Varia 2015, de De Coster à Hartung


Catalogue coordinated by Mehdi Korchane and edited by the Michel Descours Gallery.


Texts written by Robert Blaizeau, Anne Delvingt, Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier, Mehdi Korchane, Anne Leclair, Gianni Papi, Gwilherm Perthuis, and Paul Ruellan.


Translations : John Tittensor
Graphic design : Jérôme Séjourné / Atelier Perluette
Printer : Alpha (Peaugres, 07)
Draw : 1000 exemplaires 22 x 27 cm 

Price : 30 euros



Our Varia exhibitions keep on coming, but no two are the same. After two nineteenth-century paintings – François-Joseph Navez's Music Scene in 2013, and Berjon's Still Life "with a cube" last year – a Caravaggist work has been given the place of honour on the cover this time round: Adam de Coster's Saint Francis in Meditation with Brother Leo. This new and significant addition to the Antwerp painter's catalogue comes from one of the seventeenth century's most prestigious collections: that of Diego Messia, Marquis of Leganés in Spain, from which works have found their way into such major international institutions as the Metropolitan Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Wallace Collection, National Gallery of Scotland, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wallraf Richartz Museum, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and, of course, the Prado – but curiously not the Louvre. Leganés had a pronounced taste for Flemish painting, and alongside his many Rubens, Van Dycks, De Crayers and Seghers, the de Coster manifestly brought something new. Even so, its attribution was lost in the course of successive inheritances, which is why we are so grateful to Anne Delvingt for having restored it to its creator and given us the benefit of her specialist knowledge in the pages that follow. Her dedicated reconstruction of the de Coster oeuvre – many of his works are still hidden by attributions to Gérard Seghers – has revealed an artist of the first rank. We need only consider the compositional mastery and dramatic intensity of Saint Francis in Meditation with Brother Leo to realise that we are in the presence of a master.

And since good things never come singly, we have acquired from the same source another major seventeenth-century painting – Italian, this one – in the form of Pietro Paolini's Portrait of Tiberio Fiorilli: the most famous burlesque actor of his time as seen by one of Caravaggism's oddest representatives. The result of their encounter is in their image: at once endearing and weird, witty and melancholic. Gianni Papi, to whom we owe this significant discovery, tells us how Fiorilli, the Neapolitan creator of Scaramouche, became a stage star in France after delighting the young Louis XIV with his farces. A model for Molière, Fiorilli ultimately lived out his life in Paris, the city to which he had brought the commedia dell'arte.

The eighteenth century is very much present too. Laurent Pécheux's Mary Magdalen in Penitence, until now known only through an archival reference, is one of this artist's most attractive works. Louis-Jacques Durameau's spirited The Butcher was well known, but had been through several attributions before Anne Leclair ascribed it, most convincingly, to its true creator. It is a pleasure, too, to be able to include a work by Pehr Hilleström, the great Swedish genre painter, still unjustly under-appreciated here; no French museum has a picture by this artist, who discovered his vocation in France through his contact with Boucher and Chardin.

Géricault's Study of a Male Torso and Janmot's Portrait of Lacordaire stand out among our nineteenthcentury offerings. The former is important to an understanding of the artist, as it illustrates the beginnings we have so far been better acquainted with textually than visually. The latter is an autograph copy of an emblematic Christian work of the nineteenth century, whose history is retraced for us by Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier. Charles Lefebvre's The Courtesan also deserve mention as agreeable surprises: because it reveals the unsuspected fondness for colour of this little-known Romantic.

Two Northern artists catch the eye among the moderns. We had never before had the good fortune to acquire a painting by Gustaf Fjaestad as spellbinding as Frozen Trees at Dusk. Here his Divisionist technique
excludes any element of narrative, leaving us with the mystery of the Scandinavian night in an icy desert of pines set aflame by the sun – an iconic sample of the symbolism of this atypical artist. The Statens Museum for Kunst's monographic exhibition of the work of Wilhelm Freddie in 2009 revealed a great twentiethcentury artist. In addition to being an archetypal example of Freddie's art of subversion, The Nun's Prayer, on show here, is historically important: it was chosen by André Breton and Paul Eluard for the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition at the Georges Wildenstein gallery in Paris, alongside works by Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray and others.

Martinus Rørbye's Young Clergyman Reading – on the cover of Varia in 2012 – has since been acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago, while Berjon's Still Life is now hanging in the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. It
was perfectly natural, then, that we should enhance this sharing with our international clients and friends by including a complete English translation.

Michel Descours


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