Parting Thought on Pesne, Vernet, and Saint-Aubin
The miscellaneous grouping of three pre-Revolutionary, eighteenth-century French artists (Pesne, Vernet, and Saint-Aubin) shows the diversity of Melville’s print collection in pictorial genre (portrait, seascape, cul-de-lampe), engraving technique (steel engraving, aquatint, etching), and place of publication (Germany, England, France). French’s nineteenth-century steel engraving after Pesne's 1748 painting of the engraver G. F. Schmidt and his wife with a story of La Fontaine shows Melville’s interest in engravers, their implements, and books that inspire them. Saint-Aubin’s 1780 cul-de-lampe, reproduced as the tail-piece to an essay about a Scottish artist in French art journal from 1879, shows Melville’s interest in cross-cultural journalistic art criticism in his own day as well as in representations of the mythological stories of Diana and her chase. Byrne’s 1818 aquatint of Vernet’s 1759 Shipwreck would have taken Melville back to his young, ambitious father’s transatlantic voyage to Paris and London one year before Herman was born, setting the stage for the father’s decade of mercantile success in New York City before the shipwreck of his economic prospects left his family suddenly impoverished in Albany and then Lansingburgh.
All three of these engravings, in Melville’s later life, would have spoken, in different ways, to the two passages he marked in the copy of Criticisms on Art he acquired in 1870 in which Hazlitt declared that “books, pictures, and the face of nature” are the “only three pleasures in life, pure and lasting” (40-41).