François-Clément Sommier (1844-1907), alias:
Was Henry Somm an Impressionist?
In most books on Impressionism, Henry Somm is not mentioned at all, even not by Rewald (R1). On the internet there is more information, but there is not an English Wikipedia page on him (iR1).
Henry Somm puts more emphasize on line, than on colour. Though some claim otherwise (aR1) I can’t recognize in his works, that Somm was interested in the influence of atmospheric light on colour. At most sideways. In that sense we can say that Henry Somm didn’t paint in an Impressionist style.
Henry Somm only joined the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879. He didn’t seem to have many contacts within the impressionist group. All this makes him just a side-figure in the ‘impressionist’ art-movement.
Henry Somm made many etchings often using it for applied art (book illustrations, calenders, invitation cards, menus, etc.). As an etcher there are resemblances with Félix Bracquemond (with whom he cooperated at Haviland), Desboutin (whom Somm did portray) and Legros. His main topic for his watercolours are elegant Parisien ladies. In that sense there is a resemblance with Giuseppe de Nittis, Jean-François Raffaëlli, Vidal and Zandomeneghi. His satirical drawings put him in line with Daumier and Forain.
Somm only joined the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879:
At the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879 Somm showed at least 4 works (catalogue numbers 228-230) (R2,p270). The first two being etches of calendres and the last at least two drawings for a book. He was invited by Degas (aR1).
See link for his -/-pictures. See link for an +/-account.
Henry Somm at the Salon:
Henry Somm exhibited at the Salon from 1881-85 and maybe until 1905 (iR1). He exhibited etchings (iR1).
Henry Somm at other exhibitions:
1886: 3rd annual exhibition of ‘Les Incohérents’; maybe Somm also exhibited here (aR2). 1889: Somm exhibited at an ‘impressionist exhibition’ (?) at Durand-Ruel (iR69;iR4;aR2).
Henry Somm as an artist:
Somm was a pupil Gustave Morin in Rouen and later of Isidore Pils (1813-75) in Paris (aR1;iR1;R3;iR65;aR2). Also made humoristic drawings, caricatures, illustrations and etchings for several illustrated newspapers and magazines (R3;iR24;iR70;aR2). His humor was satirical or sheer nonsense (aR2). Somm produced 7500 drawings and prints (aR1). Somm made many book illustrations, programs, menus, invitations, visiting cards, vignettes and almanacs (iR70;iR65;aR2). Somm made the Parisienne the central focus of his art (aR2).
Félix Bracquemond commissioned Somm to produce series of designs for plates, during his period as artistic director of Haviland porcelain factory (iR70;R3).
1867 onwards Somm was inspired by Japonism; it was Philippe Burty (and Siegfried Bing) who introduced him to this art (aR2;aR1;iR65).
1890: Toulouse-Lautrec admires his work, depicting everyday life (R3). They were friends and together visited the cabaret ‘Le Chat Noir’, 84, Boulevard de Rochechouart, Montmartre and ‘Le Rat noir’ (aR2;aR1). they both were part of the anti-establishment art group ‘Les Incohérents’ (aR2).
Somm was interested in the effect of atmospheric light on shadow and colour, but he was not an Impressionist by pure definition and he was not considered a member of the group (aR1). His work intersects between Impressionism, Symbolism and Japonism (aR1). He was a ‘fellow-traveller of the Impressionist movement rather than an integral part of it; he was a transitional figure between Impressionism and Symbolism’ (aR2).
François-Clément Sommier, a short biography:
- 1844/02/29: François-Clément Sommier was born in 20, Rue Beauvoisine, Rouen (iR4;iR24;iR69;R3;iR1;iR65;iR70;aR2)
- Henry (or: Henri) Somm was a pseudonyme (iR24;iR69;aR1)
- 1867: went to Paris (aR1;aR2). Other sources mention 1870 (iR69)
- 1870: illustrated his first book ‘La Rapinéide’ (ou: L’Atelier, poème burlesco-comico-tragique en 7 chants, par un ancien rapin des ateliers Gros et Girodet’ (aR2) Eng.: La Rapinéide’ (or: L’Atelier, a burlesco-comico-tragic poem in 7 songs, by a former robbery of the Gros and Girodet studios’.
- 1876: Somm illustrated with etchings the absurdist playlet ‘La Maison de fous’ by Richard Lesclide (aR2).
- 1879: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Les leçons conjugales’ (aR2) (Eng.: Marital lessons).
- 1881: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Histoires conjugales’ (aR2) (Eng.: Marital histories).
- 1881-83: Somm lived at 6, rue de Calais, Paris (iR1)
- 1884: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Ce qu’on n’ose pas dire’ (aR2) (Eng.: What we don’t dare to say)
- 1885: Somm lived at 29, rue Lepic, Paris (iR1)
- 1885: wrote a one-act comedy called ‘La Berline de l’émigré; jamais trop tard pour bien faire’ (Eng.: The Emigrant’s Sedan, or Never too late to do it right) to be performed at La Chat Noir (iR4;aR2)
- 1886: Somm and Henri Rivière began to experiment with shadow-theatre performances at the Chat Noir (iR70;aR1). Another source writes he started to do so in 1885 with Georges Auriol, and later on with Henri Rivière (aR2). His first production was called ‘L’Éléphant’; another production was ‘Cythère à Montmartre’ (aR2). Somm also had connections with Alfred Jarry (aR2).
- 1895: Somm made a set of dry points for ‘Les Cousettes’ by Louis Morin (aR2). (Eng.: The quilts).
- 1897: Somm made a set of dry points for ‘La Parisienne peinte par elle-même’ by Goerges Montorgueil (aR2). (Eng.: The Parisian woman painted by herself).
- 1897: there was a sale catalogue with a preface of Roger-Milès (aR2)
- 1907/03/14: Henry Somm died in his house / studio at 27, Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris (iR4;aR2) Most sources (wrongly) mention he died the 15th (iR24;iR69;iR70;R3)
- 1911/02/06-03/18: retrospective exhibition of watercolours and drawings at Galerie Berthe Weill (aR2;aR5).
My main sources are Moffett (1986,R2), Walther (2013,R3,p698;2 pictures), The Salon database (iR1), RKD (iR24), Marques (iR65), Bénézit (iR69), Grove (iR70) and the additional references (=aRx; see below). For other general references (=R) see. My main sources for the pictures are Wikimedia (iR6), Gallica (iR40=aR3), Google images (iR10) and the additional references (=aRx). For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.
For further reading:
Bénézit (1976,Vol.9,p695=R75;1999,vol.13,p16=R76); Busse (1977,p1176=R77); Witt (1978,p290=R78); Thieme/Becker (Vol.31,p272=R79); Künstlerlexikon (1999-2000,vol.9,p338=R81). (iR24)
Beraldi, H.: Les Graveurs du XIXe siècle; p.41-45. Paris, 1884-92. (iR70;iR65)
Menon, Elizabeth K.: Henry Somm: Impressionist, Japoniste or Symbolist? In: Master Drawings 33, no. 1, Spring, 1995 (aR2).
- gallery19c.com (
- adventuresintheprinttrade.blogspot.com (article of ‘Neil’ about the etchings of Henry Somm, 2010/11/22; with many pictures)
- gallica.bnf (many etchings of Henry Somm; =iR40)
- gallica.bnf.fr//henri_beraldi_tome_12 (the entire 12th Volume of Henri Beraldi: Les graveurs du XIXe siècle with works of Somm; =iR40 = R85XII)
- 1911/02/06-03/18, Solo exhibition Henry Somm at the B. Weil Galerie: “[Drawings and watercolors by Henry Somm.].” In Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME). European Paintings and Drawings 1905-1915. Last modified Mar 16, 2021. http://exhibitions.univie.ac.at/exhibition/1446 =iR261 (no entries) =R246.