The only French museum to conserve works by Hodler, Orsay already housed 3 of his paintings in its collections (The Woodcutter, Andey Peak and Madame Valentine Godé-Darel ill). But none of these evoked one of the major aspects of his work: the combination of a “realistic” portrait and the Symbolist composition found in the image of this boy sat on the grass.
Thanks to these two acquisitions, the Musée d’Orsay is confirming its desire to enhance the presence of foreign avant-garde artists in its collections in order to improve our understanding of the 19th century.
The Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie public establishment has exercised its right of first refusal to acquire two items at the sale "Camille Claudel: a treasure in heritage" that took place on Monday, 27 November, 2017, at Artcurial: Study II for Shâkountalâ (circa 1886) and Old woman's head, study for Maturity (circa 1890).
These exceptional acquisitions of works coming directly from the heirs of Camille Claudel's sister, Louise de Massary, allow the Musée d'Orsay, which has so far kept only two works by the artist (Maturity and Clotho's Torso), to enrich the presence of the artist. in the sculpture collections, notably thanks to the remarkable terracotta sketch for Shâkountalâ, one of her major works.
This type of slide, with its high-quality rendering, was too complex to produce to allow for market development. Research led to the creation of the autochrome (patented in 1903), the first colour process distributed on an industrial scale and marketed in 1907.
Out of the 69 autochromes acquired, some plates are the result of artisanal production before the invention was made available to wealthy amateurs. This corpus gives us an insight into the private universe of the inventors of the cinematograph (1895). Images of staged family life, portraits, tableaux vivants and landscapes all attest to the influence of diverse pictorial models, at a time when the process was primarily seen as a long-awaited means to devoting oneself to a form of ‘machine’ Impressionism.
The perceptible aesthetic ambitions and achievements are magnified by the recurring choice of the large format, often going beyond the tradition of family photographs. It is these qualities that make this selection one of the most remarkable and vast ensembles known on the colour practices of the Lumière brothers.
Many of the works have never before been displayed, and remained in the hands of Henri’s heirs (1897-1971), the son of August Lumière, up until early 2017. Until now no autochromes resulting from this family production had been conserved in the national collections.
This acquisition is accompanied by a generous donation of 6 monochrome portraits of the Lumière Brothers and their father Antoine Lumière
His series on chimney sweeps is one example of these topics that fuelled his painting and that inspired many of his contemporaries as an extension of prints since the 18th century and, beyond that, a Spanish and Nordic pictorial tradition dating back to the 17th century.
Although Murillo and Rembrandt naturally come to mind when one talks about photographed chimney sweeps, Nègre nonetheless surpasses the problems of genre and the picturesque.
Through the use of the optical system employed for his small, circular prints, the photographer sought to create “snapshots” before the invention of instant photography. This pioneering approach led to an equally pioneering project - that of representing the movement of walking through this new medium.
The reality of exposure times and the choice to prioritise sharpness, however, obliged him to turn to illusion: the three Chimney Sweeps Walking posed in the small version (société française de photographie), and thus in the larger version as well (musée Carnavalet).
The series also includes a shot of the group at rest (negative at the Musée d'Orsay), so that only the youngest worker had the honour of an individual portrait.
The picturesque aspect of the scene has been left out of the frame in order to emphasise the expressiveness of the silhouette, accentuated by the powerful contrasts of shadows, the geometric forms and the pared down decor which echo contemporary paintings by Daumier, a neighbour of Nègre on the Ile Saint-Louis.
Through the acquisition of the only known print of Young Chimney Sweep, an important milestone in the history of photography which has been pieced together in the various French collections.
What is certain is that the quality of the anonymous gilded bronze castings indicates the expertise of a very high-level professional.
In this specimen, the remarkable decors - view of a cave by the sea and a body of water in a garden - are depicted on both sides in two precisely outlined views through a window flanked by architectural consoles. On both sides, the curved ends that support the handles are designed to imitate a brick wall covered in plants.
The marine cave, evoking the romantic image of the wild yet hospitable nature, contrasts with the pond reflecting a colonnade depicted on the opposite side of the jardinière, a sophisticated vision in reference to the Parc Monceau in Paris and Tissot’s property in England. Like yin and yang, this contrast is a nod to Chinese culture, a great source of inspiration for the artist in the design of this spectacular object.
This painting, with its precious workmanship and colouring, attaches equal importance to the characters portrayed with the eloquent strokes characteristic of the artist, and to the surrounding scenery.
The latter is composed of a tree with a gnarled trunk, rocks with cavities that bear a resemblance to those of Leonardo de Vinci, and a vast plain with a low horizon line that creates a feeling of distance despite the work’s small format. The detail of the donkey staring at a wake of vultures perched on the rocks to the right of the composition adds a picturesque note to the painting.
Gustave Moreau’s small format oils on wood were particularly valued by amateurs as of the 1860s, including Paul Tesse who was the first owner of the work, and Charles Hayem. The Musée d'Orsay notably houses a Calvary taken from the latter’s collection, the date and format of which are similar to those of the Good Samaritan.
Emblematic of the enlightened policy of the Kingdom of Bavaria, this decor (lost during a bombing in 1945) is a unique production in the entirety of the career of Alexandre Cabanel, one of the greatest Academic painters of the second half of the 19th century, through both its composition and its dimensions.
The artist had previously represented the biblical tale as his dernier envoi - the final work he sent back to Paris from Rome as proof of his artistic accomplishments at the end of his 5-year stay - The Death of Moses (Dahesh Museum of Art, New York), in which the influence of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s The Vision of Ezekiel (Palazzo Pitti, Florence) can clearly be seen. Paradise Lost adopts the same references: Raphaël for the figure of God and Michelangelo (the tomb of Giuliano de' Medici in particular) for the figure of Adam.
By marking the nudity of Eve as the central feature, Cabanel creates a renewed vision of this biblical subject, reflecting the evolution of modern tendencies.
This acquisition is all the more important given that it is the first painting relating to the artist’s decorative activity conserved at the Musée d'Orsay (which has six other works by Alexandre Cabanel in its collections).
Indeed, the motifs on the enamel plates are very similar to those published in his Caprices décoratifs, while the decorative splendour of the silver work heralds his spectacular creations like the famous vase Ronde de trois cigales depicting three grasshoppers (1905).
The Japanese influence can be clearly seen in the shape and function of the object, as well as in the decorative elements. The use of Macassar ebony is an ornament in itself; this choice allows the natural beauty of the material to radiate in true Japanese style as understood by the protagonists of Art Nouveau.
This is supplemented by the rich decor of the enamel plates in delicate colours with more intense bursts (the heart of the chrysanthemums and the leaf edges). The silver frame is also composed of plant-inspired decorations, in an abundant and structured style that follows the contours of the box.
The interior design is equally meticulous, with silver elements echoing the base of the enamel plates on the back and sides, decorated with the characteristic arabesques of the 1900s.
The Portrait of Paul Guillaume, mid-thigh, with its clear lines, depicts the nonchalance of the model portrayed as an elegant young man, one hand on his collar. Although differing in its composition from the canvas conserved at the Orangerie, the inscription “NOVO PILOTA” in capital letters in the bottom left, topped by a cross in exactly the same place, establishes the link between the two. Although the drawing is not dated, these specific elements lead us to believe that the drawing was produced around the same time as the painting.
The acquisition of this work from the Paul Guillaume collection is a rare opportunity for the Musée de l’Orangerie as it has remained in the family of Domenica Walter, but also due to its close ties to the painted portrait already conserved at the Orangerie.