Painted circa 1888, this group portrait shows the French composer Jules Massenet (1841-1912) seated at the piano rehearsing his opera Manon with the famous American soprano Sybil Sanderson (1865-1903) standing behind him. The rehearsal is taking place in the salon of the writer Pierre Loti (1850-1923) who may be the figure standing on the staircase in the background.
Massenet was one of the most popular French composers at the turn of the 19th Century. Manon, based on L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost was first performed on 19 January 1884 at the Opéra Comique in Paris and is one of his best-loved operas.
Sybil Sanderson studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and made her debut at The Hague as Manon under the name of Ada Palmer in 1888. Massenet was reported to be infatuated with her and dedicated the title roles in Esclarmonde (1889) and Thaïs (1894) to her. Massenet described her as the "ideal Manon" and an "unforgettable Thaïs." She died of pneumonia aged only thirty-eight.
Aublet studied under Claude Jacquand between 1870 and 1874. He is known as an Orientalist and genre painter but was also a sculptor. Aublet painted portraits of his friends in the literary and musical circles of fin de siècle Paris, such as Massenet and Debussy, among others.
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