Charles Méryon, 1821-1868
Date of Birth: 26 November 1821
Place of Birth: Paris
Place of Death: Charenton, Saint-Maurice
Charles Méryon was an etcher. He was the illegitimate son of Dr Charles Lewis Meryon, Lady Hester Stanhope’s companion and chronicler, and Narcisse Chaspoux, a dancer at the Paris Opéra.
Méryon began life at the French Naval Academy at Brest in 1837. He served on the corvette Le Rhin from 1842-46, but resigned from the navy in 1848, suffering from mental strain. In 1840 he had taken drawing lessons from Vincent Courdouan, and now in Paris he studied painting with Charles-François Phélippes, a minor pupil of David. He was diagnosed as being colour-blind. From 1849 to 1850 he began to study etching with Eugène Bléry. Méryon's series, Etchings of Paris, was principally inspired by the prints of Reinier Nooms, which he had copied. His Petit Pont was shown at the Salon in 1850. He importantly recognised that differing effects could be achieved through variations in wiping, ink tint, paper tone and paper texture. As a resulting his etchings, e.g. Notre-Dame Pump (1852), The Pont-Neuf (1853), and The Morgue (1854), were extremely atmospheric.
In the late 1850s Méryon's physical and mental health deteriorated but he began to receive recognition from critics such as Baudelaire, Gautier, Hugo, Mantz, Bürger and Burty. He was admitted to an asylum at Charenton in May 1858, remaining there until August of the following year. His work from this date lacks the intensity of that which he had executed previously. He exhibited at the Salon from 1863 to 1866, but was readmitted to Charenton in October 1866 where he died.
When JW came to Paris in 1855, France was experiencing an etching revival, of which Méryon was central. It is unlikely that JW ever met Méryon, but he came to know his work, probably during this Paris period (1855-9), but also through Seymour Haden, who visited Méryon in 1860, following his release from Charenton, in order to buy works on behalf of the South Kensington Museum (#08029).
JW's etched views of London, known as the 'Thames Set' (1861), were indebted to the work of Méryon. Throughout his etching career, JW showed a similar concern for atmospheric evocation, obtained through experimentation with ink and paper.
Dowdeswell included JW's etchings with those of Méryon in an early exhibition of miscellaneous etchings in the late 1870s (#08699). In February 1878 JW was approached by Louis Gonse from the Gazette des Beaux-Arts who was interested in having an article written on JW's etchings, having already published studies on the work of Alphonse Legros, Seymour Haden and Méryon (#01650). However, unlike Méryon, JW was not prepared to have his etchings reproduced free of charge, and the article was never published (#01651). In 1886 F. Wedmore, who had earlier written on Méryon, approached JW concerning writing a monograph on his etchings, regarding JW as Méryon's natural descendent (#06290).
Burty, P., 'L'Oeuvre de Charles Meryon', Gazettes des Beaux-Arts, vol. 14, 1863, pp. 519-33, vol. 15, 1863, pp. 75-88; Burty, P., Charles Méryon, Sailor, Engraver and Etcher: A Memoir, London, English translation, 1879; Wedmore, F., Méryon and Méryon's Paris: with a descriptive catalogue of the artist's work, London; Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890; Delteil, L., and H. J. L. Wright, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Etchings of Charles Meryon, London, 1925; Lochnan, Katharine A., The Etchings of James McNeill Whistler, London, 1984; Collins, R. D. J., Charles Meryon: A Bibliography, Dunedin, 1986; Preston, Harley, 'Charles Meryon', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 24 January 2003).