Lot 34
  • 34

Léon Bonnat

10,000 - 15,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Léon Bonnat
  • Portrait of Monsieur Allard
  • oil on canvas


Maurice Donnay, Paris (from at least circa 1925-1934)


Paris, Cercle de l'Union artistique, 1922
Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, Cinquante ans de peinture française, 1875-1925, May 28-July 12, 1925, no. 3
Paris, Bernheim Jeune, Cent ans de portraits français 1800-1900, 1934, no. 4


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting has not been removed from its original stretcher. On the reverse, there are three small reinforcements on the bottom half and two on the top half. In addition, there are three unrestored breaks in the canvas; there is one in the upper right background, one in the upper left background and a cross shaped break which runs vertically along left edge of the face and horizontally in the background through the hair and into the nose. The painting is otherwise in impressive condition. Although it is quite dusty and dull, there do not appear to be any significant restorations. The paint layer in the face seems to be un-abraded, and some of the very sketchy elements to the background, particularly on the left side, appear to be part of the artist's process. There is a rapid, slightly sketchy, quality to the picture, but the face is certainly very complete. The stretcher is original, but may not be adequate when the picture is lined, which is necessary in order to provide the painting with a proper surface. The amount of actual paint loss is quite limited, and when the tear to the side of the face is rejoined, there will only be one small area in the center of the break that is actually missing. The condition may look very dramatic and worrisome at the moment, but in reality, the painting will restore very well.
"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."

Catalogue Note

Bonnat received his early training in Madrid under José and Federico Madrazo and later completed three years of study in Rome at the Villa Medici before returning to Paris, opening an influential teaching studio, and becoming one of the most celebrated portraitists of Third Republic France. Bonnat’s commitment to carefully observed, realistically described portraits is evident in hundreds of compositions which portrayed well-known figures like Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Alexandre Dumas— as well as less familiar sitters like the present work’s Monsieur Allard. Allard’s portrait is built of strong contrasts of light and shadow, expressive lines, and boldly applied paint, capturing the contemporary, fashionable cut of his coat and elegant posture, while also suggesting Bonnat’s interest in seventeenth century Spanish realist artists like Diego Velázquez and Jusepe de Ribera.  While little is known of Allard’s biography, he was the uncle of Adrienne Lucie Allard, who married Maurice Donnay (1859-1945), a prolific and popular French dramatist elected a member of the l’Académie française in 1907. A Braun photograph held by the Musée Bonnat-Helleu, Bayonne suggests the present work may once have been signed Bonnat Ln and dated either 1855 or very likely 1885 at upper left.  There are no Braun photographs of the artist's work of the mid-1850s and the later date corresponds both with Adrienne and Maurice Donnay’s lifetimes as well as Bonnat’s highly finished, almost photographic portrait painting technique of works after 1880 (see: Gabriel P. Weisberg, The Realist Tradition, French Painting and Drawing 1830-1900, exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1981, pp. 272-3). The exact nature of the thin baton-like object held in Allard’s hand is difficult to discern, but some seem to have identified it as the point of a violinist’s bow— in an article wrtitten soon after Bonnat's death, Allard was described as both a friend of the artist and his portrait that of “le violinist de Bayonne” (Gazette des Beaux Arts, vol. 5, 1923, p. 6). However, further notations on the Braun photograph claim the gentleman was “n’est pas le violoniste.” While Allard’s history remains elusive, he is captured timelessly in Bonnat’s masterful portrait.

The sitter has been identified and the date of the portrait determined with the help of Mrs. Sophie Harent, director of the Musée Bonnat-Helleu in Bayonne, France, and Mr. Guy Saigne, University of Sorbonne - Paris IV, France.   The present work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue of the artist.