The little-known Henri de Waroquier had an exceptionally long career as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker. During his youth, Impressionist works—the bold, flat colors of Nabi cloisonism (a post-Impressionist avant-garde movement)—and Japanese art were among his influences. He later adopted the violent colors of the Fauve artists in his paintings as well, but it is a Cubist concern with the construction (and distortion) of pictorial space that particularly informs this mixed etching and drypoint, Festival of Water and Light, Memory of the Exposition of 1937—an exceptional document of the prelude to World War II (1939–45).
Waroquier did not serve in World War I (1914–18), and thus did not see any of the Great War’s carnage firsthand, but the work he produced through the 1920s and 1930s demonstrates an increasingly tragic sensibility and much of it uses the human figure as a vehicle for the expression of suffering and death. In 1937, he painted a decorative mural called Tragedy for the Palais de Chaillot at the Exposition Internationale (International Exposition) in Paris. It was also at this fair, in the low, modernist Spanish pavilion, that Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) exhibited his monumental anti-Fascist painting called Guernica.
Here, the wild virtuoso performance, a virtual sound-and-light show in print, depicts the final World’s Fair before the onset of armed conflict in Europe in 1939—the 1937 Exposition Internationale (International Exposition) in Paris. The fair’s close proximity to the Eiffel Tower can be seen at the left, the Italian Fascist pavilion appears in the left foreground, and the German pavilion occupies the right middle ground. The print thus foreshadows the apocalyptic destruction of the coming war, by symbolic reference to two of its perpetrators.
Overall, the close attention to architectural construction—Waroquier had studied architecture as a young man—vies with fantasy in its imaginative synthesis of Cubist, Futurist, and Art Deco influences. (Art Deco took its name from the acclaimed Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925.) Employing Cubist principles of shifting perspective, the print draws together various images into a single impression, while Waroquier’s glorification of the modern buildings carries a touch of Futurism, and the dynamic representation of twisting flags, streamers of light from no apparent source, and bursts of fireworks impart a blaze of vigor.