Dramatic print of the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865, a landmark event in the history of mountaineering. The challenging peak was conquered by a team of three Alpine guides and four British adventurers, one of whom, the 25-year-old British artist and engraver Edward Whymper, had organized the climb. This is one of two prints related to the event published simultaneously by the major European print publisher Goupil & Cie. after paintings by the French artist Gustave Doré. By 1865, when these prints were published, Gustave Doré had established himself as a leading artist of narrative subjects in the Romantic vein.
The lithograph offered here shows the triumphant arrival of the climbing party at the summit, looking upward at the lead climber waving from the top while the others clamber up the steep, snowy slope to join him. The contrasting companion piece titled La Chute [The Fall] (not available from our gallery) depicts the tragic descent where elation turned to horror as four of them fell to their death. Both prints are apparently rare; the only ones to be found online in public collections as of March 2016 are an uncolored pair in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (see References below).
Alpine mountaineering as an adventure sport, with daring climbers striving to reach the summit of difficult peaks, began in 1760, when a Swiss scientist named Horace-Bénédict de Saussure offered prize money to the first team to ascend Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. It took 26 years for a duo of French climbers to finally claim the prize, the first major milestone in mountaineering history. Over the next 79 years, climbers conquered other high peaks in the Swiss Alps, but nobody succeeded in scaling the Matterhorn (14,692 ft. elevation) until 1865, when Whymper's group reached the summit. After spending an hour savoring their achievement, they began the descent tied together on a single rope, with Whymper and two of the guides at the upper end. Tragedy struck when one of the Englishmen slipped, causing a chain reaction. When the rope broke, everyone but Whymper and the two guides attached to him plummeted 1,200 meters to their death. Naturally, the dramatic contrasts of triumph and tragedy attracted popular interest, and the story was widely publicized around the world and it was dramatically illustrated in the pair of Doré prints. Whether Whymper was at fault in the highly publicized disaster remained a subject of debate in British climbing circles for over 130 years, until an exhaustively researched book cleared him of blame.
Gustave Doré was a French printmaker, illustrator, painter and sculptor, best known for the inventive and dramatic scenes that he published as illustrated books. According to Bénézit's encyclopedia of artists, he was a first rank draftsman who deserves to be considered one of the masters of 19th century art. His brand of 19th-century Romanticism deeply influenced other artists. Doré began studying lithography at age 11. He went to Paris in 1847, and by the next year was working as a caricaturist for the periodical Journal pour Rire and making his Salon debut. Over the next several years he published several albums of lithographs, but it was in 1854 that he established himself as a major artist with the publication of his illustrated book of the works of Rabelais. He then became a highly successful book illustrator, eventually employing more than 40 wood engravers to produce over 90 illustrated books that he designed. These include Les Contes Drolatiques de Balzac (1855), Don Quixote, a large folio Bible (1866), and Dante's Divine Comedy. Later in life, he turned to sculpture and executed a group of figures for a public monument to Alexander Dumas in Paris at the Place Malesherbes. He was made an officer of the Legion of Honor in 1879.
Eugène Cicéri was a prolific French landscape painter, watercolorist, lithographer, muralist and set designer. He is best known for his Barbizon School landscapes of the French countryside in Fountainebleau and along the banks of the Seine, the Marne and the Loing rivers. He also lithographed a number of his landscape studies. He received his early training from his father, Pierre Charles Cicéri, a landscape painter and chief set designer for the Paris Opera. He debuted at the Paris Salon in 1851 and received his first award there the following year.
Goupil & Co. was founded in Paris in 1827 by Henry Rittner (1802-1840), who went into partnership with with Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893) as Maison Goupil two years later. The company quickly attracted notice for their high quality engravings. After Rittner's death Theodore Vibert (1816-1850) joined the company, which by then was the leading publisher of fine art reproductions in Paris. In 1848, Goupil, Vibert & Co. established the first permanent American branch of a foreign art firm in New York City, and began also producing prints by American artists or of American subjects to appeal to the U.S. market. By mid-1857, Michael Knoedler (1823-1878) had taken over the New York branch and was doing business as "Goupil & Co., M. Knoedler & Co., Successor," with his younger brother, John (1828-1891) managing the print department.
Titled in French, English and German, lower margin.
"Ascension du Mont Cervin" and "La Chute." BnF Gallica. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53100091n and http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b531000906 (9 March 2016).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 2, pp. 507-508 (Cicéri); Vol. 3, pp. 311-312 (Doré).
Columbus, Bernard. "The mountaineering boom." 1643-1945 L'Histoire par l'Image. http://www.histoire-image.org/site/oeuvre/analyse.php?i=771 (31 August 2015).
"Eugene Ciceri." Fine Art Dealers Association. http://www.fada.org/gallery/2/artist/2865/eugene-ciceri/&bio=1 (3 September 2015).
Gattlen, Anton. L'Estampe Topographique ou Valais 1850-1899. Valais, Switzerland: Editions Saint-Augustin, 1899. 2680. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=URg2zcp1yhcC&pg=PA119 (31 August 2015).
Goodwin, Stephen. The Independent. 31 August 1997. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/matterhorn-conqueror-cleared-over-fatal-falls-1248170.html (31 August 2015).
"Gustave Doré." Britannica.com. 6 November 2013. 8 May 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Gustave-Dore (3 September 2015).
Smith, George Alan and Carol D. Keisinger, Eds. "Mountaineering." http://www.britannica.com/topic/mountaineering (3 September 2015).