We would like to thank Dr. Gabriel Weisberg for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.
Acquired in 1955
Paris, Salon, 1891
Chicago, World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893, no. 468 (titled Shadows Lifted)
As one of the principal painters from the École de Nancy, Émile Friant was popular both in his native city and in Paris. His frequent exhibitions at the Paris Salon in the 1890s expanded his reputation and resulted in his work being shown outside of France, most notably at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The international exhibition of his work enhanced Friant’s reputation and attracted discerning collectors. In America, he painted Sterling and Francine Clark, founders of The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Henry Clay Frick purchased another of his paintings, Le Chagrin d’Enfant in 1899. Frick was most likely aware of the highlight of the Salon of 1889, Friant’s monumental La Toussaint, showing a family walking towards the tomb of a deceased loved one on All Saint’s Day. This painting received a gold medal and was purchased by the state. Friant also captured the attention of art critics in Europe and America, who discussed his work in their writings.
The recently discovered Cast Shadows remains one of Friant’s most engaging and mysterious paintings. Exhibited at the Salon of 1891, and then later shown at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 (where it was referred to in the catalogue as Shadows Lifted) the painting was reproduced in Scribner’s Magazine in July 1894. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, a well-known writer of the period, provided an excellent summary of Friant’s career essentially introducing the artist to a broad, American audience. This writer was also accurate in his analysis of the painting’s theme of unrequited love. Executed with a keen sense of naturalistic observation and psychological depth, Friant recorded a lover, in a black suit, holding in both hands the hand of a thoughtful, middle-class woman, also attired in black. Although the painting’s narrative remains unspecific, this is certainly a work that stresses a moment of indecision on the part of the “middle–class woman” who looks “wistfully away” from her suitor. While he gazes at her with “the devotion of a worshipper” the painting raises intriguing questions, which are left unresolved in the visual narrative. The dramatic shadows, apparently cast by firelight, heighten the romantic mood and create an unusual sense of pathos that is quite advanced for psychological portraits of the era. Its prototype may possibly be found in one of Degas’ most haunting paintings from his early career, the enigmatic Interior (fig. 1). Although completed in the late 1860s, the painting was still in Degas’ studio in 1897, and could easily have been seen there by Friant. Degas was known to have been supportive of many of the Naturalist painters, most notably Jean François Raffaëlli. In addition, both Degas and Friant were interested in photography and could have easily discussed this mutual interest. The Naturalist writers, especially Emile Zola, were also in this circle and provided many of the literary sources for the paintings. In fact, there is speculation that Degas’s inspiration for Interior was Zola’s haunting 1867 novel, Thérèse Raquin (see Theodore Reff, Degas: The Artist’s Mind, New York, 1976, p. 206). Equally interesting is Degas’ Study for Interior (fig. 2), which includes a seemingly veiled woman, who is very similar to the female figure in Cast Shadows. This sketch also remained in Degas’ studio until his death. It is almost as if Friant combined the elements of the two paintings by Degas: the shadows, the reflections of the fire on the faces, the head of the woman, while also including such tiny details as the delicate floral wallpaper. And like Degas, he was able to successfully convey the psychological alienation of the sitters.
Although Cast Shadows has been out of sight for a century, the painting establishes significant standards for the incisiveness of Friant’s perceptions and his ability to advance to the forefront of the psychological portraitists of the modern era.
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