Born in Paris in 1843, Georges Clairin received his artist education at the École des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of Isidore Pils and François Edouard Picot beginning in 1861. He accompanied Henri Regnault on his travels throughout Spain and Morocco, and went to Italy with François Flameng and Jean Léon Gérôme. During his stay in Morocco, Clairin met the Catalan artist Mariano Fortuny and together they visited Tetuan. In 1895, Clairin traveled to Egypt with the composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Clairin was awarded the Silver Medal at the Exposition universelle in 1889 and was made an officer of the Legion of Honor in 1897.
Clairin is best known for his portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, with whom he had an enduring friendship, and he painted her in a number of roles, such as the Queen in Ruys Blas (1879), Melisande in La Princesse lointain (1895 and 1899), Cleopatra (1900) Theodora (1902 and Saint Teresa of Avila. In addition to these stage portraits, Clairin painted her several times in more intimate surroundings. His 1876 portrait of the famous actress made the artist's reputation and was very well received at the Salon of that year. 'Le portrait de Madame Sara Bernhardt est assurément une des oeuvres les plus saillantes du Salon, tant par l'originalit de la composition que par la splendeur du coloris.' [The portraitof MadameSarah Bernhardtiscertainlyone of the mostprominentworksof the show,both by theoriginalityof the compositionbythe splendor ofcolors.] (Théodore Véron, Le salon de 1876: mémorial de l'art et des artistes de mon temps, Poitiers, 1876). [Christie’s]
Jules Joseph Lefebvre: Mary Magdalen in the Grotto
Alluding to her sensuality in more striking and provocative images, the works of artists of the nineteenth century portrayed Mary Magdalene as “the woman who loved much.” After centuries of character transformations and questionable depictions, she is finally and totally physically and spiritually exposed. In Mary Magdalene in the Grotto by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Mary is at the cave, her nude body lying at the site where Jesus had lain. A French classical figure painter whose artistic specialty is female nudes and beautiful women, Lefebvre’s nude Magdalene is refined and reflects the style of Realism as characterized by the accurate, detailed and unembellished depiction of nature. This depiction captures the essence of her emotions. This extremely erotic presentation of the Magdalene demands immediate empathy from the viewer while the awe of her beauty and sensuous pose grabs our attention. Lefebvre seems to avoid contemporary social conditions of pornography and prostitution widespread in this period in Europe. According to Haskins, he conforms to the conventions of art in the physicality of her body on the picture plane, “rendering acceptable what would otherwise have scandalized Victorian prudery.” Haskins further notes that in “this almost photographic image, the Magdalene writhes in her anguish” and offers “her entirely naked body to the spectator’s delectation.” Her raised left leg, suggests Haskins, while concealing her genital area, “invites erotic speculation.” In his Mary Magdalene in the Grotto, Lefebvfre depicted a “sensuous, supine nude Magdalene…she is in a world beyond the mind.” [Lester p. 262] [Buthaina I. Zanayed, The Visual Representation of Mary Magdalene in Art: From Penitent Saint to Propagator of the Faith, M.A. Thesis, University of Houston-Clear Lake, 2009]
Resources cited in this excerpt: 1) Haskins, Mary Magdalen:Myth and Metaphor. 2) Lester, The Everything Mary Magdalene Book: The Life and Legacy of Jesus’ Most Misunderstood Disciple.
Leaving Montmartre Cemetery shows a group of mourners walking along the Boulevard de Clichy. In 1876, when this canvas was shown at the Paris Salon, Béraud was only 27 and had been a painter for just three years. After the Franco-Prussian War he had abandoned plans to become a lawyer, and instead studied portraiture with a leading artist of the Third Republic, Léon Bonnat. Bonnat’s teaching studio was in the famous Villa des Arts complex in the Impasse Hélène (now rue Hégésippe-Moreau), one of the cluster of tiny streets backing onto Montmartre Cemetery. Thus, Béraud knew the area that he painted in Leaving Montmartre Cemetery well: his daily routine as an art student took him from Place Pigalle up the Boulevard de Clichy and alongside the cemetery.
At first glance, the figures in Leaving Montmartre Cemetery appear elegant in their black morning garb; the men in top hats and women in deep lace veils. But closer examination reveals that these are not well-to-do people. The man at front right wears an ill-fitting coat, trousers with absurdly high cuffs, scuffed shoes; he lights a cigarette in the street in an uncouth way. The other tired mourners trudge along matter of factly, under a wet gray sky; it has apparently just stopped raining. Only a few touches lighten the painting: the color in the billboard at right, the brightness of the guard’s uniform, the pink bow in the hair of the fashionably dressed woman at the center – she and her fluffy white dog seem out of place in these surroundings. This strange juxtaposition of figures who meet in the same city space but do not connect suggests Gustave Caillebotte’s painting of a year later, Paris, A Rainy Day (1877).
The vividness with which Béraud depicts each individual figure underlines one way in which his work differed from that of the Impressionists: he never fully adopted their abbreviated brushwork and forms. Béraud always remained interested in the specificity of detail; his figures never became anonymous design elements, but are shown as precisely observed individuals. As in so many of Béraud’s works, some of the figures in Leaving Montmartre Cemetery are probably portraits — most likely the artists, writers, and workers of Montmartre. [Sotheby’s]
In the mid-1870s, both Catharine and John Wolfe commissioned works from Cabanel, who had made his reputation as a painter of genre scenes and portraits of Second Empire aristocrats. He ordered a variant of Cabanel’s most famous composition, The Birth of Venus, while she commissioned a Biblical figure painting and the present portrait. She sat for Cabanel in Paris, wearing a white satin evening dress that was the height of French fashion in 1876. Contemporary viewers admired the sitter’s elegant hands and her stance as that of "a hostess receiving guests…full of flexibility and pliant, willowy grace, entirely American in its distinction and sensitive responsiveness." [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
William Bouguereau: Oriental Girl with a Pomegranate
In L’Orientale á la grenade (Girl with a Pomegranate), a young girl, her hair covered, holds a pomegranate in delicate hands. The colors occur in jewel tones—the creased gold, purple and pink of her headdress, the bright teal on the seams of her clothing, the pink outer layer of the pomegranate in contrast to the woody color of its inner flesh as she peels it away. Her face and features are soft and innocent; her silver earrings hint at intricate North African design. William-Adolphe Bouguereau painted the work, one of a relative few of the artist’s paintings with Oriental subjects, in 1875. In Sotheby’s 19th Century European Art auction on May 4, 2012, the painting sold for $2,322,500, significantly higher than its estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. [The Driehaus Museum]
This work, the largest and most ambitious painting by an artist renowned for meticulously rendered cabinet pictures, evokes one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest victories. Meissonier made hundreds of preparatory studies for it, including drawings and sculptural models. He conceived the picture as part of a cycle of five key episodes in the life of the Emperor, only one other of which was completed: The Campaign of France—1814, an image of defeat (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). The present work gained notoriety in 1876, when the American department store magnate Alexander T. Stewart purchased it from the artist, sight unseen, for the then astronomical sum of $60,000. [Metropolitan Museum]
Through the early 1870s, Firmin-Girard’s submissions to the Paris Salon followed the shifting trends in public taste from historical subjects and scenes taken from the Siege of Paris to more fanciful Japonisme and Orientalist themes. While these compositions earned Firmin-Girard early accolades, his submission of Le Quai aux Fleurs to the Salon of 1876 would propel him to international fame.
The large painting hung in a prominent spot facing the entrance to the Grand Salon, and the artist remembered “the crowd which was stationed continually before my picture and that it was not always easy to get near it” (from a letter republished in the catalogue of The Private Collection of the Late Theron Butler, 1910). At times police were required to control the throngs appreciating the work at the Salon, proving the highly detailed, densely populated Le Quai aux Fleurs invites careful and repeated viewing. The expansive, panoramic composition is set along the Quai de la Corse, long the site of one of Paris’ many flower markets. The façades of recognizable landmarks extend in the distance along the Seine from the Tribunal de Commerce at left, followed by the Tour l’Horloge, and double-towers of la Conciergerie (today part of the Palais de Justice), while at the right edge of the composition a sliver of the Théâtre du Châtelet can be seen along the Quai de la Mégisserie, with the Colonnade of the Louvre and the Pavillon de Flore in the distance. Echoing public appreciation were reams of reviews throughout Europe and the United States in which critics applauded Firmin-Girard’s ability to capture both the crowded market and the distinct characters of the “la-va-et vient de Paris” (“Chronique,” Le Courrier de France, May 3, 1876 as quoted in Firmin-Girard, p. 75). Paragraphs of text were made up of writer’s attempts to describe each of the painting’s figures from the members of smartly dressed bourgeoisie families, babies with their nursemaids, omnibus riders, porters pulling handcarts, and the flower vendors offering an array of brightly-hued roses, daisies, violets, and rhododendrons together with fragrant herbs. So specific is Firmin-Girard’s view that he includes a marchand de coco, perhaps an enigmatic figure to today’s viewer but one immediately recognizable on Paris streets in the nineteenth century. From the fontaine à coco he wore on his back, the marchand dispensed a refreshing drink of licorice and lemon flavored water into silver cups strung around his waist. As depicted in the present work, a savvy marchand attracted customers by decorating his fontaine with elaborate ornaments, like a gold clock and statue, easily visible above the crowds.
Firmin-Girard’s observation of “modern life” invited some critics to compare Le Quai aux Fleurs to a photograph, suggesting the work’s allegiance to realist painting of the period. A writer for The Art Journal explained: “As a work of Art [sic], this painting is elaborated with extraordinary fidelity, and the amount of its detail is almost excessive”. Interestingly, this same critic, along with at least once French colleague, noted that Americans in particular were enamored by Le Quai aux Fleurs as it portrayed all they “most love… in connection with the great capital… Paris is gorgeous, and no point in it is more representative of its cheerful gaiety, a splendid kaleidoscope of life made up of trifles, than are its flower-sellers” (“Firmin-Girard’s Flower-Market," p. 48). [Sotheby’s]
The young communicant is sitting in perfect frontal, facing the viewer. She fixes him with an amazingly expressionless gaze. Her eyes and hair are the only dark details of the canvas. Her skin (face, wrists and arms in the light gauze) is the only colorful appearance. All the rest is bathed in shades of white and gray, as her long communion dress that stands out from the wall with consummate monochrome technique. She joined her gloved hands in her lap. Because of severe frontal of the subject and the complete lack of decor, the regard of the viewer is led back to himself. He can not escape the disturbing presence. And, in contrast to the fixed, the girl, his gaze passes from her hands in a back-and-forth incessant following of the curve of her arm. For details of the hands is not innocent. Jules Bastien-Lepage did not painted them in such a precise way by chance. He wants the viewer to always return to them. We immediately see that the fingers are not crossed. Instead they slightly brush against each other, the tips of the thumb and forefinger of her left hand against the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Furthermore we note that below, her knees are politely pressed against each other. Is she trying to fold the hands or, conversely, to uncross them, or she looks for a capacity constrained and knows what to do with his hands? Still, the space created between the fingers is an invitation to look much as it is a ban. An invitation is also a ban? But to what? Do not play the frightened innocent. It is an invitation/ban which now makes her a woman and wants to hide as much as show. [histoire de l’art]
The Young and Jackson pub in Melbourne, Australia is well known for the nude painting Chloé, painted by French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre in 1875. The painting is oil on canvas measuring a life size 260 x 139 cm. It was purchased for 850 guineas by Dr Thomas Fitzgerald of Lonsdale Street in Melbourne. After being hung in the National Gallery of Victoria for three weeks in 1883, it was withdrawn from exhibition because of the uproar created especially by the Presbyterian Assembly. It was bought for the Young and Jackson Hotel in 1908 for 800 pounds, and was damaged in 1943 by an American serviceman who threw a glass of beer at it. [Wikipedia]
Cazin exhibited this painting at the Paris Salon of 1876, marking the start of his official career. It depicts a boatyard in the artist's native Boulogne, a port city on the English Channel. The young man in the foreground is melting tar at a smoky fire, while men work on a boat just above him. Cazin was associated with the Realist movement during his early years and later with the Impressionists. [Cleveland Museum of Art]