The artist's studio; and sold, Hôtel Drouot, February 9-13, 1886
Paris, Salon, 1882, no. 1189
Paul Eudel, L'Hotel Drouot et la curiosité en 1885-1886, Paris, 1887, p. 110, 113
Since his debut in 1831, Eugène Giraud was a frequent presence in the Paris Salons and known for his warm personality and love of travel, which inspired his large-scale, multi-figured compositions like La douane italienne au Simplon. Featuring majestic peaks and a long, winding road along a waterway, Giraud depicts a border stop along Switzerland’s Simplon Road, built in the early nineteenth century under Napoleon’s order to facilitate military transport between France and Italy. A carriage has been stopped for inspection, the carefully packed contents of trunks, hatboxes, and valises unstuffed and appraised by officials. The process is carefully monitored by male travelers — including an artist, his canvas-board left aside while he observes the inspection and the view (the beauty of Simplon inspired many painters, including John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of the early 1900s). Away from the men, two female tourists admire the trinkets and cartes postales offered by local villagers while their children seem less pleased with the stopover. The weary frenzy of travel is immediately recognizable to today’s viewer, and the humorous depiction of the bourgeois activity was very popular in the late nineteenth century. Cook’s in England was the first to begin organizing group tours, but the French quickly followed suit. Vacation travel grew rapidly with the increasing size of the middle class, greater income and leisure time, and with the spread of railroads and steamboats. Satirists and humorists soon picked up on the trend. Traveling songs were written, comic revues appeared and newspapers sent correspondents on tours to report back with details. Giraud’s work fits into this trend in popular culture — it would have been a more tangible reminder of travel for patrons who could afford more than a postcard.
The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.:
This work has not been recently restored, but it is quite healthy considering the scale of the work. The work has been lightly cleaned in some areas, but there are still small remnants of old dirt. There are restorations across the bottom edge dealing with losses and frame abrasions, but the signature and date seem to be unaffected. The other edges also show small losses from frame abrasion, but none of any particular note.
There are small restorations here and there within the painting itself. There are some in the white clouds
in the upper left and a few other spots in the mountains on the left side. Most of the paint layer is well preserved within the figures, but a few cracks in the dark dress of the older woman on the left may have been retouched.
This is a picture that could be hung in its current condition, but one could also re-examine the cleaning and retouching to great effect. The canvas is unlined at present, and there are some raised cracks particularly in the upper right corner that could be eliminated if the canvas were lined, but the work is certainly attractive without a lining. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."