UGUSTE Brouet is a real artist. He tries to express himself in the most direct manner. His lines have a limpid quality and reflect the utmost simplicity. This may be less prized at the present time than diffuseness, confusion and pathos, but it is sufficiently valued nevertheless, to place Brouet among the four or five French etchers whose work is most sought after.
Brouet is the painter par excellance (sic) of the lower classes, and of their occupations. He belongs himself in that category, comes from the people, and his art reflects it. Born at Paris, Oct. 10, 1872, of a mother who owned a modest travelling circus, and of a father who was a chemical worker, he was thrown from infancy with travelling merchants, hawkers and tradesmen, whom he was to use later as the preferred subjects of his work.
His first years were passed in Montmartre, quite at the top of the Butte. He frequented its market places, the tortuous and wild alleys, the stone steps down which the rain ran in miniature cascades, the famous cabaret of Lapin agile. From thence he descended among the faubourgs, or gambolled on the grassy slopes of the fortifications. Wonderful journeys! Those he made later did not seem more remote, to Normandy, Burgundy, Provence, and he soon returned to Paris. In brief, he knew a life, of utter freedom, without constraint or tiresome surveillance. His mother had several occupations. After a fire which destroyed her little circus, in 1879, (curiously enough, of the maternal establishment this painter of mountebanks, remembers only the tent and the tiers of benches), Mme Brouet became a travelling pedlar of haberdashery, and having realized some success, was enabled to accumulate a stock of hosiery, which she installed in Paris, where she sold too the coupons bought at the large dressmaking establishments. As to his father, he had separated from his wife, and his son saw him but rarely. He lived in a sort of Court of Miracles, at Belleville, then the center of political agitation, in worse misery than Job, more rebellious than Barbes. The etching, le Père Spies, in battle, moustached, and mounted on a shaggy horse[1], is the portrait, from memory, of the father of the artist.
At the age of 11 years, he was apprenticed to a lithographic chemist, and at 14 to an Italian lutemaker, of which a souvenir exists in a plate executed long afterward, le Luthier. At the same time, evenings, he was taking a course in design, and at 16 entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he had as professor a painter of considerable repute, Elie Delaunay. During these years at the school, he was observed by Gustave Moreau who gave him the benefit of his advice and counsels.
At this time he lived at Saint-Germain[-en-Laye], in the same house with the painter, Maurice Denis. He lived on the proceeds from the sale of his paintings, and occasional commissions for commercial work. But he had some friends, notably Georges Godin and Gaston Ey’chenne, both of whom died prematurely. They were engravers, the latter of great delicacy. Already, the celebrated printer-engraver, Auguste Delatre, who had been thrown into the midst of the renaissance of the original etching about 1860, gave him his first notions of etching, and he had essayed a plate on zinc, les joueurs de dés. It was thus easy for his two friends to inflence Brouet to take up the needle and acid.
Beginning with original etching in black, he branched off to the reproductive, and color. Primum vivere... He engraved for Paris, Berlin, Brussels. The publisher Gregoire commissioned him to make a portrait in black of the Mother of Whistler after Whistler’s design. This was but a trial. He then turned to interpretations in color. He engraved after Velazquez, Chardin, Watteau, Daumier, Corot, etc. Between times, he essayed some views of Paris, and of the Seine, which he himself then considered rather mediocre, because they were original and in black. By 1905 his work had greatly improved in quality, the métier had come to him, and he had found his true inspiration in such plates as les Chiffon[n]iers de Saint-Ouen, la Boucherie, Petit Marchand de Ferraille, Petit Marchand au Panier, etc., all plates of a perfect technique. Dating from this period he goes ahead with a verve and dash which this time permit him to be himself, completely. It is now that he produces the series of types of people in their street occupations, with exceeding finesse in the execution, subjects that Raffaelli had abandoned, and he developed them according to their proper tendencies — the sellers of mistletoe, the market places, the acrobats, the people of the circus —then the war came, the ambulance drivers, the commissary, even the dancers, he treats all with an equal mastery, giving a truthful picturesqueness to the most difficult technique.
The technique of Brouet is adorable. Delicate, of every shade, supple, with shadows, light and transparent, vigorous spots, it is the execution of a wizard.
In 1921 he executed sixteen etchings and about fifty culs-de-lampe for a celebrated story by the de Goncourts, Les Frères Zemganno, a series of the circus where his observation is particularly acute. In 1924 he illustrated for the same publisher, Grégoire, L'Apprentie, a work full of humanity, by Gustave Geffroy, which he decorated with twelve etchings and numerous head and end pieces. These two books are the only ones which he has illustrated.
The work of Brouet may be said to be a union of the spirit of several forces, Degas, for the dancers, Toulouse-Lautrec for certain feminine types, Bernard Naudin, for those of the circus. For the moment and for some time to come the inflence of Degas and of Toulouse-Lautrec outweigh that of other artists who would represent the dancer or the equestrienne, and that of Naudin, for his acute observation and sympathetic execution. They create an inflence, in spite of themselves, on the designers of the pageantry of the circus, or of its intimate life, the intricacies of the trapeze, the cross-bar, or the spring-board.
An inflence still more marked is that of Rembrandt. It would seem as though Brouet wished to adopt the light and shade of such prints as Pièce aux Cent Florins [in] les Fratellini or les Emigrants. These are truly princely treasures and one cannot blame him who would train himself to render an effect as he had observed someone before him do, if that someone was the Jupiter of the etching. Add that Brouet like Rembrandt nearly always etches from memory. A simple outline of the scene suffices him, and he carries the adventure to the copper. The adventure? - not quite, because the scene is fixed in his mind and he proceeds, so to speak, by introspection. His interior vision clearly controls his hands, and he covers the plate with the most natural sureness.
Auguste Brouet is in the full vigor of his age and talent. His great reputation rests on numerous and valuable works of which an important part has been reproduced in a recent catalogue. He possesses the double advantage of facility and technique. He is essentially an etcher, of the company of those who charm by their close observation and their exceptional skill, as Guérard, Halleu [Helleu], Chahine, Frelaut, MacLaughlan, Lehautre [Leheutre], etc., etc., and more recently, Varadi, Heintzelman and Winkler.


[1]  [with untrimmed moustache and rumpled hair] - this is a sentence where the translator struggled with the handwritten french text.