Somm, Henry



Impressionism: partaker of the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition:

François-Clément Sommier (1844-1907)

Henry Somm

applied art and elegant ladies

etchings, aquarelles and more

Was Henry Somm an Impressionist?
Henry Somm was the artist name of Françóis Clément Sommier (1844-1907). 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 (iR3).
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 was invited by Degas (aR1). 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, caricatures, calenders, invitation cards, menus, etc.). As an etcher there are resemblances with Félix Bracquemond (with whom he cooperated at Haviland), Desboutin (they portrayed each other) and Legros. His main topic for his watercolours were 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 etchings of calendars and the last at least two, but I assume 6 drawings for a book. He was invited by Degas (aR1). It is unclear why and also why Somm didn’t join afterwards at the ‘impressionist’ expositions.
See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Henry Somm at the Salon:
Henry Somm exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français (=SdAF) in 1881 + 82 + 83 + 84 + 85 +87 + 96 (iR1).
He only exhibited etchings (iR1).
See link for his pictures. See link for an account.

Henry Somm at other exhibitions:
Henry Somm also exhibited at some other exhibitions. In 1886 he maybe joined the 3rd annual exhibition of ‘Les Incohérents‘ (aR2). In 1889 Somm exhibited at an ‘impressionist exhibition’ (?) at Durand-Ruel (iR69;iR4;aR2). In 1891 there was an exhibition called ‘l’Exposition de dessins, peintures, aquarelles’ at the Georges Petit gallery. It included works of Henry Somm. The foreword was by Léon Roger-Milès (1859-1928). He wrote: ‘Henri Somm is one of those whose art, which seems fleeting, is made up of solid qualities; he has the viaticum that prevents him from disappearing’. (aR11). In 1897 (1897/11/14) there was a sale at Hôtel Drouot with 99 aquarelles and at least 6 pastels by Henry Somm. The catalogue had a foreword by Arsène Alexandre. (iR19) ‘Neil’ also mentions a there was a sale catalogue dated 1897, but with a preface of Roger-Milès (aR2); it is unclear if he refers to another sale. In 1911 (1911/02/06-03/18) there was a posthumous solo exhibition with works of Henry Somm at the B. Weil Galerie in Paris (aR5=iR261=R246).

Henry Somm as an artist:
Henry Somm was a pupil Gustave Morin in Rouen and later of Isidore Pils (1813-75) in Paris (aR1;iR1;R3;iR65;aR2;aR11). Also made Somm produced 7500 drawings and prints (aR1). 1867 onwards Somm was inspired by Japonism; it was Philippe Burty (and Siegfried Bing) who introduced him to this art (aR2;aR1;iR65;R85XII,p42). Around 1890 Toulouse-Lautrec admired 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). Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed Somm, but one etch probably is a portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec made by Somm↓. Desboutin and Somm (also) portrayed each other.
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).

Henry Somm: aquarelles depicting elegant ladies:
Henry Somm made many aquarelles depicting elegant ladies. Many of them are dated between 1890 and 1900. He made the Parisienne the central focus of his art (aR2). Several of these aquarelles were offered for sale 1897/11/14 at Hôtel Drouot. (iR19)

Henry Somm illustrated journals and magazines:
Henry Somm made many humoristic drawings, caricatures, illustrations and etchings for several illustrated newspapers and magazines, namely Le Chat Noir, La Charge, La Cravache, La Chronique parisienne, High life, Frou-Frou and Le Rire. (R3;iR4;iR24;iR70;aR2;R85XII). His humor was satirical or sheer nonsense (aR2). In 1908 many of his cartoons were published in ‘Les Maîtres humoristes’ (12th edition) (aR7).

Henry Somm as a book illustrator:
Henry Somm made many illustrations for several books, namely:

  • 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;iR19/ia800406) Eng.: La Rapinéide’ (or: L’Atelier, a burlesco-comico-tragic poem in 7 songs, by a former robbery of the Gros and Girodet studios’; Beraldi indicates he made 14 etchings (R85XII,no1).
  • 1876: Somm made a frontispiece for ‘Alphabet de l ‘imperfection et malice des Femmes’ of J. Ollivier, published by Barraud (R85XII,no8).
  • 1876: Somm illustrated with etchings the absurdist playlet ‘La Maison de fous‘ by Richard Lesclide (aR2); Beraldi mentions Somm made 4 etchings (R85XII,no.4).
  • 1876: Somm illustrated ‘Les Solutions conjugales‘ of Auguste Saulière (iR26); Beraldi noted that Somm made 10 etchings and that the second edition was called ‘Leçons conjugales’ (R85XII,no5)
  • 1876: Somm made 1 illustration for ‘Pierrot en prison‘ of Le Grand Jacques ; Frédéric Chevalier made two (iR26;iR40/bd6t5737547n)
  • 1879: Somm made an etch and 39 ink or pen drawings for ‘Le Livre des Baisers‘ by Victor Billaud (the book of kisses) (R90II,p119;aR8;iR10), some of these drawings he exhibited at the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879.
  • 1879: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Les leçons conjugales‘ (aR2) (Eng.: Marital lessons).
  • 1879: Somm made 79 illustrations for a ‘grammaire Japonaise‘; (iR127;M5a); note: Somm studied oriental languages since 1867 (R85XII,p42).
  • 1881: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Histoires conjugales‘ (aR2) (Eng.: Marital histories); Beraldi noted that Somm made 10 etchings (R85XII,no6).
  • 1882: Somm made an etch for the front illustration of  ‘Les joyeusetés‘ of R.P. La Cayorne (iR26;iR40/bpt6k5425724w)
  • 1884: Somm made etchings for Auguste Saulière’s ‘Ce qu’on n’ose pas dire‘ (aR2) (Eng.: What we don’t dare to say); Beraldi noted that Somm made 10 etchings (R85XII,no7).
  • 1884: Somm made 36 drawings and 36 aquarelles for ‘Sapho, moeurs Parisiennes’ (Parisian customs) by Alphonse Daudet (aR11); according to Christies it was published in 1894, and it included 100 drawing and watercolour illustrations by Henry Somm and Henri Rivière (iR15/6257140)
  • 1885-: Beraldi mentions that Somm made 4 etchings for ‘Tanzaï et Néadarné’ of Crébillon fils (dans le goût japonais) and published by Barraud (R85XII,no2)
  • 1885-: Beraldi mentions that Somm made a coverage and 4 etchings for ‘Rose tendre et vert foncé’ of Eugène Montassier (R85XII,no3).
  • 1885-: Somm made a frontispiece for ‘Le Couvent du dragon vert’ of Léon de Royan’ (R85XII,no9)
  • 1887: Somm made 2 illustrations for ‘Chansons folles‘ of Gustave Nadaud (iR26;iR40/bpt6k72807h); Beraldi mentions he made 1 etching (R85XII,no11).
  • 1893: Somm made 40 illustrations for ‘Mariette‘ by Ludovic Halévy (iR19/ia800201)
  • 1894-1904: Somm made, beside others drawings for the ‘Album de L’Intransigeant‘ of Henri Rochefort; the 2nd edition was published in 1902 (iR26;iR40/bpt6k5698836s)
  • 1895: Somm made a set of 21 dry points for ‘Les Cousettes, physiologie des couturières de Paris’ by Louis Morin (aR2;iR26;iR40/bpt6k15226938). (Eng.: The quilts).
  • 1897: Somm made a set of dry points for ‘La Parisienne peinte par elle-même’ by Goerges Montorgueil (aR2;iR26;iR40/bpt6k123293b). (Eng.: The Parisian woman painted by herself).
  • 1899: Somm made several coloured illustrations for ‘La chanson des vieux époux‘ by Loti Pierre (iR40,bpt6k1054516c)
  • 1901: Somm illustrated the ‘Journal d’un nègre à l’Exposition de 1900‘ of Gaston Bergeret (iR26; iR40/bpt6k97741372; iR19/ia802602).
  • 18xx: ‘Le Chat Noire – guide’ was illustrated by Georges Auriol and enhanced with watercolours by Henry Somm (M5a)

Henry Somm and applied art:
Henry Somm made many designs for programs, menus, invitations, visiting cards, vignettes and almanacs (iR70;iR65;aR2). He also made calendars for a year, two of which he exhibited at the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879.
Félix Bracquemond commissioned Somm to produce series of designs for plates, during his period as artistic director of Haviland porcelain factory (R85XII,p42;iR70;R3), so somewhere between 1872 and 1881.

Henry Somm and performance art:

  • 1885: Somm 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 1885/12/25; the booklet contained 44 illustrations (iR4;aR2;iR26)
  • 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‘. Somm also had connections with Alfred Jarry (aR2).
  • 1888: Somm published ‘De Cythère à Montmartre’ (pièce à grand spectacle en 2 actes et 20 tableaux). It probably was meant for performances in La Chat Noire. (iR40,btv1b10524437x;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)
  • 1881-83: at least these years Somm lived at 6, rue de Calais, Paris (iR1)
  • 1885-87: at least these years Somm lived at 29, rue Lepic, Paris (iR1)
  • 1896: at least this year Somm lived at boulevard Rochechouart, 27 (iR1).
  • 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)

My main sources are Moffett (1986=R2), Walther (2013=R3,p698, rendering 2 pictures), Adler (1988=R89,p31+no14+29), Berson (1996=R90), The Salon database (iR1), WikiPedia (iR4), 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), BNF (iR26), Gallica (iR40=aR3), (=iR127), parismusé (=iR195); 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.
See links for collections in musea: Louvre Département des Arts Graphique (=M5a); the Metropolitan (=M23); Van Gogh Amsterdam (21x=M73);
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;M73).

Additional references:

  1. (short article on Henry Somm)
  2. (article of ‘Neil’ about the etchings of Henry Somm, 2010/11/22; with many pictures)
  3. gallica.bnf (many etchings of Henry Somm; =iR40)
  4. (the entire 12th Volume of Henri Beraldi: Les graveurs du XIXe siècle with works of Somm; =iR40 = R85XII)
  5. 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. =iR261 (no entries) =R246.
  6. (sale of aquarelles and some pastels by Henry Somm at Hôtel Drouot 1897/11/15; =iR19)
  7. + (Henry Somm; Les maîtres humoristes; les meilleurs dessins; les meilleurs légendes. Paris, 1908; =iR19)
  8. (info on ‘Le Livre des Baisers’ by Victor Billaud)
  9. (‘Le Livre des Baisers’ by Victor Billaud for sale; =iR387)
  10. (info on ‘Le Livre des Baisers’ by Victor Billaud)
  11. (info and copies of pages from ‘Sapho’ by Alphonse Daudet; Paris, 1884)
  12. (sale of booklet belonging to the performance ‘La Berline de l’émigré’.


Recommended citation: “Impressionism: Henry Somm, applied art and elegant ladies, etchings, aquarelles and more. Last modified 2024/01/30.