Vaughan Trowbridge in 1915.

An american in Paris

Born in Dec. 1869 in Astoria, Queens, New York, Vaughan Trowbridge was educated as a lawyer and worked for six years as a clerk for the Susquehanna Railroad Company. Then he decided there should be more in life than railway administration and opted for a new start as an artist, settling in Paris in 1897.

In 1899, his friend Horsman, paying a visit, wrote at some length about the young art student[1] in Paris. After some comments on the (already!) exiguous but ingeniously functional abode occupied by the american he observes that

His work of the last twelve months shows it seems to me, steady advance, offers indeed, one or two bits of work that are really fine.

It appears that Trowbridge had already developped an inclination for etching at the time since Horsman adds

An artist friend of Vaughan's happened in presently and chatted with us until bedtime. He was an amicable red haired American, whose bond of sympathy with Vaughan lay in the matter of etching, which branch of work has engaged Trowbridge's interest lately.

a view of Saint-Etienne des Tonneliers by V. Trowbridge, ab. 1901.
Saint-Etienne des Tonneliers, Rouen, about 1901.
Etching by V. Trowbridge.
A similar view has been etched by Brouet (Ba 114).
When Trowbridge is back in New York for an exhibition in 1901, the New York Times comments[2]

Mr Trowbridge excels in etchings. [...] "Old Street in Rouen" and "Spire of Cathedral, Rouen" are very pleasing bits of the old town on the Seine.

Trowbridge and Brouet

There is little doubt that there were close links of frienship between Brouet and Trowbridge. This is all the more remarkable as Brouet, it seems, was not excessively social in character. Indeed, we find that in 1906, when Trowbridge married Aline Moreau in the Mairie du XVIIIème arrondissement, Brouet, "graveur peintre" was a witness. Soon afterwards, in 1908, Brouet married Henriette Everaert, and Vaughan and Aline Trowbridge attended the wedding as witnesses, and are designated as "friends". A less official piece of evidence can be found in Grignard's catalogue which suggests that some of Brouet's etchings were printed by Trowbridge. Three of them can be identified without ambiguity. Around 1910, he printed the proofs of the first state of the Cobblers (Ba 31). A few years later, he printed some state proofs of the Traveling Ironmonger (Ba 57) and the Exodus (Ba 172). Interestingly, the plate of the latter subject belonged to the Bresler C° (Milwaukee), with which Trowbridge also had business connections. Finally, Trowbridge would also have printed the edition of the Chickweed Seller (Ba 20). This plate dates from 1904, and if this is correct, it is also the first documented evidence for the connection between Brouet and Trowbridge[3] .

a view of the Sacré Coeur by V. Trowbridge, ab. 1901.
A view of the Sacré Coeur, about 1901. Etching by V. Trowbridge.
Although the first stone was laid in 1875 and the main dome erected in 1895, the building is still under construction, and the bell tower was only completed in 1912. Indeed, in the 1907 etching by Brouet (Ba 25), scaffoldings are still to be seen. Brouet adopted a similar viewpoint, but quite characteristicaly proved more interested in the Montmartre atmosphere than the monument itself.

Their works

Brouet and Trowbridge were born etchers, and they started etching at about the same time, around 1900, in the wake of the revival of the painter etching at the time. Although both became involved in color etching, their practice differ. Trowbridge specialized in landscapes and countryside views, Brouet has also been cursorily involved in similar practices, and gave rather formal and commercial views of the Mont Saint-Michel and Heidelberg's castle. Trowbridge, in contrast, had a specific technique which differed somewhat from the technique "à la poupée" propounded by Delâtre and practiced by Brouet. And indeed Trowbridge's etchings look more transparent, more luminously watercolor-like than the standard Delâtre inspired production, a quality which works to great effect in his depîctions of sunny landscapes or urban views from southern Europe. However, in their line etching, in black, we notice common themes, and in particular the Paris views or the small provincial french towns, like Rouen and villages in the Seine valley. However, even though these common themes evidence similar interests and sensitivity, we have no evidence that Brouet and Trowbridge actually toured or worked on the motive together.

A mysterious print title

An etched portrait of A. Sanborn, by V. Trowbridge, ab. 1901.
An etched portrait of Alvan Sanborn, by V. Trowbridge, about 1901. A portrait of young Mr. Sanborn [... is] beginner's work (New York Times, 1901)

This friendship between Brouet and Trowbridge may also explain an oddity in the work of Brouet. A small portrait of a man, dated 1904, and which we have discussed at some length previously is also titled Portrait of Spies (B. 22), a denomination which may find an explanation in connection with Trowbridge. Among Trowbridge's american connections was Alvan Sanborn, an american intellectual with deep social interests, although not a revolutionnary. At the beginning of the XXth century, young Sanborn settled in Paris, and like Trowbridge, actually remained in France for the rest of his life, even living in Draveil for quite a while. In his early years in Paris, Sanborn wrote "Paris and the Social Revolution"[4], an account of the various revolutionary events and practices in the capital during the previous quarter of century. The book was published in 1905 and it is Trowbridge who provided the illustrations. It is therefore quite llikely that the Portrait of Spies indeed refers to August Spies, the german born union activist indicted and executed after the Chicago Haymarket bombing on May 4th 1886. Such an overtly political reference is quite unique in the work of Brouet but such an alternative denomination for this small print, thought to be a rendering of Brouet's deceased father, would make full sense if his friend Trowbridge was illustrating the book while Brouet was etching the portrait. In fact, the Haymarket trial, one of the major counter-revolutionnary events in the USA, stirred a strong resonance in Europe to such a point that, according to Sanborn,

[...] the great saint day of the French anarchist calendar is the 11th of November, the anniversary of the anarchist executions at Chicago.


[1] I am very much indebted to J. Arbeeny who very kindly sent me a copy of Horsmann's logbooks, which form a most enjoyable and insightful piece of reading matter.

[2] "THE ART STUDENT returns : oils, water colours and etchings by Vaughan Trowbridge", The New York Times, May 13, 1901

[3]  However, Brouet produced another Chickweed seller (Ba 50) dated around 1913. It is possible that Grignard mixed these two plates up; then the dates of issue of the plates printed by Trowbridge would all fall between 1910 and 1915.

[4] "Paris and the Social Revolution A Study of the Revolutionary Elements in the Various Classes of Parisian Society" by Alvan Francis Sanborn, Vaughan Trowbridge illustrator, London, Hutchinson and C°, 1905.