Le Cercle de l’art moderne : Avant Garde Collectors in Le Havre

Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, from 19 September 2012 to 6 January 2013.

1. Claude Monet
The Business Harbor, 1874
Oil on Canvas - 37 x 45 cm
Liège, Musée d’Art moderne et d’Art contemporain
Photo : Musée de Liège

Le Havre, "a sea port which intends to remain that way", as General de Gaulle might have said, was a "temple of commerce and money" [1] at the turn of the 20th century, built notably thanks to the importation of coffee, cotton, spices and wood. The local bourgeoisie became wealthy, merchants from all over Europe prospered and together they set to buying art works, enthusiastically encouraging contemporary creations. "Eugène Boudin summed it up nicely : "No cotton, no paintings." The Musée du Luxembourg is staging an exhibition on these effervescent years in Le Havre, presenting both the painters who participated in shows there - the Impressionists, Fauves, Nabis - and the businessmen who collected their works often purchasing them on the Parisian art market, at either auctions or directly from art dealers such as Bernheim, Durand-Ruel, Berthe Weill. Partly thematic - landscapes, the Seine river, the beach, portraits, nudes - the visit attempts to show both the collectors’ common taste, with their particular sensibility to the paintings of Eugène Boudin, Camille Pissarro and also Marquet, as well as the individual personality of each collection thanks to a careful selection of works.
The catalogue provides a portrait of each one, their inclinations and the ways their acquisitions changed, as did their relationship to the artists. Unfortunately, it reproduces the works without entries.

2. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
The Portrait of Nini Lopez, 1876
Le Havre, Musée d’Art moderne André Malraux
Photo : MuMa/

The visit begins with an introduction to the city itself and its golden age, between 1850 and 1914, represented by its preeminent painter, Eugène Boudin, then of course Monet who set down his impression of the landscape of Le Havre, The Old Port and The Business Harbor (ill. 1). These canvases interact with the photographs by Jean-Victor Warnod and Gustave Le Gray. A gateway to America, Le Havre was also a beach resort, easy to reach thanks to the railway linking it to Paris, opened in 1847.
Visitors then discover the Cercle de l’art moderne. The businessmen in Le Havre participated actively in the city’s cultural life, notably by creating the Société des amis des arts, founded in 1839, then established permanently in 1880. In 1845, the Musée des Beaux-Arts opened its doors.
At the end of the 19th century, a new generation of merchants took over : Olivier Senn, Charles-Auguste Marande, Pieter van der Velde, Georges Dussueil, Oscar Schmitz : most were members of the Société des amis des arts which they abandoned in order to join the Cercle de l’art moderne, created in 1906 by Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque and Othon Friesz, three artists from Le Havre, or almost ; strangely enough, not many of their canvases seem to have attracted the collectors. Until 1910, the Cercle organized exhibitions, lectures and evenings devoted to painting, sculpture and decorative arts, often accompanied with music and literature. The exhibitions held in the Orangerie at City Hall, accompanied with a catalogue, were easily on a par with those in Paris. The first was in fact organized a few months after the scandal of the "Cage aux fauves" and welcomed all of the artists in room VII. The Impressionists were also present but no longer participated in the following shows, while the Neo-Impressionists, the Fauves and the Nabis would attend regularly until 1910. The year it was inaugurated, the Cercle also staged a retrospective on Boudin and displayed Friesz’s views of Antwerp. They wanted to point out the modernity of this art which, as Apollinaire wrote in the preface to the 1908 catalogue, overshadows nature by its purity, unity and truth, three plastic virtues.

3. André Derain (1880-1954)
Bougival, c. 1904
Oil on Canvas - 41.5 x 33.5 cm
Le Havre, Musée d’Art moderne André Malraux
Photo : MuMa/ Adagp Paris 2012

The collections assembled by these businessmen from Le Havre reveal that they were also cultivated amateurs. Born into a Protestant family of Swiss origins, Olivier Senn was a cotton broker. His collection is studied here because it remained intact, or almost, with its almost 200 works donated by his granddaughter to the museum. It ranges from the landscapes of Eugène Delacroix and Gustave Courbet, acquired in the 1850’s, to the Tunisian landscapes of Marquet and the Mediterranean ones by Vallotton purchased around 1923. Besides the many Boudins - sky studies in particular - visitors go from Quai at Honfleur by Jongkind (1866) to Quai du Pothuis by Pissarro (1882). Degas was also much appreciated by Senn who amassed over sixty drawings by him, many of which were purchased when the artist’s studio was sold. He also owned a masterpiece by Renoir, The Portrait of Nini Lopez (ill. 2). The Nabis are represented by Bonnard, Vuillard, as well as Vallotton, including paintings such as The Ray and The Waltz along with several others.
Finally, Senn was the only one to seriously take an interest in the Neo-Impressionists, as seen in the famous Beach at Vignasse by Cross. He was more cautious with the Fauves although the surprising canvas by Derain, Bougival (ill. 3) was also added to his collection. We should say in passing that it had been given to him along with a Vlaminck painting by his father-in-law, André Siegfried who found his son-in-law’s artistic tastes rather dubious and wanted to make fun of him.
Unlike Senn, Dusseuil did not particularly favor the Impressionists : he much preferred the intimacy of the Nabis, as well as the Fauve colors, especially Marquet, with about ten works, and of course Matisse, strangely missing here in the Luxembourg exhibition. Dussueil would buy the canvases the same year they were painted, demonstrating an innate skill at selecting talent.
A native of Rotterdam, Van der Velde dealt in coffee. Boudin, Jongkind, Renoir, Sisley joined his collection, but he also formed special ties with Pissarro, then took an interest in young artists such as Derain, Vlaminck, Camoin, Friesz as well as Van Dongen, a painter who attracted Marande with his unexpected colors, as seen in A Parisian Woman in Montmartre (ill. 4).

4. Kees Van Dongen
A Parisian Woman in Montmartre, c. 1907-1908
Oil on Canvas - 64 x 53.2 cm
Le Havre, Musée d’Art moderne André Malraux
Photo : MuMa/Florian Kleinfenn
Adagp Paris 2012

5. Albert Marquet (1875-1947)
Blonde Woman, 1919
Oil on Canvas - 98.5 x 98.5 cm
Paris, Centre Pompidou
Musée national d’Art moderne
Photo : Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI
RMNGP/Philippe Migeat
Adagp Paris 2012

Just like Senn, Charles-Auguste Marande was in the cotton business and, like him, his collection has stayed together thanks to his bequest to the museum in Le Havre. Again, we find the same tastes for Boudin, Jongkind, Pissarro, Monet, favorites of all these collectors. He also purchased Renoir’s The Excursionist as well as paintings and drawings by Maufra, another artist missing at the Luxembourg exhibition, before turning to the Fauves. One particular painting stands out among all these explosive colors : Trees in Avignon by André Lhote, reminding us that these collectors stopped at Cubism, to which they were totally indifferent.
The exhibition ends with the nudes where we see Marquet’s extraordinary Blonde Woman (ill. 5) acquired by Senn and the provocative Entertainer Resting by Camoin purchased by Van der Velde.
The Cercle dissolved in 1910, the three founding painters moved on. This period nevertheless remains as a surprising phenomenon of decentralization ; Paris was not the only cultural center of production in France. The capital has now recovered its predominance as it is the one staging the exhibition today.

Curators : Annette Haudiquet, Géraldine Lefebvre.

Under the guidance of Annette Haudiquet and Géraldine Lefebvre, Le cercle de l’art moderne. Collections d’avant-garde au Havre, 2012, Rmn - Grand Palais, 224 p., 39€. ISBN : 9782711860005

Visitor information : Musée du Luxembourg, 19 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris. Tel : 01 40 13 62 00. Open every day from 10 am to 7:30 pm ; Friday and Monday evenings until 10 pm.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 12 octobre 2012


[1] Georges Rimay, 1906 in the exhibition catalogue, p. 188.

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