Musée d'Orsay: Alexandre Charpentier The Milliner

Alexandre Charpentier
The Milliner

Alexandre Charpentier (1856-1909)
Oil on canvas
H. 145; W. 97 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot

La Modiste [The Milliner]

Its large size and the fact that it is on canvas make The Milliner unusual in Charpentier's work. This raises the question of why it was painted - could it have been linked to a project in which three of Charpentier's friends were involved?

In 1896, Roger Marx, supported by the Ministry for Public Instruction, undertook an initiative to distribute prints by famous artists to state schools. In this way he hoped to "develop the artistic education of the masses", a programme developed by Paul Desjardin and his Union for Moral Action.
Three posters were delivered in July 1896: Alsace by Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, Winter by Henri Rivière and Little Red Riding Hood by Adolphe Willette. No guidelines appear to have been given, and there was nothing to prevent Charpentier's subject being added to this disparate collection. Two advertisements found in the first issue of the magazine Le Livre Vert in October 1896 support this hypothesis. One was for the In Zealand series of lithographs by Charpentier, stylistically very close to The Milliner, and another for the three posters of "Images for Schools and for Decorating Children's Bedrooms". As the same publisher, L'Estampe Originale, oversaw both projects, the authors could easily have met.

The educational aim of The Milliner seems confirmed, its title aside, by the way Charpentier represents this woman at work. She radiates a simple, calm happiness, which stems from a search for perfection in accomplishing her task.

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