Lafitte, Alphonse (Manuel Robbe)

1872 – 1936

“Alphonse Lafitte” is one of 2 known pseudonyms under which the artist Manuel Robbe worked during the 1920s. It is not known exactly why Robbe chose to sign using a different name, but as he used “Lafitte” primarily for marine scenes and Brittany subject, there is speculation that he may have felt these works more commercial than his portraits of ladies.

Born in Paris of refugee parents at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Manuel Robbe’s childhood was certainly not an easy one. Despite the hardships, he began drawing and painting at an early age and attended the Académie Julien and later the École des Beaux Arts.

Robbe was introduced to printmaking early in his career and quickly adopted it as his medium of choice. His first print was a poster and he became proficient at color lithography often printing the pieces himself. His work was recognized with awards and he was a member of several Art Societies.

He eventually moved on to color etching and developed a special technique for aquatints using sugar to apply the ink and resin to the metal plate before “biting” the image in acid (please see “Lexicon” for a description of the etching process). This “sugar aquatint” resulted in a beautiful watercolor-like print with colors that glowed like an Impressionist painting.

While his lusciously colored etchings earned him great success in his early career, the trend toward Cubism and Robbe’s shyness as an artist and self-promoter caused his popularity to wane prematurely. Although he continued to make prints after his service as a flier in WWI, he never enjoyed the same recognition during his lifetime. In fact, he turned his atelier into a commercial printer shop that is still operated by his descendants.