Recent acquisitions of Symbolist works by the Musée d’Orsay


1. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
(1824-1898)
Romeo and Juliet or
Paolo and Francesca, 1892
Oil on panel - 39.9 x 32.9 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

21/5/08 — Acquisitions — Paris, Musée d’Orsay — The many publications and exhibitions devoted to Symbolism prove how important the movement was and the interest it has generated recently among art historians and curators. Symbolism is still difficult to define, however, and many artists find themselves more on the edge of what might be called a shadowy zone with its implications of vagueness and questioning. Thus, based on several aspects of his work, Pierre Puvis de Chavanne, who is considered a precursor of the movement (even, according to Serge Lemoine’s assertion, of “modernity”), could, in fact, be included in it. Readers should not therefore be surprised if this article devoted to recent acquisitions by Orsay on Symbolism [1] begins with this artist.

2. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
(1824-1898)
Astronomy, 1896
Black pencil and brown wash on canvas -
124 x 63.7 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

In 2006 the museum acquired a small panel representing either Paolo and Francesca, or Romeo and Juliet (ill. 1). The work, which dates from his late years, moves away from the very formal manner of the artist at this time, most probably due to the fact it resembles more of a sketch. Even its iconography, poorly identified but which refers to literary sources from Shakespeare or Dante recalls that of Romantic painting. Let us not forget that Puvis, when he started, was very close to the style of Théodore Chassériau.

The museum also acquired in 2007 a major project by Puvis de Chavannes for the décor of the Boston Library, drawn on canvas (ill. 2), from the de Bayser Gallery which had displayed it at the last Biennale des Antiquaires.
The work was executed between 1894 and 1896 and was painted entirely in Paris according to the measurements provided by the Americans. On 4 September 1896, Puvis wrote to his niece : “I have just finished the last three panels for Boston…(which) together with the five others presented this year…will make the crossing and cover walls which I will never see.” [2] Astronomy, for which the canvas acquired by Orsay is a preparation, is marouflé in the middle of the right-hand side of the wall leading up the Library’s staircase.
Of anecdotal interest, let us note in passing that the work reappeared anonymously at the Hôtel Drouot in an auction with no catalogue. After several persons recognized it, the necessary corrections were made and it was sold for a price reflecting its pedigree.

3. Constant Montald (1862-1944)
Symbolist Landscape, 1904
Distemper and
inset metallic particles
on canvas - 115.6 x 104 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

4. Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
>em>Future or
Young English Woman, 1898
Marble and brass on copper wire -
45.5 x 28 x 20 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay


The influence of Puvis de Chavannes is obvious in Symbolist Landscape by the Belgian artist Constant Montald acquired by Orsay (ill. 3) from the Cabinet Blondeau-Breton in 2007. The subject is hard to explain. In the background, two nude men are planting a tree while in the foreground another masculine figure with a crown of laurels is holding a palm leaf in his hands. Readers should consult the entry on the Musée d’Orsay website which suggests a reference to Belgian politics at the time.

For another Belgian artist, Fernand Khnopff, the Musée d’Orsay owned only three photographs and one painting, the Portrait of Marie Monnom, acquired in 1982. Two other works have recently joined these, a sculpture and a painting. The first is the portrait of a young woman in marble entitled Future or Young English Woman. The bust was originally in the Palais Stoclet in Brussels [3]. Again, see the museum entry to know more about the interpretation of this figure whose features are those of the artist’s sister.

The second work by Fernand Khnopff to join the collections at Orsay is, Incense (ill. 5), a painting dating from the same year as Future (1898) for whom the model is again his sister, Marguerite. It was acquired through the Gaubert and Hopkins Custot Galleries in Paris. Although it was listed as “a work of national heritage”, no French firm was interested in purchasing it despite the tax deductions offered by the state. The patron this time was Japanese, the Yomiuri Shimbun group.

5. Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Incens, 1898
Oil on canvas - 86 x 50 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

6. Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931)
Rug
Wool - 340 x 190 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay


The Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela is without a doubt one of the major representatives of European symbolism. Despite the fact that the Musée d’Orsay still cannot boast owning any of his paintings, it was able to acquire a rug (ill. 6) produced according to one of his cartoons, from the Artus Gallery in Brussels in 2006.

7. Charles Guilloux (1866-1946)
Twilight, 1892
Oil on canvas - 32 x 46 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

8. Charles Guilloux (1866-1946)
Seine at Twilight, 1894
Oil on canvas - 38.5 x 55 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay


Let us return to France with Charles Guilloux, one of the lesser–known exponents of Symbolist landscapes, even if many of his canvases have come up over the last few years on the art market. The artist, who not long ago was still missing in the Orsay collections, is now represented by two works. The first, acquired in 2007, was presented at the Talabardon & Gautier Gallery in 2005, then sold to a private collection and, finally, entered the museum through the Thierry Mercier Gallery in Paris. The work, entitled Twilight (ill. 7), is typical of this artist who generally reproduces river scenes, diluting the forms into large colored “aplats” which recall in a way Nabis art (the work was, as a matter of fact, probably exhibited in 1892 at the Le Barc de Boutteville Gallery which represented the group). A second masterpiece by this artist, also acquired in 2007, also depicts a twilight scene (ill. 8). It was purchased from the Frédéric Chanoît Gallery in Paris.

9. Lucien
Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953)
Creek, 6 in the Evening, 1936
Pastel - 66 x 91 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

10. Lucien Lévy-
Dhurmer (1865-1953)
Lake Geneva, 1925
Pastel - 55 x 73 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay


The Musée d’Orsay already holds numerous pastels by Lucien Levy-Dhurmer, which joined the collections in 1972 thanks to a donation by M. et Mme Zagorowsky. In 2006 four more works of the same technique came to enrich the museum, also from a donation corresponding to a tax deduction and with the same provenance. Three of them had been shown at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1973 during the exhibition Autour de Lévy-Dhurmer. Visonnaires et Intimistes en 1900.
Creek, 6 in the Evening (ill. 9) shows how the artist appropriated Monet’s process of evoking the same subject at different hours of the day. The creek here was represented four times in pastel : in the morning, at 6 in the evening, at twilight and in a night scene. All four works were exhibited in 1936 by the artist with the title Creek Quatuor. M. and Mme Zagorowsky had donated the one corresponding to Morning to the Musée de Brest. The Musée d’Orsay already owned a pastel on the Creek theme.

11. Lucien
Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953)
Florence, 1898
Pastel - 53 x 45 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

12. Lucien
Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953)
Silence, 1895
Pastel - 52 x 29 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay


Another, almost monochromatic landscape, which represents Lake Geneva (ill. 10), was also part of the donation. Other pastels included in the group are Florence, a portrait of an aristocratic Italian woman which the artist represented as an allegory of the city and Silence (ill. 12), an imposing and mysterious figure strongly influenced, as noted by all the critics, by Silence, a work by Auguste Préault whom Lévy-Dhurmer knew and had drawn.

We will publish two additional news items later on acquisitions by the Musée d’Orsay in 2006 and 2007, one on the Nabis group and the other on artists from the Realism movement.

Version française


Didier Rykner, mercredi 21 mai 2008


Notes

[1] All of the acquisitions listed in this news item were made before the new head of the museum was appointed (see news item of 30/1/08).

[2] Quoted by Louise d’Argencourt in the exhibition catalogue Puvis de Chavannes, Paris, 1976, p. 232.

[3] We would like to take this opportunity to express our regret at the progressive scattering of all the works from the Palais Stoclet which the Belgian government has been unable to prevent. Although one might understand the sale of Italian primitives, including a Duccio recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, the fact that this temple of 1900 Art continues to lose its Symbolists works constitutes a real problem for Belgian national heritage.



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