Recent acquisitions by the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal : old paintings and 19th century

22/9/10 – Acquisitions – Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts – On its one hundred-fiftieth anniversary, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal has launched a major campaign seeking the donation of 150 works. One of the most important gifts, thanks to the generosity of Michal and Renata Hornstein, is a superb still-life by Frans Snyders (ill. 1), the first to join the museum collections. It depicts a doe, disemboweled, and its fawn suspended by their legs next to a row of hanging birds, a chicken or rooster dangling on its beak from a hook and a piece of carcass from an unknown animal. A boar’s head, a lobster, some artichokes and a large basket of fruit on a table make up the rest of the composition. Two small monkeys stealing grapes add a touch of humor to an otherwise cruel scene due to its realism.
This painting can be dated to the 1640’s. A preparatory drawing is held at the British Museum. It shows little difference, notably the absence of the upper left side showing the window and the monkey.

1. Frans Snyders (1579-1657)
Still-life in a Kitchen
Oil on canvas - 177.8 x 137.5 cm
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal

2. ALexis Peyrotte (1699-1769)
The Preaching Monkey, c. 1760
Gouache on cardboard - 28.5 x 35.7 cm
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal

In the animal genre, there is also an amusing gouache [1] (ill. 2) attributed almost certainly to Alexis Peyrotte, an ornamentelist who worked extensively for Louis XV. The preaching monkey, although dressed as a Capuchin friar [2], is in fact a Jesuit in disguise who is lecturing a group of turkeys. An anonymous engraving, with a composition which is very close to Alexis Peyrotte and no doubt produced after his work, is often published with the following legend in verse form : “Suspended in a basket from a snag on an old tree / On top of which an owl is perched / a Loyalist monkey as a hefty Capuchin / Announces to his turkeys how to strike their blows”. Loyalist means a disciple of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Company. We should recall that it was dissolved by Louis XV in 1764 and that this caricature, which probably dates from the early 1760’s, is obviously to be seen in the context of the fight against the Company [3].

3. Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856)
Woman Crying over a Stele or
The Souvenir, 1840
Oil on canvas - 61.2 x 50.1 cm
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal

4. Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856)
Jesus in the Garden of Olives, 1840
Oil on canvas - 450 x 357 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

On 9 June 2010, the museum purchased The Souvenir (ill. 3), a canvas by Théodore Chassériau at Christie’s New York for $104.500 (including charges). The artist was 21 at the time and beginning to distance himself from his master, Ingres, moving towards an art form closer to Delacroix.
The subject, a woman crying over a stele is typical of Romantic inspiration. The canvas, following a tradition dating back to Baron Arthur Chassériau to whom it belonged, was probably painted at the death of the fiancé of a fellow painter’s daughter, most likely Paul de Saint-Victor. The attitude of the young weeping woman recalls that of Jesus in the Garden of Olives [4] (ill. 4) which dates from the same year, 1840. Both paintings in fact share the same atmosphere and a similar color range.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 22 septembre 2010


[1] The painting was acquired by the donor from the Arnaud Charvet Gallery in Paris.

[2] This is in fact a capuchin monkey.

[3] The information on this work comes from a text published by Nathalie Bondil in M, La revue du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréeal, n° 10, May-August 2010.

[4] Formerly at the church of Saint-Jean-d’Angély, today on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon.

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