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E U R O P E A N  G A L L E R Y

Pierre-Célestin Billet 1837 – 1922

Young Girl Grazing a Goat
Oil on canvas, 24 x 15 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2002

The French genre painter and engraver, Pierre-Célestin Billet, was born in Cantin, Nord, in November 1837. He had a successful career at the Paris Salon where he made his debut at the age of thirty. Inspired by his master, Jules Breton, his paintings illustrate daily life in the French countryside in much the same way as his English counterparts; market scenes, peasant field-workers, shepherds and fishermen. Billet’s work may also be compared to that of Leon Lhermitte, another of Breton’s disciples. The rarity of works by Billet may explain why he is less well known even though his talent can be compared to that of Lhermitte. Indeed, Tolstoy regarded Breton, Lhermitte, Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean-Francois Millet as the four great painters of his age. It is hardly a coincidence that they were all painters of peasant subject matter.

Although he was not alone in his endeavours, it could be said that Millet was the first to portray the peasant at work in the stereotype with which we have become familiar. The distinctive difference between his interpretation and the later renditions of his follower, Jules Breton, was a softening of the harshness portrayed by Millet and a sentimental idealisation of the lifestyle. The explanation for the diversification may be explained by Millet’s peasant roots, which would never have allowed him the luxury of portraying the lifestyle in any form other than the harshness of reality.

The young girl is portrayed here in the idealised manner of Jules Breton. Although she is presented in peasant dress, there is no feeling of hardship or discontentedness. Time does not matter to her. A sense of realism is established by the way in which the girl wraps the goat’s lead rope around her right hand and clutches the remaining end of the rope in her left hand. The slightness of the girl suggests that she would not manage to hold the goat if he bolted. The composition is by no means as casual as it first appears. The arrangement is carefully planned and contains the same elements as those found in Bouguereau’s La Couronne de Marguerites and By the Edge of the Brook; an attractive young girl is placed in the foreground; a colourful middle ground leads to a dark woodland to the right with an enticing view to the top left of a brightly lit sky glimpsed through the edge of the trees. There are further similarities worth mention in comparing the work to that of Jules Breton rather than Millet. The approach is more modern in it’s portrayal of a single character rather than a gathering of workers. It may be compared to paintings such as Woman Spinning, 1870; Girl Tending Cows, 1872; Village Girl, 1879 and The Song of the Lark, 1884.

Waiting for the Boats
Oil on canvas. 9 x 12 ½ inches. Signed by the artist and dated 90

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2006

The fishergirl in this painting is also portrayed as Jules Breton would have seen her. She is portrayed in such an idealised way that the viewer would be happy to trade places for her contented way of life. She stretches out to rest on the high ground as she makes her way to the harbour. When the boats arrive she will fill her basket with fish. The hand-woven basket remains strapped to her shoulder, suggesting that she will not rest for long. She gazes out to sea, just as two boats appear on the horizon. She is lost in thought as she pulls the strings of her bonnet through her fingers. The corners of her bright red scarf are blown back in the warm breeze that rushes up the cliff face from the water below. She wears a bright green jacket over a long grey skirt. The costume is similar to that worn by the fishergirls of Cancale. Her rugged features and burnt skin suggest a life spent in the open air. We are reminded of the harshness of her existence by her bare feet.

The dramatic light on the horizon is made all the more spectacular by the sombre sky and monochrome grey of the vast rocks on which the girl lies. The starkness of the rock lifts the subtle blues of the sea directly below. The perspective of the composition is enhanced by a further glimpse of the ocean, just above the girl’s basket.

Two Girls on a Quayside
Oil on canvas. 18 x 13 ½ inches. Signed by the artist and dated April 1904

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2006

In contrast, the girls in this painting are in finer dress. It is difficult to tell if
the painting simply portrays two friends passing the time of day or if there is a more complex storyline. The steamer on the horizon might suggest a desire to travel overseas or, could the sadness, which their demeanour seems to suggest, signify the departure of a friend or loved one. The younger girl looks intently in the direction of the ship, while the other stares down at the water below.

Harvest Girl Resting
Oil on canvas, 9½ x 14¼ inches. Signed by the artist and dated August 1879
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2007

The pensive expression of the girl in this study is perhaps what the painting is about. She has taken refuge in a forest clearing to find shelter from the sun. Her sickle lies on the ground amongst the wildflowers. The white cloth on which she rests suggests that she is waiting for the rest of her party to arrive with food for the midday meal, traditionally eaten in the fields. The dark background of the forest sets off her white bonnet which is tied in a neat bow below her chin. The faded blues of her costume work in harmony with the muted greens of the forest floor. The boldness of the signature suggests that this is a painting of which Billet was particularly proud.

Edmond Petitjean 1844 - 1925

Photograph of a painting by the French artist, Edmond Petitjean.

Stacking Hay 
Oil on canvas, 11 x 19 ½ inches. Signed by the artist
Inscribed on label verso: achete a M. Petit Jean, Mai 1873 
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2004

Edmond Petitjean was born on the 5th of July 1844, in Neufchateau, France. Inspired by the simple naturalism of Courbet, he worked mainly as a landscape painter and produced many views of Lorraine, and river scenes along the banks of the Meuse. His seascapes usually feature the busy ports of the west coast of France, and occasionally those of Normandy. He travelled widely throughout France, and also painted in Holland. Petitjean appears not to have dated his works prior to 1876. However, the label attached to our painting suggests a fairly reliable date of 1873. This was the year in which he made his debut at the Paris Salon with a painting called Morte-eau près de Blainville. At this time the Impressionists were preparing for their inaugural exhibition, held in Paris the following year. Although Petitjean did not join them, their influence was widespread. The treatment of the sky in this painting is not unlike the work that Eugene Boudin was painting at this time. Petitjean’s harbour scenes are also very close in style.

The long shadow, in which a young child sits, suggests an evening scene. The meadow grass has been dried by the sun, and is gathered and forked into small stacks by the field workers. Harvesting scenes such as this were a particular favourite with the French naturalists of the late nineteenth century. It has not been possible to identify the town in the background, even though the landmarks are distinctive, and similar to the architecture of the towns and villages surrounding Petitjean’s native Neufchateau. However, following two destructive wars, it may be that many of these buildings no longer exist. The church on the left, which may be the earliest of the buildings, stands on high ground overlooking the town, the base of its spire rising from a sphere, which sits on top of the tower. A little further to the right, a monument in the form of a column or needle can be seen. This is likely to stand on the town square. Further to the right, another spire is surrounded by tall trees, and may be the turret of a chateau. Moving further right, a modern church spire appears in the distance. On the extreme right is the most distinctive church in the painting. It has been suggested that this is the Basilica of St. Nicolas de Port, but the rest of the architecture does not appear to fit in. The two spires with rounded domes and open belfries are also similar to those of the Eglise St. Jacques de Luneville, but again the surrounding buildings are not identifiable. Examples of Petitjean's work may be found in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, and many regional museums throughout France. 

Thérèse Cotard-Dupré 1877-1920

Photograph of a painting by Therese Cotard-Dupre.

La Fenaison 
Oil on canvas
, 21 ¾ x 18 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2004

As a painter, Thérèse Cotard-Dupré could not have had a better start in life. Born in Paris in 1877 her father was regarded as one of the finest of the group of second-generation Realist painters of the late 19th century. Thérèse grew up to be one of his students. Her work is extremely rare, with only a handful of works appearing on the market over the last decade. She comes closest to Julien Dupré’s style with La Fenaison. It is undoubtedly the finest of her works to come to light so far. 

As the work of a third generation Realist, there is a significant difference in the treatment of the subject matter to that of Millet or Breton. Rather than portraying the harvester as downtrodden, Thérèse depicts the young girl as elegant, proud, strong, healthy and engrossed in work. The figure is drawn with supreme control. Her poise shows perfect balance. The impression is given that this is a task that she has carried out many times before, one that requires a degree of skill. It is not portrayed as a menial chore. 

Great attention is paid to detail such as and the ties of the apron and the folds of the Seine Maritime costume, painted with a wonderful display of colour harmony. The bent leg and rotated shoulders are caught in a split-second pause, just before the grasses are tossed from the fork. The blades of grass add further to the feeling of movement as they float through the air. The triangle formed by the horizontal line of the pitchfork and the girl’s straightened arms is intended to strengthen the composition.  

In the background, the main group of harvesters are at work loading a wagon. They are lit through a break in the overcast sky. The threat of rain might explain the anxious expression on the harvester’s face. They work in front of a bank of trees, which possibly stand along the banks of the river as it runs through the Valée de la Durdent. This fertile Normandy va
lley is formed by the rolling hills that form the backdrop to our painting.

Henri Guérard 1846 – 1897

Photograph of a painting by Henri Guerard.

Wagonnets, Honfleur
Oil on canvas, 9 ½ x 13 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Théâtre d’Application, Paris, 1891, ‘Exposition Henri Guérard’ number 201;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2001

Henri-Charles Guérard was born in Paris at 41 rue Bourbon Villeneuve on the 28th of April 1846. Having first studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in 1870 he changed course and applied himself to the fine arts of painting and engraving under the tutelage of Nicolas Berthon. In this same year, he began his impressive exhibition career with an oil, Le Puits , at the Salon des Artistes Francais. He became one of the elite group of Impressionist painters in the circle of Manet and Renoir. For the remainder of his life, he continued to show at the most important French and American venues. To this day, his work is featured in prestige exhibitions worldwide.

In 1874 he posed for his future wife, Eva Gonzales. She modelled for Edouard Manet and was his only pupil. Under Manet’s guidance, Eva became a fine painter. Connoisseurs of Irish art will be familiar with Manet’s impressive portrait of Eva seated at her easel. Purchased by Hugh Lane, it was later bequeathed to Dublin’s Municipal Gallery. Manet’s study of Guérard is probably even more famous. He may be identified as the imposing-looking gentleman in the top hat seated between two ladies the celebrated masterpiece, At the Café, painted in 1878. Guérard lent Manet his assistance with the etchings he produced in his later years. Manet evidently held Guérard in high regard as is illustrated by a letter to Eva, in which he refers to Guérard as “our one and only etcher”. As can be seen from the current example, Guérard was also a fine oil painter. His work in this medium is extremely rare and consists mainly of coastal and harbour scenes, reminiscent of Boudin and early work by Monet.

Émile-Louis Foubert 1848 – 1911

Photograph of a painting by Emile-Louis Foubert.

La Péche a Bougival

Oil on panel, 10 ½ x 8 ¾ inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2003

The French system of Academic training and apprenticeship, at its height in the nineteenth century, produced numerous fine painters of great skill. The normal practice was to work through the studios of two or three masters. Indeed, the handful of Irish artists who went through the system, have become household names. That is not to say that the French artists are not recognised in their homeland. In fact, their work is shown not only in the premier museums in Paris but also in the local museums throughout France. Émile-Louis Foubert developed his early talents under the figure painter Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat and his second master, Charles Busson. His landscape work was developed under Henri Léopold Lévy. By the age of twenty-seven he was an award-winning exhibitor at the Paris Salon. He also had a meritorious career at the Sociéte des Artistes Francais, attaining silver medal status in 1900.

The theme of a young boy fishing was a popular one with many of these artists. The Arthur Burrington shown overleaf is another fine example. However, in the current painting, Foubert delights in combining his figure skill with that of a master of landscape. Without any hint of clutter he produces a spellbinding composition, which captivates the attention of the viewer. The nurse ignores the young boy, engrossed in his fishing. She sits on the riverbank, a sleeping child beside her, and gazes down the river, lost in thought; perhaps thinking of home or bygone summers.

The glasslike surface of the water suggests a scene of peaceful stillness; the cattle grazing along the riverbank introduce a suggestion of lazy movement and thoughts of long balmy summer days. The tall mast of the riverboat flies a French flag. It may have made its way from the coast along the Seine to Bougival, where it has tied up to a landing pier similar to the one from which the young boy fishes.

Burrington may have been attracted to the area through his familiarity with the great paintings of Alfred Sisley and his contemporaries who painted many wonderful works along this same stretch of river.

Jacques Eugène Feyen 1815 – 1908

Photograph of a painting by Jacques Eugene Feyen.

A Casualty

Oil on board, 20 ½ x 15 ½ inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2003

Eugène Feyen was born in Bey-sur-Seille, Muerthe-et-Moselle, close to Nancy in the east of France. His younger brother, Auguste, was also a fine painter who became a lifelong friend of Jules Breton. Eugène entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at the age of 22. He studied under Paul Delaroche who nurtured his emerging talent as a fine genre painter. He had a distinguished career at the Paris Salon between the years 1841 and 1882 and was awarded many honours in later life.

Feyen’s work was much admired by van Gogh. In a letter from London in 1874 to his brother Theo, he lists Eugène Feyen as one of the few painters he particularly liked. In another letter of the previous year to Carolien and Willem van Stockum-Haanebeek, he included photographs of a number of paintings, Feyen’s Lune de Miel amongst them. He wrote that he regarded Feyen as “one of the few painters who pictures intimate modern life as it really is, and does not turn it into fashion plates”.

Our painting is a very good example of what van Gogh found so impressive. Feyen demonstrates graphically the harshness of life in a fishing community. The younger girl, has cut her foot, which has been bandaged over. She is carried on the back of the older girl who struggles under her weight as the young boy, probably her brother, looks on, full of concern.

Rather than the more picturesque villages to the west, Feyen chose to work in the town of Cancale. In the 19th century, as the closest port to Paris, it was a vital source of fish and oysters for the capitol. The local fleet sailed regularly for the Newfoundland fishing grounds, leaving the local community to be run by women. Feyen and a handful of other artists, John Singer Sargent amongst them, made their depiction famous.

Ludovico Marchetti 1853 – 1909

Photograph of a painting by Ludovico Marchetti.

Giovane Donna
Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited Milmo-Penny Fine Art. Dec.2003

Born in Rome in 1853, Marchetti studied in his native town under Mariano Fortuny before moving to Paris where he took up residence in 1878 at the age of 25. He attained bronze medal status at the Paris Salon in 1889 and also developed a following in the Salons of Munich and Berlin. He painted in oil and watercolour genre scenes, elegant interiors and some orientalist work in a quasi photo realist style.

The small bouquet of fresh poppies in the girl’s hair suggests a canvas painted in the open air of woodland or extensive garden and act a a balance for the large bouquet which she arranges on her lap. Giovane Donna con Fiori in Paesaggio is inspired by the work of Bougereau as can be seen from a quotation from last years catalogue. “The composition is by no means as casual as it first appears. The arrangement is carefully planned and contains the same elements as those found in Bouguereau’s La Couronne de Marguerites; an attractive young girl is placed in the foreground; a colourful middle ground leads to a dark woodland to the right with an enticing view to the top left of a brightly lit sky glimpsed through the edge of the trees."

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