No. 35 Leon Rene Pescheret
Operating an art booth in the Belgian Village at A Century of Progress, Leon R. Pescheret, Chicago etcher, gradually evolved an idea. Visitors wanted to buy pictures as souvenirs of the Fair. Hundreds out of the thousands asked for something in color, something better than a postcard. Pescheret had his own black and white etchings of “village” scenes, scenes of the Fair in general, and scenes of Chicago. But where one bought reluctantly, a score walked away.
Particularly was this true of the European visitors. They desired something they could keep permanently, to hang on the wall as a reminder of the Fair. But they wanted something that would reveal color as well as form. In Europe, wherever they went, they could find little color etchings, inexpensive, but well done.
Pescheret not only started thinking, but he started investigating. Nowhere in America, he found, was there a school teaching the processes of color etching. Nor while the popular art shops, particularly the Art Departments of the big general stores, handled such etchings, and did a good business in them, were any of them American. He found they were all imported.
So off to Europe Pescheret hied himself when the World’s Fair was over and, quite logically, to Belgium, for it was the Belgian visitors to the synthetic Belgium who had complained mostly of the shortage of the acceptable souvenirs.
In Brussels, for five months, Pescheret put himself under the tutelage of Hebbelinck, the Belgian court etcher. Here he studied intensively the methods now in use in Europe, and observed the work of contemporary masters like Lucien Simon and Luigi Kasimir. He investigated the whole process from the first work of Johannes Taylor who, ten years after the death of Rembrandt, etched plates in two colors, down through the German Christofer LeBion and the Frenchmen J.B. Leprince and Raffaelli. None of this information was accessible, so far as he knows, in books in English.
From Brussels, he went to London where, for another few months, he brushed up on his “black and white” processes of etching under Malcolm Osborn and Robert Austin at the Royal College of Art. These Englishmen assured him that his pursuit of color in etching had been a wild good chase. Colored etching was an inferior art — scarcely an art at all.
Keeping his own counsel, Pescheret returned several weeks ago to Chicago and went immediately to a farm studio of his near New London, Iowa, where he has been hard at work ever since, putting into practice his newly acquired knowledge and his theories.
The results are visible in the picture galleries at Marshall Field’s where 14 of his new plates are on display for the first time. Ten of them are Belgian subjects; two English; and one each of Paris and Chicago.
Pescheret, he explains, is not seeking “paint quality” in his colored plates, as most of his predecessors have done. He wants to keep the line idea of etching with color as an enriching factor. At the same time, he is intent on making color integral, and not a mere embellishment. It seems to me that in “Porte de Hal,” depicting an old toll gate of Brussels, he has come very near attaining his goal.
The contemporary attitude toward colored etchings, both in this country and abroad, Pescheret finds psychologically interesting. The buyer of colored prints just now is not a “collector” — he buys a print because it pleases him as a picture to hang on the wall, regardless of the name of the artist.
The “collector” who buys “names” in his black and white treasures, Pescheret believes, is a survivor of an epoch when houses were larger and when their owners bought oil painting to hang on the walls. Those old-timers bought etchings, too, cut they bought them for portfolios. Names grew important as the fame of the artists spread and as the artists died off and their work became scarcer and scarcer — names like Durer, Rembrandt, Holbein, and Meryon. The importance of names became thoroughly established, and newcomers like Whistler and Zorn of yesterday and the many present-day celebrities profited by the custom.
But the buyers of pictures to look at — the unsophisticated buyers, the buyers who used to purchase Currier & Ives prints in huge editions — want color, Pescheret believes. And color he is going to give them. He points to the old French color prints as examples of superior art of old time, possible again to achieve. He finds the French color print declined when it became too risqué.
Pescheret is of French blood and English birth. Both of his parents were French, who went to London. His father, also Leon Pescheret, was personal chef for Queen Victoria.
As Pescheret grew up, he spent his winters in England, going to school, and his summers in France, on vacation with relatives of his father and his mother.
He hardly knows whether to consider himself French or English, and the dilemma is even harder after a visit, on his last European journey, to the battlefield of Waterloo. Going over the grounds, musing as tourists will, he couldn’t make up his mind which was stronger — his sympathy for Napoleon or his enthusiasm for Wellington.
In school in his boyhood, Pescheret went the normal way of schoolboys, only bending a bit more than his fellow to drawing and design. He was interested particularly in architecture.
When Queen Victoria died, King Edward brought to Buckingham his own retinue, including a chef who supplanted the elder Leon Pescheret. But that connoisseur wasn’t long out of a job. He came to Washington as chef for the British ambassador. Presently, in 1910, he sent for his family, and so Leon Pescheret, the younger, made his American advent at 19.
In London he had had a job in a bank as foreign correspondent. That connection paved the way for his employment shortly after reaching America in a bank in Louisville.
Banking, however, didn’t appeal to him, even as a way of making a living, let alone a profession, so presently he came to Chicago and to a job at Marshall Field’s.
A cultured French woman took an interest in the bright-eyed lad, learned of his talent for drawing, and had him go to the night classes at the Art Institute where he studied for three years, with architecture still as his passion. Then for the next five years, he worked with Louis H. Vade, a Prix de Rome graduate, veering now to interior architecture and decorating.
He next became assistant to W.J. Sinclair, who had decorated the Blackstone Hotel and was doing a similar job for the Drake. In the Drake decoration, Pescheret got some valuable experience. Shortly afterward, he went on his own, specializing in college interiors. The Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin is a job of his, and he also worked at Lawrence, Beloit and Kenyon.
From an architect, as has happened frequently before, Pescheret turned his attention, first idly and as a hobby, to the etching of architectural subjects. Here he was enthusiastically encouraged by Bertha E. Jaques, head of the Chicago Society of Etchers, who has set many a youngster on the right path. Mrs. Jaques not only lent him sympathy but taught him many of the mysteries of his craft.
It was from informal teaching that he did the pictures he offered at his booth in the Belgian Village.
His intensive schooling came with his post-Fair trip to Belgium and to London.
Pescheret in London, studying with Osborn and Austin, found himself gravitating to the picturesque spots vividly remembers from boyhood. His passion for architecture and interiors also was operating.
The result is a series of black and white plates, also on view at Field’s. One is “Middle Temple Hall,” London, part of the Law College, the identical room — and believed to be in its original condition — where Shakespeare produced “Twelfth Night” personally Feb 2, 1601. The Baconians will dissent and other scholars will dispute till the end of time, but Pescheret is confident he stood, a few months ago, where Shakespeare stood and etched what Shakespeare saw.
In New London, Iowa, he has again gone to an “interior” — this time a blacksmith shop, in its original working condition, where the smith still shoes horses.