Preemptions for Orsay and the Musée national d’art moderne at the Saint-Laurent and Bergé auction

1. Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
The Lilacs, 1899-1900,
Glue on canvas - 240 x 154.3 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Christie’s Paris

26/2/09 – Acquisitions – Paris, Musée d’Orsay and Musée national d’art moderne – Three preemptions by French museums took place during the first day of the Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé auction devoted to Impressionist and Modern art [1].

Orsay acquired two lots. The first was a canvas by Edouard Vuillard, The Lilacs (ill. 1), for the sum of 320,000€ before charges. This large decorative panel is one of a three-part series commissioned by Prince Emmanuel Bibesco from Vuillard and presented in 1908 at the artist’s first personal exhibition organized by the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery.
Vuillard reworked the composition profoundly in 1908 : on the left, in the background, the viewer could see the figure of Félix Vallotton who was replaced by two unidentified characters. In the foreground, on the right, he kept the portrait of Misia, the wife of Thaddée Natanson, founder of La Revue Blanche.
The other two panels in the series also belong to Orsay, The Path is already exhibited there whereas The Haystack is on deposit today at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon.

2. James Ensor (1860-1949)
At the Conservatory, 1902
Oil on canvas - 56 x 71.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Christie’s Paris

3. Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Il Ritornante, 1917
Oil on canvas- 94 x 77.9 cm
Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne
Photo : Christie’s Paris

The second painting to join the Musée d’Orsay’s collections (for 480,000€ before charges) is At the Conservatory by James Ensor (ill. 2). The museum had only one canvas by this painter until now, The Damsel in Distress, dated much earlier (1882) and in a very different style. Here, Ensor represents in a satirical and caricatural way, musicians and choir singers from the Conservatoire Royal in Brussels. They are interpreting Wagner’s Valkyrie under a portrait of the composer who is plugging his ears in obvious distress at their performance. Contemporaries could easily recognize famous musicians such as : Eugéne Ysaye the violinist, Gustave Poncelet the creator of the first ensemble for a clarinetist, and, in the middle, in the role of the diva, Cornelis Servais, the singing teacher.
This painting is undoubtedly worthy of entering the Orsay museum. However, one might regret The Despair of Pierrot, a great masterpiece by Ensor included in the same auction at a price (4,400,000€) which probably went far beyond the Musée d’Orsay’s means where it had been recently exhibited in the show Masques.

Beaubourg preempted for 9.8 million euros Il Ritornante (ill. 3), a very important work by Giorgio de Chirico, painted in Ferrara in 1917. The interpretation of this work is very complex and we will simply refer our readers to the catalogue entry which explains it in a detailed way. This painting was part of the Jacques Doucet collection.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 26 février 2009


[1] Many thanks to Edwart Vignot, “special envoy” for The Art Tribune who informed us of the preemptions.

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