Nicolas de Leyde and Charles Milcendeau, Two Exhibitions and Two Catalogues


Nicolas de Leyde, Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, from 31 March to 8 July 2012.

Charles Milcendeau, le maître des regards, Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne, Historial de la Vendée, from 7 April to 8 July 2012.

The many exhibitions we cover sometimes entails a certain delay in treating them here on our site because we take care when reading the catalogues so as to offer well argumented and complete reviews.

However, we cannot always do this as quickly as we would like and final dates often loom dangerously close before we can discuss them. This is the case for two excellent retrospectives, though very different in subject, each deserving our commendation and of course, a visit. Fortunately, we mentioned them in our first webcast, L’art sur un plateau, saying how we thought highly of both. We can only repeat our enthusiasm here in this article which will be shorter than usual.

One highlights a brilliant Medieval sculptor, the other an interesting, but almost unknown painter of the early 20th century. Artistically, there is a huge gap between them although this does not mean that the second is any less interesting, on the contrary.

Charles Milcendeau, le maître des regards

1. Charles Milcendeau (1872-1919)
Pietà, c. 1892
Oil on Canvas - 39 x 52 cm
Soullans, Musée Milcendeau-Jean Yolle
Photo : Conservation départementale des musées-Patrick Durandet

Indeed, who ever heard of Charles Milcendeau ? This student of Gustave Moreau, a native of Vendée, is featured in a very thorough retrospective at the Historial de la Vendée. Visitors will discover an endearing oeuvre, in which he quickly distanced himself from the mystical painting of his master, though influenced in his early works as seen in a few religious paintings executed with a primitivist awkwardness which seems almost voluntary. Of note, there is also a beautiful Pietà (ill. 1) residing at the Musée Milcendau-Jean Yole in Soullans.

However, Milcendeau stands out primarily for his representations of rural life, much like Jean-François Millet, one of his many sources of inspiration along with the Dutch artists of the Golden Age.
Ruthlessly realistic, showing strong empathy for his models, the artist painted Brittany and the Vendée, but also Spain where he often traveled starting in 1901. In the latter, he was in fact following a pronounced trend in French art of the second half of the 19th century, marked deeply by Iberian art. As opposed to his taste for interior scenes, the Spanish sun introduced itself into landscapes filled with peasants or shepherds under a much brighter light, even at times amid the snow (ill. 2).


2. Charles Milcendeau (1872-1919)
Shepherds under the Snow, 1909
Pastel - 78.3 x 106 cm
Soullans, Musée Milcendeau-Jean Yolle
(on deposit from the Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix,
Les Sables d’Olonnes)
Photo : Conservation départementale
des musées-Serge Bauchet

3. Charles Milcendeau (1872-1919)
Breton Woman before the Ouessant Cliffs, 1898
Pastel - 35 x 49 cm
Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne, Historial de la Vendée
Photo : Conservation départementale
des musées-Serge Bauchet


4. Charles Milcendeau (1872-1919)
The Spanish Fiancés, undated
Pastel - 64.5 x 74.5 cm
Soullans, Musée Milcendeau-Jean Yolle
Photo : Conservation départementale des musées-Patrick Durandet

Although Milcendeau’s canvases are often very beautiful, the artist was a master at working with pastels as is amply demonstrated in the exhibition. Whether it be the Breton woman sitting at the foot of the Ouessant cliffs (ill. 3), a Spanish couple captured in a moment of intimacy (ill. 4) or his portraits, he is frequently the equal of the best pastel artists of the time. In his last years, Milcendeau visited Corsica several times, finding new inspiration there, before returning to die, at barely 47, just after a last trip to the Basque country, in his house in Soullans, Vendée. A film at the end of the exhibition presents this residence, today transformed into a museum, which the artist decorated with mural paintings evoking "azulejos", alas difficult to preserve.
Finally, we would like to point out the very beautiful publication which accompanies the exhibition. While it is not strictly speaking a catalogue, this book by Christophe Vital is a veritable monograph and studies in a very thorough manner the life and work of a painter who is undeniably well worth rediscovering.

Nicolas de Leyde

5. Nicolas de Leyde (active in 1462-1473)
Bust of a Man Leaning on his Elbow
Red Sandstone - 44 x 30 x 334 cm
Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame
Photo : Didier Rykner

This Strasbourg sculptor from the late Middle Ages is the focus of a remarkable exhibition, also accompanied by an equally fine catalogue, under the guidance of Roland Recht who wrote the reference book on this genius.

The number of works by Nicolas Leyde, or his studio, held today is however not very extensive and several of them cannot be moved, making it difficult to organize such a retrospective. The show is nevertheless highly successful for two reasons : some sculptures are replaced by excellent old casts and works by artists close to him or influenced by him are also presented.

Everyone knows the famous Bust of a Man Leaning on his Elbow (ill. 5) from the Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame on the catalog cover. This realism (ill. 6), with its intense psychological introspection, is the sculptor’s artistic trademark. We find it in the two heads of a prophet and a sibyl from the former Strasbourg chancellerie, and for which there remain only two fragments, brought here exceptionally for the occasion (one is held in Strasbourg, the other in Frankfurt). Visitors can also see the two casts which were produced, before they were destroyed in 1870, installed at the same height and in the same layout as when they first appeared in the original monument.


6. Nicolas de Leyde (active in 1462-1473)
(and/or Studio)
Head of a Man with Facial Paralysis
Red Sandstone - 32 x 20.5 x 23.5 cm
Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame
Photo : Didier Rykner

7. Nicolas de Leyde (active in 1462-1473)
Cast for Crucifix from Baden-Baden, 1467
Photo : Didier Rykner


8. Nicolas de Haguenau (presence attested until 1526-dead before 1538)
Bust of a Man Leaning Man, c. 1500
Polychrome Wood - 32.5 x 40 x 26 cm
Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame
Photo : Didier Rykner

Two other, very high quality casts provide a representation of works which cannot be moved. One evokes the piece known as the Crucifix from Baden-Baden (ill. 7) which can be found in the choir of the collegiate church in this city ; the other is the Funerary Monument of the Canon Conrad de Bussnang. Visitors are invited to go to the nearby cathedral to see, in the chapel to the left of the choir, the original monument, which is still very well preserved.
Of course, the exhibition presents above all original works allowing us to understand in a clear way the context in which the sculptor and his studio worked. There are thus Strasbourg works which the artist saw when arriving in this city, where he spent most of his career, sculptures by his studio, or produced by his immediate followers, as well as pieces by other great Alsatian artists such as Nicolas de Hagueneau (ill. 8), or from Central Europe - such as Veit Stoss and Veit Wagner (ill. 9) - who were strongly influenced by his art. The exhibition is presented in a very understated setting which serves to perfectly enhance the works.


9. Veit Wagner (known between 1492 and 1510) ?
Christ Head, c. 1500
Polychrome Basswood - 45 x 38 x 42 cm
Sélestat, Bibliothèque humaniste
Photo : Didier Rykner


The catalogue includes both all of Nicolas de Leyde’s works (whether or not the sculptures are displayed) and the sculptures on view in the exhibition, plus essays of excellent academic content.
We extend our congratulations to this new exhibition at the Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, always consistent in its high quality but which regretfully does not seem to attract as many visitors as it should.

Christophe Vital, Charles Milcendeau, sa vie, son oeuvre 2012, Silvana Editoriale, 304 p., 3€. ISBN : 978-2-9092-8402-6. (Curator : Christophe Vital).


Collective work, Nicolas de Leyde, sculpteur du XVe siècle - Un regard moderne, MAM Strasbourg, 2012, 384 p., 36€. ISBN : 9782351250952. (Curators : Cécile Dupeux, Roland Recht, Stefan Roller).


Visitor information :

Historial de la Vendée, 85170 Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne. Tel : 00 33 (0)2 51 47 61 61. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission : 8€ (reduced : 5€), free for persons under 18.

Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, 3 place du Château, 67000 Strasbourg. Tel : 00 33 (0)3 88 52 50 00. Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm ; Thursday until 8 pm. Admission : 6€ (reduced : 3€).

Version française


Didier Rykner, mercredi 20 juin 2012



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