High Attendance at the Salon du Dessin 2013

1. Louis-François Cassas (1756-1827)
A View of the Port of Messina, 1783
Pen, Black Ink, Grey and Brown Wash - 61 x 97 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Sold by the Galerie de Bayser
Photo : Galerie de Bayser

Tuesday evening, a large crowd eagerly attended the inauguration of the Salon du Dessin, more so than last year. This high attendance was all the more appreciated by the dealers because, according to them, major collectors and curators (French, but also American) were among the number. They did not come just to look but also to buy, with many red dots visible on the stands on opening night, a trend which was confirmed the next day when some stands had to reorganize their presentations, since certain drawings had gone home with their new owners.

This was the case, alas for visitors, at the Galerie Bayser where a large sheet by Louis-François Cassas representing the port of Messina (ill. 1) immediately found a buyer, this being none other than the Metropolitan Museum of New York, no doubt the most active establishment today in drawing acquisitions. The work is fascinating not only for its beauty but also its historical interest : it shows the harbour in 1783, the same year it was partly destroyed by a violent earthquake. However, the architecture depicted here, evoking irresistibly the English city of Bath and its crescents, was probably reinvented by the artist who favored imaginary views.
Although this sheet is thus no longer visible, we should point out nonetheless that, like all American museums, the Metropolitan extends a warm welcome to anyone wishing to consult its drawing collection. Visitors need only show up at the drawing department and make the request ; they will be allowed to enter on the spot with no further formalities.

2. John Martin (1789-1854)
Forest Stream, 1841
Watercolor and Gouache Heightenings - 24.6 x 34.2 cm
Galerie Paul Prouté
Photo : Galerie Paul Prouté

At times, there are serendipitous encounters. Last year we had mentioned a superb drawing by John Martin sold at auction in London, representing The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Army. This sheet can now be found at the Salon du Dessin at Jean-Luc Baroni’s, hanging in the middle of a wall, directly across from another John Martin, at the Galerie Prouté (ill. 2). The sheets by this artist, highlighted at the Tate Gallery in an exhibition in 2011 do not appear very frequently in France and visitors will enjoy seeing two magnificent examples of his genius here.

3. Francesco del Cairo (1607-1665)
Allegory of Victory
Pen and Brown Ink, Brown Wash,
White Heightenings - 27.1 x 20.6 cm
Pandora Old Masters
Photo : Pandora Old Masters

4. Joseph Parrocel (1646-1704)
The King’s Armies Crossing the Rhine at Tolhuis
Black Chalk, Red Chalk, Pen, Brown Wash,
Gouache Heightenings - 35.8 x 39 cm
Galerie Jean-François Baroni
Photo : Galerie Jean-François Baroni

We jump now to another century and country to point out, at Pandora Old Master, a very rare sheet by a Milan artist from the early 18th century : Francesco del Cairo (ill. 3). His drawings are indeed hard to find.
The same cannot be said however, of Joseph Parrocel. But the work presented by Jean-François Baroni (ill. 4), is of remarkable quality, and prepares a painting at the Louvre. For more on this previously unpublished drawing, we refer our readers to the entry which Jérôme Delaplanche, the specialist on this artist, had written on his blog.

Rather than reproducing too many sheets (and many deserve it in a very beautiful Salon this year) and offering a very long list, like other years, which tends to become a bit tiresome, we will only select a few items this time. The Brussels gallery, Patrick Derom, a specialist of notably Belgian Symbolism, exhibits several sheets by Léon Spilliaert of which we have chosen the one we find to be the most beautiful, The Casino at Ostende (ill. 5), produced in 1908. Of special note in this artist is the manner in which he conveys a strange atmosphere using very few means.

5. Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946)
The Casino at Ostende, 1908
Colored Pencils, Chinese Ink, Silvered Powder
and Wash - 49.8 x 31.9 cm
Galerie Patrick Derom
Photo : Galerie Patrick Derom

6. Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957)
Rocks at Trégastel, 1902
Watercolor and Gouache - 21.5 x 29.4 cm
Galerie Antoine Laurentin
Photo : Galerie Antoine Laurentin

The Salon du Dessin, initially devoted to works before the 20th century has seen its focus progress slightly over the years. For our part, we remain within our chronological field, and though we could easily quote a great number of sheets from the first third of the last century, we will only mention, besides Spilliaert, a magnificent watercolor and wash landscape (ill. 6) by Frantisek Kupka at the Antoine Laurentin Gallery, (true, dated very early from 1902), which shows us an artist who was still attached to the figurative tradition of the preceding century, a fact which does not prevent him from creating a veritable masterpiece.

7. Eugène Lami (1800-1890)
The Glory of the Spanish Monarchy, 1865
Watercolor and Gouache - 94 x 54 cm
Galerie Talabardon & Gautier
Photo : Didier Rykner

We conclude this review with a surprising drawing by Eugène Lami (ill. 7), an artist who is usually seen as an illustrator and watercolorist rather than as a great ceiling painter. This is indeed a watercolor but of unusually large size and scope for this painter. Obviously inspired by the great Italian Baroque works, it represents The Glory of the Spanish Monarchy. This was probably a project for a ceiling in the residence of Isabel II of Spain, which she had built in Paris after abdicating the throne in 1870. We do not know if the ceiling for her home, today destroyed, was in fact ever carried out.

8. Paul Helleu (1859-1927)
Mrs. Helleu with a Hat, 1905
Red Chalk, Black Chalk, White Chalk - 84 x 68.5 cm
Bayonne, Musée Bonnat-Helleu
Photo : Musée Bonnat-Helleu

Like every year, an exhibition of drawings from a collection (either private or public) is also organized by the Salon. After that of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, last year the Musée in Bergues revealed many of its unknown sheets to the public. This year, the guest of honor is the Musée Bonnat. It is now known as the "Musée Bonnat-Helleu", a name which we find hard to use as the former was historically important and justified. But, three years ago, the museum received an important donation from Paul Helleu [1]. One of the conditions was that the name of Helleu be attached to Bonnat’s.
The donation did not receive much coverage in the media, including here on this site. The exhibition of large sheets by Paul Helleu (ill. 8) now serves to remedy this omission.
Though we are pleased to see these drawings for the first time, we nevertheless find it unfortunate that the initial project, which was supposed to be an exhibition of old master drawings from the Petit-Hory bequest in Bayonne, did not take place with the, in our opinion unjustified, excuse that the Musées Nationaux should not lend to a business fair ! Since the Petit-Hory bequest is part of the inventory at the Louvre it thus refused the request for a loan, and the Basque museum turned to the choice of Paul Helleu. This supposedly virtuous pretext is all the more preposterous as Jacques Petit-Hory was himself an art dealer... The idea is for us to see the drawings, isn’t it ?

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 12 avril 2013


[1] There are also some works by his contemporaries which belonged to Helleu.

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