Style Other / Ref.11256
Lucien LEVY-DHURMER (1865-1963), portrait of Emmy Fournier
Width: 47'' ¼ 120cm
Height: 41'' ⅜ 105cm
France, circa 1924.
Pastel on cardboard
H : 105 cm / 41’’ 5/16 ; W : 120 cm / 47’’ 1/4
Signed « Lévy Dhurmer » on the lower right corner.
This portrait of the artist's wife is a proof of his talent as a colorist and pastellist. He realizes a face that is very resembling to the model, evidence of an art and academic precision that he never really rejected. Despite the blurred appearance of the painting, the model’s features are accurately rendered and her gaze is fixed on the viewer. A great sweetness emanates from her eyes, enhanced by her elegantly lifted brown hair, highlighting her neck of almost immaculate whiteness that seems to capture the light. She wears a blue dress belted at the waist where is pinned a rose, colorful element which contrasts with the blue tones while emphasizing the freshness of her complexion. If the outfit is relatively simple, it nevertheless allows the artist to express all his pastellist know-how by a multitude of shades, golden reflections (especially at the collar and sleeves of the dress) and drapes finely executed. The veil that envelops her – in a deep blue color - creates a subtle game with transparencies. The landscape in the background is foggy, evoking the famousDa Vinci sfumato by its vaporous appearance and its bluish tint.
The contrast between the realistic face and the rest of the drawing, which seems to evoke a dream or a memory with undefined contours is characteristic of the portraits painted by the artist, like that one of Pierre Loti, preserved in the Basque Museum in Bayonne (South-West of France).
From our drawing emanates a feeling of mystery and melancholy which is so often sensitive in Lévy-Dhurmer's works ; an infinite softness emerges from the character who seems to float in an unreal landscape.
The mountains in the background recall the mountainous landscapes painted by the artist in the early 1910s. He exhibits Clouds of the Morning - a work of art noticed by the critic H. Frantz who notes its idealism and decorative qualities - at the Société Nationale in 1911 and four Mountains Impressions to the Society of French Pastellists in 1912. He kept in his room a small pastel, dedicated to Perla, nickname of his wife Emmy Fournier, representing the Dolomites in the north of Italy that he visited in 1910 - 1911. While the influence of Turner, Whistler or Monet is hardly debatable with regard to this work, the highly intellectual concerns of the Symbolist painters in general and Lévy-Dhurmer in particular are opposed to the principles defended by Impressionist, post-impressionist and Fauve painters. The "painters of the soul" (among whom Levy-Dhurmer but also Alphonse Osbert, Maurice Denis, Jean Aman, Clairin or Maxence) refused to be part of an artmovement that they found undoubtedly too impersonal and objective.
The blue dominant tones, also present on our pastel, evokes a dreamlike worldwhichis a very frequent research for the artist. Albert Maignan describes, in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, this process "came from Japan across England" which "responds perfectly [...] to the temperament of artists who are more poets, more literary than real painters" », noting the intellectual and spiritual approach of an artist who opposes himself to naturalism while starting from reality. Following his first personal exhibition at the George Petit Gallery in 1896, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was ranked by critics in the group of Symbolists. He also received some support from Joséphin Peladan: "You certainly know, sir, what is the aesthetic character of the Rose + Croix; you will only have to write to me in February and I will come to see your workat your house. Regards. Sar Péladan ". However, the artist never exhibited at the Salon Rose + Croix, probably because of its decline that could hardly serve the emerging glory of the painter, which did not prevent Thadée Natanson to notice: "Mr. Lévy -Dhurmer brings as much mysticism, pre-Raphaelism and Rosicrucism as it fits for a worldly exhibition » (about the Pastellists exhibition in 1898).
Another portrait of a woman, preserved in the Orsay Museum, Paris, evokes - by its softness, its bluish background, the femininity which emerges from the model and the light veils which surroundsher - the spirit of our drawing. This is the Portrait of Mademoiselle Carlier, also known as Dame au turban, made around 1910.
This pastel is the worldly portrait of a young dressed up woman, unlike our work, which is more intimate and from which emanates great simplicity; he chooses to represent his wife in an elegant pose but no less natural.
Emmy Fournier married Lévy-Dhurmer in 1914: he was then 49 years old. Like her mother Jeanne Marni and her grandmother Manoël de Grandfort, Emmy Fournier is a journalist. She is the editor-in-chief of the feminist newspaper La Fronde, 14 rue Saint-Georges (near the artist's studio), to which her mother also collaborated. She had the opportunity to work with many women writers, including Andrée Viollis and Séverine. During the 1914-18 war, she was general secretary at the "Home of the Blind Soldier" and her role was surely decisive for Lévy-Dhurmer’s inspiration at that time, especially for his series of Mothers during the war. She never stopped looking after the kindergartens she had founded around 1905 in Paris.
At the Salon of the National Society in 1924, the artist exhibited a pastel portrait of his wife, perhaps this is our work. In any case, there is a resemblance between the model that posed for our portrait and the photograph of the work by Levy-Dhurmer, shown above, as well as with another pastel representing the artist's wife on her deathbed, in 1944.
Biography of Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer
Born in Algiers in 1865, Lucien Lévy only changed his name in 1896, adding that of his mother, no doubt to differentiate himself from other artists.
He follows, from 1879, the classes of the Drawing and Sculpture School, rue Bréguet in Paris, where he is a student of Wallet and Vion. According to Vion’s testimony, he is one of the best students and receives many awards. He also received, in 1886, advices from Raphaël Collin.
In 1882, he sent his first work to the Salon: a small painted porcelain plaque representing the Birth of Venus after Cabanel. From 1887 to 1895, he worked at Clément Massier’s pottery in Golfe Juan. He continues the drawing and the pastel practice –which was his favorite technique - and perfect his training by visiting museums and traveling to Italy. Authors also hypothesize that Lévy-Dhurmer was, for a living, a lithographer. In 1896, he triumphed at his personal exhibition at the Georges Petit Gallery. His studies of Italian classics and his academic precision mixed with a very personal conception of art make him a complete artist who has assimilated the lessons of Impressionism while allowing himself to be influenced by the symbolist and idealistic current. The critics place him, on the occasion of this exhibition, among the Symbolist painters but also Mystics or Romantics. They also notice his taste for the Italian Renaissance and some compare him to Gustave Moreau or Aman-Jean. René Boylesve notes his eclecticism: "Do you want da Vinci? Do you want Memling? Do you want antique? Do you want modern? [...] Mr. Lévy Dhurmer who is a "painter of the soul", shows all this at Georges Petit. »
From 1897, he made many portraits and, from 1899, his famous "masks", very realistic faces emerging from an unfinished background. He travels a lot: in Italy, in Spain, in Holland, in North Africa or in Turkey. He also visits Brittany, Savoy, the Côte d'Azur, Alsace or Versailles. He brings back from his travels landscapes - often very influenced by impressionism - and portrait of people he has met then.
From 1906, he made works inspired by the music of Beethoven, Fauré or Debussy. These works prefigure his idealist nudes, more and more frequent after 1920. Around this time, he also works on the Fables by La Fontaine or the Hindu tale, still faithful to the subjects dear to Gustave Moreau. He exhibited throughout his life, irregularly, at the Salon of French Artists from 1882, at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts from 1897, at most at the Autumn Salon (after 1930) and participates in many group exhibitions. Several solo exhibitions are dedicated to him: that of Georges Petit gallery in 1896 but also in Paris in 1899-1900, in 1917, in 1937, in 1952 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs or in Brussels in 1927-1928. Levy-Dhurmer died in Paris in 1953.
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