Long unrecorded, The Duet
is a vibrant addition to Pascale Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret’s early oeuvre. Rejecting the academic, traditional subjects favored by fellow students at the École des Beaux Arts, through the late 1870s and early 1880s the artist gained a reputation as a painter of Parisian life, its well-appointed interiors captured in Courtois in his studio
(1881, sold in these rooms May 5, 2011, lot 41, fig. 1) and the present work completed in 1883. Beyond an assemblage of fine furnishings and well-dressed models, paintings like The Duet
invited the viewer to decode entire narratives built from the artist’s careful eye for detail and his characteristic wit. In the present work every element of the interior suggest both the erudite and very à la mode
style of its inhabitants from the Japanese inspired screen, the piles of music scores spilling from their stand (the artist’s signature and the date of the work appear on a curled-up page), the glossy varnished piano, and, overseeing all, a sculpture of Narcissus after a work by Praxiteles from Pompeii. While the piano player and violinists wear suits of contemporary style, their female companion is resplendent in silks and satins of eighteenth century dress and rather than an anachronistic choice perhaps a nod to the music played or a revival in interest in aristocratic courtly life. While the exact identities of the sitters are unknown, figures in Dagnan-Bouveret’s interior scenes were often his friends. Indeed, the young piano player bears a strong likeness to Carl Ernst von Stetten (1857-1942), a member of Dagnan-Bouveret’s band of artists who often gathered together to enjoy moments of leisure. Moreover the interior’s décor resembles Dagnan-Bouveret’s own studio at 147 avenue de Villiers, occupied from 1881 and, as with many artists of the period, cleverly decorated with his own art hung among exotic and refined objects
to easily create a perception of his worldly style and influence (fig. 2).
A work like The Duet
, as well as others by the artist of fashionable interiors occupied by fashionably dressed people, was designed to appeal to major art collectors at the time, as in many cases it represented how they viewed themselves: as purveyors of culture and the arts. One of the early private owners of this work was George Ingraham Seney, a self-made man from Newton (now Elmhurst), Queens who served as president of the Metropolitan Bank of New York in the late 1870s and was a financier of many railroads, with great means to fuel his voracious collecting habit. His collection of European paintings hung in his Brooklyn home was one of the finest in the country. He owned three works in total by Dagnan-Bouveret, the others acquired shortly after The Duet
. While in Seney’s collection, The Duet
was reviewed in a New York fashion magazine, which extensively described every element of the work's “highly decorated interior," applauding it both for its contemporary and timeless taste, comparing the flower brocade, ivory-white satin dress of the present woman to those found in paintings by Watteau and describing her hair as "soft, golden fluff to the very eyebrows, à la Sarah Bernhardt
Only a year after his acquisition of The Duet
, Seney’s mounting debts required the sale of his collection, and the painting was purchased by Thomas Ennals Waggaman (1839-1906), an exceptionally wealthy real estate broker in Washington, D.C. who amassed an extensive and diverse art collection.2
In The Art Interchange
of 1894, a critic described Waggaman’s home and gallery:
“At the corner of O and Thirty-third Streets is a large plain dwelling of red brick, which would not attract attention were it not for an octagonal addition to the west, which suggests a study or picture gallery. This is the gallery of Mr. Waggaman, which contains many fine pictures and an unusually interesting collection of Oriental art objects."3
In his collection catalogue’s introduction, published in 1893, Waggaman wrote that he had modeled his collection after William T. Walters’ incredible private galleries in Baltimore, Maryland, a grouping that helped establish the standard for many other collections of American and European contemporary art.4
The Waggaman collection included paintings by William Bouguereau, Théodore Rousseau, Charles Émile Jacques, Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet, among many others. His Millet was a pastel entitled The Close of the Day
(1867-69), now in the collection of Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York,5
and his painting by Jules Breton was The Vintage at Château-Lagrange
(1864, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska).
Waggaman’s gallery was open to the public on Sundays; visitors saw paintings were hung salon style, while in the center of the room and in vitrines along the walls glass cases were filled with Japanese ceramics (fig. 3). In The Art Interchange
, a critic noted that The Duet
attracted considerable attention. This painting was “quite different from [the artist’s] usual style of subjects." The author went on to remark, "[Dagnan-Bouveret] is quite as successful in depicting life amidst refinement and luxury as in recording incidents seen among the people. The painting shows his masterly drawing and technique."6
The popularity of The Duet
continued in 1901, when Waggaman loaned the work to an Art Institute of Chicago exhibition on Dagnan-Bouveret.
Due to financial setback, Waggaman was forced to auction off his collection in 1905. The Duet
was sold to a private collector for nearly $1500.7
Although Waggaman’s collection did not remain together, its ninety-six canvases represented the collector’s devotion to progressive contemporary painting. As with Seney’s collection, the inclusion of Dagnan-Bouveret's work in Waggaman’s home not only demonstrated his sense of independence as a trailblazing collector, but also helped further establish the artist’s reputation in the United States.
In the 1880s as Dagnan-Bouveret’s career was coming into focus, he was concerned with maintaining ties with well-to-do collectors. He recognized that painting scenes of high society would strengthen his links with the upper class of the Third Republic and American Industrialists, but he also had a desire to represent the lower classes, the workers of the field, as those subjects would connect him with the naturalist tradition then supported by his friend Jules Bastien-Lepage, who died in 1884. The Duet
admirably fulfills what Dagnan-Bouveret aspired to do: to show well-appointed interiors that were beautifully furnished for social activities such as a music recital, that both reflected refinement and were meaningful. Other canvases of this type, the number of which remains unknown, may not have been exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français
. Instead, they were probably purchased either directly from the artist at his studio in Neuilly or through art dealers such as Goupil and Knoedler, both of whom held The Duet
at one time. Lost for a century, the recent rediscovery of The Duet
and its illustrious provenance beautifully illustrate how and why Dagnan-Bouveret became a wildly popular artist in the United States and earned international fame in the late nineteenth century.1
"Artistic Costumes in the Seney Collection," p. 528.2
Thomas E. Waggaman was born on December 17 1839 in Virginia and died on June 27 1906 in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He was a real estate broker and one of the richest men in Washington, DC.3 The Art Interchange,
On the Waggaman collection, see Catalogue of a collection of oil paintings, and water-color drawings by American and European artists and of Oriental art objects belonging to Thomas E. Waggaman of Washington DC, compiled by H. Shugio
, New York, 1893.5
See Robert L. Herbert, catalogue of the exhibition Jean-François Millet
, Paris: Editions des Musées Nationaux, 1975, no. 181, the provenance includes T.A. (sic) Waggaman and the sale of his collection in 1905.6
"The Waggaman Collection," The Art Interchange: An Illustrated Guide for Art Amateurs and Students, with Hints on Artistic Decoration
, New York, June 1894, vol. XXXII, no. 6, p. 160.
7 See Catalogue of the Art Treasures collected by T.E. Waggaman, Washington, DC, revised and edited by T.E. Kirby. Sale at Mendelssohn Hall, January 27 1905, New York: American Art Association, 1905. "The Duet in the studio" no. 80 in the catalogue. The New York Times published an article on the sale on January 28 1905.