A Canvas by Adolphe Willette Acquired by the Musée de l’Isle-Adam

1. Adolphe Willette (1857-1926)
Goodbye to the 19th century, c. 1885
Oil on canvas - 164 x 90 cm
L’Isle-Adam, Musée d’Art et
d’Histoire Louis-Senlecq
Photo : MAH Louis-Senlecq

4/4/14 - Acquisition - L’Isle-Adam, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Louis-Senlecq - "I seek my fortune / All round the Chat noir / In the moonlight / At Montmartre at night." Echoing Aristide Bruant’s ballad, Willette painted Fortune, with the traits of a young woman dressed simply in black stockings, emphasizing her nudity and adding to her allure as a streetwalker. Around her, he places black cats.
Entitled Goodbye to the Nineteenth century, the canvas had disappeared, known only thanks to a reproduction in black and white before resurfacing at Sotheby’s London last 6 March where it was sold for 18,750 pounds to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Louis-Senlecq at L’Isle-Adam. This acquisition comes at just the right moment for the museum which is preparing a monographic exhibition on the artist later this year, "Adolphe Willette, 1857-1926. J’étais bien plus heureux quand j’étais malheureux" [I was much happier when I was unhappy], from 15 June to 23 September 2014, with about 250 works assembled for the event. This project is closely tied to the collections where there are several works by Adolphe Willette (1857-1926) who lived for a while in L’Isle-Adam.

2. Adolphe Willette
Illustration of The Late Pierrot,1919
Paris, H. Floury Editeur

Surrounded by black cats, Pierrot - with whom the artist identified - is standing in a dark landscape dominated by the menacing shadows of the windmills. His pants’ pockets are turned inside out, evoking his poverty and his uplifted face appeals to Fortune, seated in a golden halo on a chariot drawn by cockchafers. She seems to be indolently holding the reins much as a Fate seizing a thread of life ;seated behind her, a cupid wearing a top hat protects her with a brightly colored Japanese sunshade. The flowery chariot is drawn along a musical staff which also holds a bristling black cat.

This painting is related to an engraving published in Willette’s autobiography, Feu Pierrot (1919), which followed a similar composition ; however, the halo is replaced by a coin of 20 francs bearing the date 1882. The engraving - known only due to its reproduction in the book - probably preceded the painting. The artist repeated the subject on his canvas in a large format, recalling the famous Parce Domine (1884, Paris, Musée Montmartre), an icon of bohemian Montmartre painted for Le Chat noir. The title of this other painting comes from a chant sung during Lent : "Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo / Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis" [Save, Lord, save your people / Do not remain eternally angry at us]. Once again, we see the motifs of the pierrot, the windmill also whose "wings like musical staffs turn in the moonlight reflecting death" as Willette himself said, adding that "the Pierrots of this world always deserve our pity". The Pace Domine is the only decor remaining today. Anne-Laure Sol suggests that Goodbye to the Nineteenth Century, given its format, style and iconography, also hung in Le Chat noir or perhaps another cabaret as we know Willette had decorated a certain number of them, even the Moulin Rouge.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, samedi 5 avril 2014


9/4/14 : Slaven Perović tells us that the painting and engraving are entitled Passage de Venus devant le Soleil (Venus passing the Sun). Slaven Perović « Adolphe-Léon Willette : drawing C’est un conte blanc and portfolio Pauvre Pierrot from the Mimara Museum », Studije Muzeja Mimara n°39, 2011.

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