We come to no. 70,000: Landscape without rainbow

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By | Digital Developments, From the Collections

A new milestone has been reached in the cataloguing of the Wellcome Library’s prints, photographs, drawings and paintings: the 70,000th catalogue record has been created. The 65,000th record was noted on this blog on 18 March 2009.  Both Library staff and users depend on the Library catalogues to help them manage, identify and engage with our resources.

Etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i

Etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i

Record no. 70,000 is an etching from Napoleonic France after a painting by Rubens, then in the Louvre (image above). As so often, what looks at first sight like a fairly routine print turns out to be a document of some complexity. The etching is an early state of what was intended to be a combined etching and engraving. Following normal practice, the etching was carried out first and the engraving was to be done afterwards, but this state of the print shows what it looked like after the etching had been finished but before the engraving had been started.The engraving would have included engraved lettering below the landscape, which is absent here.

This print is therefore unfinished, and has a rather strange appearance, somewhat like a Nazarene print, with lots of white space, (such as this one in the Wellcome Library). The etchers have scratched their names in handwriting script in the lower border of the plate: “de saulx et godefroy”.

Etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i (detail)

Detail of etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i

They were Jean Desaulx (fl. 1809-1824) and a member of the Godefroy family: either the aged François Godefroy (1743-1819), or his son Adrien (1777-1865). Desaulx and Godefroy probably expected their scratched names to be replaced in the final state of the plate by a formal acknowledgment engraved in copperplate script.

But was the plate ever finished? There is no print of this subject attributed to Desaulx and/or Godefroy in the catalogue of either the Bibliothèque Nationale de France or of the British Museum (neither of which claims to be exhaustive). [1] Nor, more significantly, is such a print mentioned in Voorhelm Schneevogt’s catalogue of prints of Rubens’s paintings. [2] However there is a finished engraving of this composition bearing the name of the engraver L. Garreau (fl. ca. 1770-1811) and we know that Garreau did finish off with engraving one or more prints started in etching by Desaulx: there is a farmyard scene with cattle and pigs, which is engraved in copperplate “Gravé à l’Eau-forte par De Saulx. Term[in]é par Garreau”, as below (courtesy of the British Museum).  [3]

British Museum

When it came to engraving the Rubens landscape, could Garreau have deleted the etched names of Desaulx and Godefroy, and then forgotten to re-engrave them afterwards? That would be unfortunate, because nobody would then ever know the involvement of Desaulx and Godefroy, had not the present etching survived in the Wellcome Library and been catalogued. There are however slight discrepancies in size between the Garreau plate (given in the Bibliothèque Nationale catalogue as 24 x 29.8 cm.) and the etching by Desaulx and Godefroy (platemark  31.3 x 44 cm.; image 24.7 x 34.5 cm.; sheet 45.4 x 62 cm.), which means their identity must be in question. The number 685 written twice on the Wellcome Library impression by hand may help to identify a finished impression somewhere.

Rubens’s composition is referred to as “Landscape with a rainbow”, “L’arc-en-ciel”, “Paysage à l’arc-en-ciel”, etc.  When it came to publishing such a painting in the 18th or 19th century, the sky, being represented by fairly uniform parallel lines, was usually engraved, while the more variegated parts such as the grass and the trees were executed in the freer technique of etching. In the present state of the plate, there is no engraving, therefore no sky, therefore no rainbow: it is “Landscape with a rainbow, without the rainbow”.

Wellcome Library cataloguers are not obliged to invent such artificial “titles” for pictures:  no title is therefore offered for this print (a description is supplied instead). In any case Rubens painted more than one composition that could be called “Landscape with a rainbow”, so that “title” does not distinguish one painting from another. In a catalogue of Rubens’s landscapes by Wolfgang Adler, the present composition is distinguished from other landscapes as “Pastoral landscape with a rainbow”, but there are two painted versions of it, one in St Petersburg and the other in Valenciennes (our etching is of the latter), so even that, more precise, sobriquet is not distinctive. [4]

Etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i (detail)

Detail of etching after P.P. Rubens, ca. 1810. Wellcome Library no. 2027436i

And of course there are many other things in the picture apart from the rainbow. Some might find the depiction of the abundant sheep more noteworthy; others the dog, identified by Adler as a Malinois or Belgian Shepherd; others the canoodling of the shepherd and milkmaid. Now that the print is catalogued, it is available to all, whatever their interest.

Looking at the 5,000 records that have been added to the catalogue since our last report in 2009, 183 are collection-level records (albums, sets of pictures, groups of unique items collected by previous owners, sets of lantern slides etc.); 4,727 are monographic (individual) works, and 173 are component works. Some works are in more than one category, and even more complicated, many works that are monographic may be represented by items that are components. Take for example an impression of an engraving which is pasted into an album: as an engraving it is a monographic work, while a given impression of it, being part of a particular album, is a component item. Working out how many works and how many items sit at which levels of the appropriate hierarchies would involve effort probably exceeding the value of the information, but some readers may like to be aware of the issues. To give an idea of what this means in practice: the 5,000 records document about 15,293 physical items.

Many of the records are uncorrected first drafts lacking the full panoply of controlled-language fields, such as “Rubens, Peter Paul, 1577-1640”. It seems more useful for the public to have a lot of imperfect records than to have a only a few but more perfect ones. Many of the first-draft records have been upgraded, notably those for German, Dutch and Chinese posters. But there are still many that need correcting. Users of the Wellcome Library can and do help by clicking on the link in each record saying  record 70000 comment and sending in their observations.

Of the 5,000 records added since 2009, the number of works photographed is 2,244, and 1,067 of those have images online. In terms of media, 4,462 are prints (of which 2,700 are posters, and 1,762 are prints other than posters); 317 are photographs; and 71 are drawings. Of the 1,762 prints, 196 are by Thomas Bewick; 148 are goigs; and 72 are by Giambattista Piranesi. The earliest work is dated 1547, the latest 2012. The most expensive of the new acquisitions was a French portrait drawing.

That should be enough statistics for now. Record no. 70,001 has already been started: an undated print of the Virgin of the Assumption with a hymn in Catalan composed by one Pau Parasols y Pí. Surely cataloguing that must be a fairly simple job …

Author: William Schupbach

[1]   Bibliothèque nationale, Département des estampes, Inventaire du fonds français: graveurs du XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1968, vol. X, pp. 362-419 (Godefroy), and Inventaire du fonds français après 1800, Paris 1953, vol. VI, pp. 319-323 (Desaulx). British Museum catalogue

[2]  C.G. Voorhelm Schneevoogt, Catalogue des estampes gravées d’après P.P. Rubens, Haarlem 1873, p. 234, no. 10 (“Paysage avec arc-en-ciel et une rivière … le même paysage est gravé en sens contraire par Gareau … le tableau est au musée du Louvre”)

[3] Bibliothèque nationale, Département des estampes, Inventaire du fonds français: graveurs du XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1962, vol IX, p. 449 no. 53 (print by Louis Garreau after Rubens, 24 x 29.8 cm., two states:  state with no lettering at all, and state with finished lettering); and p. 450, no. 55 (farmyard print started by Desaulx)

[4] W. Adler, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, vol. XVIII, Landscapes and hunting scenes; part I: Landscapes, London 1982, no. 39 (Hermitage St Petersburg), pp. 131-133 and no. 40 (Valenciennes), pp. 135-138

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