his entire artistic life. Lebel reaped images and ideas from his travels for his career as a painter – now unknown – and as a photographer. Today, we are lucky enough to have more than fifty compositions and studies.
His Father, the Artist
Désiré Lebel, the son of a soldier, was born in Amiens, France on April 11, 1809. He was eager about drawing at a young age.
Like other entrepreneurs from the North of France, he founded a lithography studio on rue des Verjeaux in the mid 1840s. Because the studio didn’t receive enough commissions from the local government, he developed it into a photography and retouching studio with his partner Lucien Boileau. An album of salt prints points to his talent as a pioneer in portraiture and landscape imagery.
In 1855, Désiré was appointed upon his request as professor of drawing for the city. Coincidently, his youngest son, Edmond, born in 1834, was among his most gifted students. Throughout his life, Désiré supported and encouraged Edmond’s career as an artist, a dream he never realized for himself.
Two-Fold Training, Paris, 1857-1860
It was at this time that Edmond went to Paris with his childhood friend Jules Lefèbvre, the baker’s son. They enrolled at the Beaux-Arts and visited Cognet’s studio regularly.
During this period, the quality and precision of Désiré Lebel’s works were noticed by the enterprising artist Disdéri. He proposed that they become partners. Consequently, Edmond visited Disdéri’s studio, and learned the most advanced techniques of the time.
His father urged him to paint replicas of salon paintings. In a letter to his mother, who remained in Amiens, there is mention of a photographic work completed for a Monsieur Coart, with the following, telling comment (April 18, 1857): “I was rather pleased with my drawing studies, but especially with my photograph of a medal.”
Traveling to Brittany, circa 1858
Upon his return from Brittany, the young painter organized sittings, drawing on the images produced as reference for his paintings. He used himself, his friends and often his cousin Picavet as models, dressing them in Breton costumes.
His painting Buveurs Bretons à Pleyben would be exhibited in his absence at the Salon of 1861. Today, it can be viewed at the Musée de Bayonne in the collection bequeathed by his friend, Léon Bonnat.
There remain two other Breton compositions: Retour de la messe des Rameaux à Gonézec (also exhibited in 1861) and Joueurs de Biniou, which was presented in the Salon of 1863.
From this point on, however, Edmond’s life shifted focus as he prepared for the famous competition that cleared the way to Rome.
His friend Jules Lefebvre (1834-1912), the son of the Amiens baker, won the competition and became the painter for the Prix de Rome.
Appointed resident at the Villa Médicis in Rome, towards the end of 1860, he brought two of his less fortunate friends from Amiens, Edmond Lebel and Paul Santai.
They traveled with Léon Bonnat (1833-1922), who they met at Coigniet’s studio. Bonnat earned second prize in the 1857 competition, which entitled him to a grant from the city of Bayonne. The funds allowed him to live in Rome until 1861.
The three other travel companions were Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) and Charles Le Nepveu (1840-1916), both recipients of the Prix de Rome for music, and Jean-Jacques Henner (resident at the Villa since 1858).
The Prix de Rome scholarships were financed since 1826 by the rents paid by dealers associated with the Galerie Vivienne.
The Roman Experience
Edmond and his friends bought and collected prints by Caneva, Tuminellp, Altobelli, de Bonis and Boyersen, who worked for traveling painters and the residents of the Academy. Lebel, however, gathered more unusual photographs. His eye was utterly modern.
His urban experience in the Eternal City, in a furnished apartment at 32 Via Vittoria was paired with excursions into Latium and Campania: Sonnino, Naples, Capri, San Giuseppe, Cervara, Terracina, Cori, San Germano (Subiacco), among other places.
Edmond began to apply his knowledge of photography. He never signed his prints, which he seemed to consider only travel documentation.
The fact that several albumen prints of the same image (seven or eight of them) were discovered in his archives confirm that they are to be attributed to the young French artist.
Furthermore, his prints are never reframed or cropped, nor are they retouched, despite several flaws in the negatives. In our times, this apparent casualness is the stamp of an artist’s personal work, at opposite ends from the perfection after which commercial photographers strove.
In most of Lebel’s outdoor views, there are very few figures. In 1861, Rome was empty. It is now unimaginable, even laughable, to reconstruct the Arcadian, bright scenes composed by Giacomo Caneva.
In the photograph shown here, the poster announcing the Grand Restaurant Français has been torn down. Rome is clearly being occupied by Napoleon III’s troops, who have come to protect the power of the Pope from Garibaldi’s attacks. The fall of Sedan would soon mark the end of the administrative reign of Pius IX
Edmond returned to France in 1863. His friend Jules Levebvre stayed in Rome for two more years and sent news regularly:
“Did you meet Monsieur Allard, from Lyon, married, who has lived in Rome for several years. The one who at the carnival (of Marlborough) went as Cesar Borgia. The one also who used to wander about, both in winter and summer, with an open parasol. Well! We found him last Monday murdered in his studio. There are several suspects. Michelino is in prison.
The murderers first beat him with a hammer and then stole his watch and some jewelry
They arrested little Luigi, who was getting ready to leave for Civitavecchia” (Letter from Jules Levebvre. Rome, April 23, 1864.
Return from Rome, 1863
Edmond regularly visited Disdéri, his father’s partner and developed his talents as a photographer and printer.
It seems that his father Désiré established an independent studio, or a branch in Paris in the beginning of October, 1866.
Edmond moved into a handsome studio below the Montmartre cemetery, at 35 rue Carpon-Forest, where not long before, the Romanian Tzigane circus had settled.
Edmond brought back many props and wasn’t shy about asking his friends and family to don Roman costumes, or rather clothes for characters in a dreamed part of Rome. He used the images for his paintings, which seem to have been composed through a process of successively accumulating elements and figures, positioning or transferring them one after the other. First he sketched them on albumen paper.
The years that followed his return in 1863 can be described as particularly fortunate. First, Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, the director of the Beaux-Arts (who would not allow photographers to exhibit alongside Salon painters), and then the Minister of the Maison de l’Empereur commissioned several paintings: Prière à la Madonne (1864), Ragazzino (May, 1865), Reliquaire, purchased for 1,200 gold francs in 1867 and today in the Musée d’Orsay.
Soon after, a gallery owner from Saint Petersburg was to be Lebel’s first wealthy Russian client.
“So come see me tomorrow between five and six if you can. Today I sold your old woman holding a child in her arms for a price of two hundred francs. I don’t know if you agree to the price.” (note from Lucien Bonnat, dated Tuesday evening, [circa 1865]).
In 1868-1869, he completed a series of preliminary photographs for his painting Vendeuse de figues et de noix, a Lebel piece that was to have a unique fate. Today its replica can be ordered from a specialized studio in Shanghai.
Second Residence in Rome, 1870-1872
On September 20, 1870, in Porta Pia, in a famous battle, the Pope Pio Nano (Pope Pius IX) lost most of his temporal power. Rome fell and Florence became the capital of the new reunified kingdom of Italy. Edmond discovered a drained city. When the Tiber flooded on December 26, 1870 (more than 56,000 feet in Ripetta), it devastated the entire country. But, this misfortune did have favorable consequences: during his visit on December 31, the King Victor Emmanuel II and his government decided to take up major reconstruction and to make Rome the capital.
Edmond learned of the disasters regarding the seat of power and the Commune when he was in Rome. He was worried about his Paris studio as well as his dog:
“I continue to fear that the studio has been taken over by those invaded on the Rive Gauche of the Seine… I do hope that Toto has survived the siege with courage and that he wasn’t clumsy enough to be caught in a crowd of people who may have taken aim at the dog during the last period of the siege… I’m going to Naples, do you expect problems in Montmartre?” (from Rome, March 14, 1871).
Italy gradually calmed and in 1871, Edmond set out to travel to the south. He drew on all his skills as a photographer to complete a wonderful reportage on the merchants who traveled across the small, impoverished towns of the former kingdom of Naples (the doors to the city of Cassino are seen here).
The ambulant merchants of San Germano near the monastery of Subiacco (it was through here that Gutenberg’s press reached Italy) inspired Lebel. He produced one of his most complete series on them. Upon his return in 1872, he made sketches, drawings and tracings from them for his paintings, which he would exhibit in the Salons. The Empress of Russia was to purchase Marché à Atina.
A Second Return to Paris, 1872
Lebel found a profoundly changed France upon his return. Disdéri’s studio had gone under with the fall of the Second Empire. As a result, his father had lost his assets.
He exhibited Un Voeu à San Germano in the Salon of 1872.
n 1872, Edmond completed his most successful series of photographs of figures in his studio. Like Humbert de Molard, Edmond had his entire family participate. Above is his cousin Picavet.
Death of Désiré
His father passed away in 1874 and it seems that Edmond interrupted his photography practice. His final recognized project dating from the time of his father Désiré’s death was a study of trees.
Titles and Honors
Edmond Lebel was successively appointed Director of the School of Fine Arts of Amiens (September 27, 1877), and of Rouen (January 30, 1880).
In painting, he undertook more serious compositions, including the Sortie en carrosse d’un cardinal de Santa-Maria della Pace. He gave precise instructions to a Roman photographer for his reference. Letters written in 1876 shed light on the complexities of image rights. The poor photographer had to reimburse the Cardinal, his majordomo, the owner of the mule and the owner of the harness.
Edmond was a member of several academies but his favorite club would always be the annual meetings of the Cald’arrosti. The seven artists reunited every December 27 to celebrate their first departure to Rome, a journey that changed all of their lives. Friends they met in Rome also joined them, including Hector Leroux (1829-1900), Le Clerc, Charles Moyaux (architect) and, of course, their teacher Léon Cognet (1793-1880). The gathering included up to twenty artists.
When Edmond Lebel died, the Rouen newspaper wrote, “his sober and tasteful realism, his cheery compositions, his forever precise drawings, his pleasant, subtle colors that earned him many admirers” (October 7, 1908).