Henri Adolphe Laissement (French, 1854-1921) Au Salon des Artistes Français en 1911

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Lot 24
Henri Adolphe Laissement
(French, 1854-1921)
Au Salon des Artistes Français en 1911

Sold for £ 125,062 (US$ 167,343) inc. premium
Henri Adolphe Laissement (French, 1854-1921)
Au Salon des Artistes Français en 1911
signed 'H. Laissement' (lower right)
oil on canvas
125 x 178.5cm (49 3/16 x 70 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private collection, Paris.

    Exhibited
    Paris, Salon des Artistes Français, 1912, no. 1022.

    Literature
    Fae Brauer, Rivals and conspirators: The Paris salons and the modern art centre, Newcastle-upon-tyne, 2014 (illustrated p. 349).

    The present lot- surely the magnum opus of an artist better known for painting elegant interiors with cardinals and noblemen in the tradition of Landini and Brunery- offers a wonderful portrayal of Parisian society during the latter years of La Belle Époque. Exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1912 and depicting at its centre a scene from the previous years' exhibition, the painting also provides an interesting commentary on the status of the Salon within French society.

    While it slowly recovered from the social, structural and financial upheavals of the Commune of 1871, Paris remained an important artistic centre. The first Impressionists exhibition had taken place as early at 1874, and both Cubism and Fauvism were movements developed and practiced by artists based in the city. The Paris Salon, for generations a forum for the artistic elite, lost its official government sponsorship in 1881, when the Third Republic withdrew State approval, wherein the Société des Artistes Français took over the running of the annual exhibition. Various secessions from the Salon came about during this time: the Société des Artistes Indépendants was formed in 1884; the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts- originally formed in 1862, and often referred to as the 'Nationale'- was revived in 1890 in response to Bouguereau's attempt to make the Salon des Artistes Français a forum for young, less well-known artists; and in 1903, the Salon d'Automne was created, in reaction to the perceived conservatism of the Salon.

    1911 was a revolutionary year for the Parisian art scene, with the scandal caused by a group of works shown at the Salon des Indépendants and at the Salon d'Automne. These forums provided the largest gathering thus far of a group of artists- such as Metzinger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay, Léger, Laurencin, Villon, Duchamp and Picabia- whose style was derided by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles as 'cubic oddities', giving rise to the term 'Cubism', a word intended as a derogatory description of the techniques employed by the group.

    In 1912, with Le Fauconnier, Gleizes and Léger forming the core of the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants, the Cubists were given even greater exposure, their works placed centre stage in the common hall. The Salon d'Automne followed suit, with the Cubists grouped together in Salle XI (fig 1). The polemic against this group in some quarters was severe, with Franz Jourdian, the founder of the Society, even accused of a lack of patriotism for allowing works by foreign painters to be exhibited. Writing a few years later, Gleizes noted that 'Never had the critics been so violent as they were at that time. From which it became clear that these paintings...appeared as a threat to an order that everyone thought had been established forever'1. In an attempt to appease the more traditional critics, Jourdain even organised an exhibition of over 200 19th century portraits as part of the Salon d'Automne for that year, although this rather backfired, as spectators had to pass through the Salle XI to access the exhibition, Gleizes observing that the Cubist room was packed, while no one paid attention to the portrait room.2

    In contrast to the controversial art-historical developments taking place at the Independents and Autumn salons, the Salon des Artistes Français -where the present lot was shown in 1912- still retained its status as the most prestigious and potentially lucrative of the Paris exhibition spaces. As Fae Brauer observes:

    'Despite constant rivalry with the other salons and despite the burgeoning spectators that flocked to the Independents, National and Autumn salons, the French Artists Salon attracted the largest audience, the most prestigious dealers and collectors and the most extensive critical coverage up until the outbreak of the First World War. Continually ceded by the state the largest space and best galleries at the Grand Palais, it remained the Salon best able to hold the most sumptuous exhibitions, as testified by Michael Puy in 1911: "Of the four great annual Salons, it is the one most capable of displaying artwork in the most favourable installations. Without its public power the Salon d'Automne and even the National Salon are relegated to the narrowest and darkest parts of the Grand Palais. By contrast the French Artists Salon has the joy of numerous rooms, spacious and well lit, around the lobby."'3

    Born in Paris in 1854, the young Laissement would have witnessed both the radical modernisation of Paris under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, and the physical and political devastation that followed in the 1870s, caused by the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. Enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of Alexandre Cabanel, the young artist would have encountered the work of the Naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, and no doubt been exposed to the work of the Impressionists. Laissement first exhibited at the Salon in 1879, his early subjects being portraits, and he received regular commendations for his academy submissions. By the late 1880s his work was predominantly humorous depictions of the Catholic clergy, and the burgeoning market for engraved reproductions, plus an interest in French painting among American collectors in the early 20th century, would have provided a regular income.4

    Cleverly self-reflective, in the present lot Laissement presents a picture within a picture, drawing the viewer back to previous years of the prestigious exhibition, and in doing so the artist presents a robust defence of the importance of the Salon. The composition centres around a depiction of Jules Alexandre Grun's monumental painting Un vendredi au Salon des Artistes Français (fig 2) which was a hugely popular work at the 1911 salon. Grun's work, commissioned in 1909 by the Undersecretary of State for the Fine Arts, Étienne Dujardin-Beaumetz, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Société des Artistes Français, is itself a depiction of a previous year's Salon- a capriccio in which Grun has carefully positioned over a hundred celebrated artists, politicians and socialites. Included in Grun's work were many well-established painters, 'those who supported and shaped the most powerful salon. They were not modernists like Picasso, or even Leger, who exhibited at the Independent Artists' and Autumn Salons but such Academicians as Bonnat, Cormon, Detaille, Ferrier, Laurens, Lhermitte, Merson and Morot who exhibited at the 'official' Salon'.5

    A key to Grun's painting, identifying many of the sitters, was published as a guide for viewers in 1911, and Laissement has painted a fascinated crowd staring at the work, trying to identify the characters depicted in it, while other figures converse or consult the Salon's notes. Laissement has even included Grun in his work, standing, to the far left, leaning forward to converse with a seated lady, and it is tempting to see the male figure standing at the front of the composition and staring out at the viewer as Laissement himself. By contrast, Grun has included himself in Un vendredi au Salon des Artistes Français with more modesty, his face obscured by his wife's hat as the couple attempt to listen in to a conversation between Henri-Joseph Harpignes and Dujardin-Beaumetz.

    As Laissement's work shows, Un vendredi au Salon des Artistes Français was hung 'on the line' in 1911, a place reserved for the most prestigious works. Fae Brauer notes that 'only a first-class medal, position as an academician or a major state commission within this rivalrous hierarchy secured placement with the commission's premiere ligne of recommended acquisitions destined for the Musée du Luxembourg.'6 The painting, having been acquired by the state, now hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

    In the present lot, Laissement seamlessly draws the viewer through the crowd and into Grun's painting. By placing such a prestigious painting at the centre of his own work, and demonstrating the fascination with which the painting is examined, Laissement not only reinforces his belief in the importance of the Salon as the foremost Parisian art forum, but, as Fae Bauer suggests, also draws a further contrast between the traditional and the modern art movements:

    'Since the figures in Un vendredi au Salon des Artistes Français are as naturalistic and legible as those in Laissement's painting, they are easy to decipher, as are the figures and naturalist motifs in the paintings that flank [the work]...By contrast the paintings by Duchamp, Kupka, Le Fauconnier, Leger, Metzinger and Picabia in the Cubist Room XI at the 1912 Salon d'Automne would have appeared to most Salon spectators in Laissement's painting as relatively illegible, if not utterly bewildering'.7


    1 Albert Gleizes, 1925, The Epic, From immobile form to mobile form, 1925.
    2 Albert Gleizes, Letter to Bernard Dorival, 1953.
    3 Fae Brauer, Rivals and conspirators: The Paris salons and the modern art centre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2014, p. 390.
    4 Dr. Janet Whitmore, Rehs Galleries website.
    5 Brauer, 2014, p. 4.
    6 Brauer, 2014, p. 391.
    7 Brauer, 2014, p. 348.
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