Henri Vignet was born in rue Saint-Hilaire in Rouen. Raised by his mother, at a very early age he demonstrated artistic tendencies in copying many prints and compositions. He painted his first study at Meudon Wood in 1875. He then studied under Ph. Zachaire and E. Lebel at the Sainte-Marie Academy of Painting and Drawing.
Not allowing himself to be overtaken by the new theories of his audacious companions, he made his debut at the Salon de Rouen in 1884 with a portrait of Dr. D… and some still lifes. In 1887, he decorated the ground floor room of the “Cabaret du Clair de Lune”, fruit of the “Chatnoiresque” conceptions of a meeting of Rouen artists, and the master of the house gave them carte blanche to decorate the establishment. This cabaret , situated at the foot of Sainte-Catherine, that the ambitious people of Rouen called ‘the mountain’, had some serious collaborators: “Vignet, Lespine, Dubosc, Decoprez, Delattre, Guillemin, Lemaitre, Glinel, Frechon and Morel”.
Vignet naturally was part of the Competition of the Society of Friends of Art in 1889, of which R. De Granzeville spoke in these terms: “…These mediocre works signed by the students of your Rouen masters and by the friends of the Jurors make up certainly three quarters of the works of art (?)…”. Henri Vignet exhibited a series of 10 remarkable views of Rouen, among which were “La Basse-Vielle-Tour”, “L’Aubette” and “Le Rue aux Juifs”. One of the canvases was purchased by the Society.
In 1890, he was given the job of decorating the Cirque Rancy; on the walls of the stables one can see a view of Rouen, hunting in the pampas and souvenirs of the Algerian countryside.
After a stay in Dieppe, where he brought back some very good studies, Vignet was brought to the attention of the critics of the Salon on 1891 with his two canvases “Le Pont Suspendu” and “Le Gros Horloge”. The latter, “very decorative, represents the Large Clock in one thousand years, crumbling in ruins, covered by ivy – it is a great success,” said G. Dubosc. But Vignet abandoned his futuristic visions and from that time on dedicated himself to landscapes. He did, however, receive the bronze medal.
Vignet was part of the Literary and Artistic Circle which met at “The Coffee Pot” in a very small group which tried to give a new artistic sense to the town of Rouen. He took part in the Salon of 1895 and G. Dubosc wrote: “…H. Vignet has completely brightened up his palette…The impressions of the landscape, a “Pont d’Elbeuf” lit morning light are executed with a charming accuracy…” He received ‘Honorable’ mention at the national and colonial exhibition, by painting the corners of old Rouen – roofs with stone spires. Vignet possesses a keen sense of the picturesque, skillful executive acquired through his decorative work. We find him again at the Municipal Salon of 1897 with two views of Rouen. In December he exhibited at M. Lambin, rue de la Republique. His main works were 52 canvases made up of marine scenes, landscapes, still lifes, interior scenes or street scenes and even decorative themes. The critics were favorable and the press added: “…It would be hoped that the Rouen painters would multiply these exhibitions which allow them to be judged much better than the banal offerings at the Municipal Salons where they are drowned in the mass of mediocrity…”
In Paris, where Vignet lived from 1899, he became in turn painter, antiquary, and restorer – he became an expert in all the old and new tricks of the trade. Employed at the Gutti ateliers and then by the painter/decorator Jusseaume, he worked on the decoration of the party room of the 1900 exhibition. At that time, Vignet lived on Montmartre at 12, rue Cornet, the same street where Berlioz lived. He was also the neighbor of the terrible polemist Leon Bloy, with whom he had notable quarrels. Old Montmartre was the theme of numerous canvases.
From Montmartre Vignet went to live on the Ile Saint-Louis in 1902, of which he painted various aspects, and published them in a very picturesque edition of black and white postcards. From 1902, he took part in the Salon of the National Society of Beaux-Arts, and Paris critics were very favorable, as witnessed by the press in 1903: “…With Vignet we enter still more clearly into the category of very modern painters who want to grab onto the most elusive nuances at the most obscure hours or the least lit hours of the day as shown in ‘La Pointe Saint-Louis’ in Paris, ‘La Place du Moulin a Vent in Dieppe’ and ‘Marche in Dieppe’…” In 1903, Vignet won a silver medal at Villefranche and then, a year later, at Limoges.
On February 13, 1905 at Hotel Drouet, there was a sale of 60 paintings and drawings by Henri Vignet, whose catalogue was prefaced by the expert Georges De Graet-Delalain. The auctioneer had the pleasure of seeing the gavel fall on #49, “Le Sacre, Snow Fall” for a record 266Fr.
In 1905, not forgetting his native town, Vignet exhibited at Legrip. He had great success there and decided to associate himself with Charles Frechon for the following years in 1906, 1907 and 1908.
At the suggestion of M. G. Cain, Director of the Artistic Commission of Carnavalet Museum, in 1908, Vignet had the pleasure to see his painting, “La Rue Galande” ( a painting of the old Saint-Severin district, celebrated by J.K. Huysmans) purchased by the museum. In 1909 in again took part in the Municipal Salon of Rouen.
Right from the formation of the Salon of Rouen Artists, Vignet was among the first exhibitors. He was still living in rue Cortot in Paris when he sent four canvases to the first exhibition. He reappeared from 1911 to 1914 and in 1919 and 1920. After the death of his wife in 1908, Vignet left Paris and returned to Rouen where he continued to execute his series of picturesque old streets and, as before, lived in Passage Saint-Herblandor in the old Marrou ateliers, in the rue Saint-Romain, which he often painted.
Vignet was very artistic and very original, and loved to spread his talent in various forms. One day, he quickly painted a decor for the “Revue des Eparians” at the Theatre Francais, whose author was none other than the brother of G. Dubosc, Andre the chemist; another day, he decorated the Chariot of the Press for the entrance of the High Constable of Breze; and, in 1909 published 26 colored postcards on the subject of old Rouen, which had great success. In 1912, Vignet published a new series of five colored cards on the life of Joan of Arc at Rouen. Its production was very much appreciated in Rouen by art collectors DeGlatigny, Gatoux, Brabant, but also by Depeaux, who had purchased from Vignet a series of cathedrals in 1908.
Fleeing the rigors of winter and leaving his home at 70 rue Saint-Romain, Henri Vignet made several trips to the Midi in 1909, to Marseilles, Aix, Cap Martin, Bordighere and Venise. These trips gave rise to an exhibition at Legrip in October 1910 and 1911. In June 1911, F. Depeaux offered “The Cathedral of Rouen” to the Swansea Museum.
In 1914, on the eve of the war, Vignet was in Spain at Fontarable and Saint Sebastian with the violinist, Albert De Vivero. He brought back from there a whole series of small sunlit pictures. During the war, he painted several canvases for the English officer, Colonel Cars Hall, who wanted to take them to the Indies.
In 1916, Vignet took part in the Exhibition of Normandy – Artists for Belgian War Wounded, with Baudouin, Albert Lebourg and Charles Angrand. Vignet exhibited “Le Portail de la Cathedrale”and “La Vielle Maison de la Rue Saint-Romain”. Previously, not forgetting his talents as decorator, he had painted a series of pier-glasses in the style of the 18th century for the Deniecourt Castle in the Somme. This castle was completely destroyed by the Germans.
Vignet continued to exhibit regularly at Legrip – twice in 1915, in 1916, three times in 1917, in 1918, 1919 and three times in 1920, where he presented a series of a dozen lithographs on La Bouille. This series, which he completed during a visit with friends, the Lamberts, was a great success and was prefaced and presented by G. Dubosc in the press.
Vignet was also an excellent musician, a delicate composer and assiduous enthusiast of chamber music and organ recitals. He was also an erudite naturalist, and like his friend Charles Angrand, loved to collect cut silex. Henri Vignet also collected butterflies and seashells and catalogued them. He did the same with his artistic production; right from the start he kept a complete catalogue of his work – more than 3,000 canvases and drawings.
For many years, Vignet had been ill, and after a long stay at the Oissel Sanatorium, he left to spend the winter in the Midi Provencal. He wanted to live in Grasse, the town of Fragonard, but on the advice of the decorator of the Comic Opera, Raymond Deshais, he stayed in Nyons in the Drome. Vignet died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 25, 1920, at the age of 63.