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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Charles Meryon
French, 1821–1868

San Francisco

Etching, 1855
Museum Purchase, 1922.172

This amazing panorama was commissioned by François-Alfred Pioche and Jules B. Bayerque, two French entrepreneurs in San Francisco whose business was real estate speculation. Allegorical figures of Abundance and Work flank portraits of the entrepreneurs over the title. This unusually large etching was intended to serve as a high-class souvenir of the Frenchmen’s adopted city.
Meryon constructed this image using five daguerreotypes (a photographic process) taken on the site. He spent more than a year transposing the imagery for the master drawing and printing plates. The final drawing was a compilation of the five daguerreotypes and specific details, which were drawn separately.
The etching marks the point when Meryon’s art began to trouble him increasingly. He wrote to his father of the anxiety this plate had caused him: “the day when I poured the treacherous [acid] on the plate, what emotion did I not feel! It was almost a question of life or death for me! At last, thanks to a kind and extraordinary fate, it must be agreed, the result seemed to surpass my expectations….However, for a moment, I was gravely upset…”