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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Henri Fantin-Latour
French, 1836–1904

The Rhinegold: Act I, Scene 1

Lithograph, 1876
Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1912.1277

Henri Fantin-Latour was the son of a painter and received from his father a rigorous instruction in drawing. Through schooling he learned rapid observation and rendering from memory. This early training was combined with copying paintings of the great masters. In the 1860s his reputation as a portrait and still life painter was established. The steady income allowed for experimentation in the field of printmaking where he pursued other themes and styles.
Fantin’s visit to Bayreuth in 1876 to see Richard Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold, the first part of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, left a profound impression on him. Here, Fantin sought to capture the marvelous light effects of the opera’s opening underwater scene. He shows great sensitivity to the tonal range that lithography could achieve and uses bold patterns suggestive of the water’s movement. This work was crucial to the re-emergence of lithography as an accepted form of art. It was one of his “imaginative projects”—works with elements of fantasy, often inspired by music, which held the deepest significance for him and some of his literary admirers.