In 1871, after working briefly as a lawyer’s clerk, Norbert Goeneutte entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Upon the death of his initial mentor, Isidore Pils, he moved to Montmartre. There he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, for whom he often modeled, and Marcellin Desboutin, who inspired his interest in engraving, etching and drypoint. As a painter and engraver, Goeneutte made approximately 250 prints. These include a large number of etchings and drypoints – some interpretations and illustrations – and a few lithographs. Although Goeneutte was associated with Manet, Degas and Renoir, he never exhibited with the Impressionists, preferring instead the official Salons. Every year from 1876 until his untimely death in 1894 he exhibited works in the Paris Salon.
He was the friend of Manet, Desboutin, Henri Guérard, Buhot and Doctor Gachet, and with such an entourage it was understandable that he was drawn to printmaking. Admiring Rembrandt, he began printing by making copies of the master’s work in 1871. After having finished a self-portrait, he joined his friends at the publisher Cadart and gave six plates for his Illustration Nouvelle (1874-1879). He also participated in the publication of Richard Lesclide, Paris à l’eau forte (1876). From then on, Goeneutte never stopped engraving, his last print dating from the year of his death.
He focused on contemporary scenery and became the storyteller of Parisian life, executing drypoints of street scenes and landscapes of Paris and the surrounding countryside as well as other European locales. He also did portraits of Henri Guérard, and Gachet’s children Paul and Marguerite, among others. Although scenes of simple French life were his preferred subjects, he visited other cities such as London in 1880, Rotterdam in 1887 and Venice in 1890.
Antonin Proust, who had met Goeneutte through Manet, wrote in an 1895 preface to an exhibition that “his doctrine was that one always had to start from observation, from things seen. However, he could not help being influenced by Paris and Parisians.”