Manuel Robbe was born in Paris in 1872 to a Northern French family from the town of Berthune. He studied etching and painting and became an accomplished engraver, specializing in aquatint. One of the most significant print publishers of the time, Edmond Sagot, was an admirer of Robbe, and regularly published color prints by him.
Between the turn of the 20th century and 1914, Robbe produced a large number of aquatints in black and in color. He was awarded a Gold Medal at the Universal Exhibition for his prints in 1900. In 1905, he traded his allegiance from the Societe des Artistes Francais to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where he was henceforth to exhibit. Robbe executed his strongest work in the decades immediately before and following 1900. Under the guidance of renowned printer Eugène Delâtre, he mastered the techniques of etching and aquatint and soon became a leading artist of publisher Edmond Sagot.
Robbe developed a technique known as “sugar- life”, printing his designs with a mixture of sugar, ink and gum Arabic on zinc plates. He would then heat the plate and work with the soft-ground etching process until he achieved the desired effect. Robbe would then paint the subject on the plate with an oil paint brush made of rags. He used his fingers to adjust the tone on the zinc plate, resulting in the appearance of a completely unique print. Robbe was an innovator of the experimental “à la poupée” process of printing many colors from a single plate.
During his career, Robbe produced more than 200 aquatints and drypoints, as well as posters promoting corsets and bicycles. The admiration of his work earned him numerous invitations to exhibitions. He received the Bronze Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.