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Edgar Chahine was born in Vienna, to Armenian parents; he grew up in Constantinople, where his father Bedros was a director of the Ottoman bank. Some sources erroneously give Venice as his place of birth, rather than Vienna. It was, however, in Venice that Chahine studied art from 1892, under the painter Antonio Paoletti and the sculptor Antonio del Zotto at the Murad-Rafayelian school, which was attached to the Armenian monastery in San Lazzarro.
Chahine and his mother had moved to Venice to escape the persecution of Armenians in Turkey. Chahine's father remained in Constantinople, and escaped the massacres of 1896, to perish in 1917, along with half of the Armenian population of Turkey. In 1895, mother and son moved to Paris and Chahine enrolled at the Académie Julian*. Chahine also took lessons in etching* from Eugène Delâtre, and etching was to prove a lifetime's love.
The young Chahine soon found success. He was taken on by the publisher and dealer Edmond Sagot, and his etchings won prizes at the Exposition Universelle de Paris* and the Salon de la Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-Arts*. In 1900 Chahine was awarded the Médaille d'Or de la gravure à titre étranger, an extraordinary honour for such a young artist; in 1903 he was unanimously awarded the Médaille d'Or décernée par la Biennale de Venise.
The death of his fiancée in 1905 caused the first crisis of Chahine's artistic career. To overcome his depression, he travelled through Italy, becoming once more enthused by the flexibility and immediacy of etching. Chahine would sketch as he walked out and about, and returning to his hotel room would transfer the sketches onto etching* plates. This resulted in his portfolio of 50 etchings Impressions d'Italie, published by Sagot in 1906 in an edition of 75 copies.
Chahine was closely associated with his friend, the poet Archag Tchobanian, in promoting the cause of Armenia, enlisting the support of such prominent French figures as Anatole France, Jean Jaurès, and Georges Clemenceau. The Armenian Genocide commencing in 1915 brought a return of Chahine's depression, which did not fully lift until 1921, when he married Julia Gaumet and re-committed himself to his art.
In 1925 Edgar Chahine became a French citizen. Despite the two periods of relative inactivity mentioned above, Chahine left a substantial artistic legacy. Tabanelli's Edgar Chahine: Catalogue de l'oeuvre gravé lists 429 etchings and drypoints*, out of a total production reckoned at 600 (including the etchings Chahine made for limited editions of works by writers such as Huysmans, Mirbeau, Flaubert, Barrès, France, and Colette, which are separately catalogued in Blaizot & Gautrot, Chahine illustrateur, 1974).
Of all themes, that of Venice is the most persistent. The relative scarcity of etchings by Chahine on the market reflects two calamitous losses of work, in a studio fire in 1926 and in a flood in 1942. Venice, scene of his earliest art studies and of the happy early years of his marriage, 1921-24, is the most persistent theme in Chahine's etched work, which also includes studies of fashionable society and street life in Paris, and landscapes in France and Italy.
There is a substantial collection of the etchings of Edgar Chahine in the National Gallery of Armenia, as well as in major French and international collections. Besides recent exhibitions in Auvers, Bordeaux, and Grenoble, there was an important retrospective of the art of Edgar Chahine in Pont L'Evêque in 2008.
See: Edgar Chahine, Peintre-Graveur (Bibliothèque Nationale, 1980); Chahine: Paris (Musée Carnavalet, 1982); Edgar Chahine: Images of Venice and the Belle Époque (Aldis Browne Fine Arts, 1983); Edgar Chahine: La Vie Parisienne (Smithsonian Institution, 1984); Benoit Noël, Edgar Chahine, Peintre-Graveur (Éditions BVR, 2008).
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