Lot 23
  • 23

Jules Bastien-Lepage

Estimate
30,000 - 40,000 USD
Sold
30,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Jules Bastien-Lepage
  • Le Petit Lord
  • signed J. Bastien-Lepage  and dated 1880 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Sale: Claude Boisgirad, Paris, June 22, 1988, lot 100, illustrated
Pyms Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale)
Estate of Virginia S. Mailman, New York (acquired from Pyms Gallery in 1991 and sold, Sotheby's, New York, October 23, 2007, lot 2, illustrated)

Exhibited

London, Pyms Gallery, Life and Landscape in French, British and Irish Painting at the turn of the century, 1991, no. 6.

Catalogue Note

In 1880, a year when "the tide of appreciation" for his work "ran high" in London, Bastien-Lepage produced an important portrait - Le Petit Lord (Mrs. HM Stanley, "Bastien-Lepage in London," The Art Journal, 1897, p. 53).  Representing an unidentified boy, thought to be English, it shows a child wearing a knickerbocker suit and Eton collar, leaning against a heavy oak writing table. Unlike the sketch of the famous actor-manager, Henry Irving, (National Portrait Gallery, London), also painted in that year, it is carefully finished, and as such it bears comparison with early jewel-like works such as La Communiante, 1875 (Musée des Beaux Arts, Tournai) (Dominique Lobstein, Jules Bastien-Lepage, exh. cat. Paris, 2007, pp. 86-9). In the intervening five years the painter had shot to fame with a controversial painting of exhausted field-workers, Les Foins, (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1878 (Kenneth McConkey, 'Un petit cercle de thuriféraires, Bastien-Lepage et la Grand-Bretagne', 48/14, La revue du Musée d'Orsay, no. 24, Spring 2007, pp. 20-33).

At the same time, perhaps prompted by news of the burgeoning art trade in London, he sent the unlocated portrait of Mme. Lebegue to the Royal Academy and the following spring visited the city. Like many artists of the period, Bastien-Lepage hoped for lucrative portrait commissions that would sustain his more risky or experimental pictures of peasants. (As it turned out from 1881 onwards all of his important naturalist canvases were displayed in London and a number were produced specifically as speculative commissions for British dealers.) In July 1879, as he was about to return disappointed to his home village of Damvillers in the Meuse, he was summoned to Marlborough House and asked to paint the portrait of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace) (Lobstein, 2007, pp. 120-1). Studies were produced and further sittings arranged for the following spring, when the painter was planning to show a group of portraits at the Grosvenor Gallery.

This small retrospective, which included the celebrated Sarah Bernhardt as well as Les Foins, was timed to coincide with the unveiling of the prince's portrait at the Royal Academy. Le Petit Lord,whether executed in London or Paris, comes from this busy time. It is nevertheless carefully wrought and shows no signs of hesitation or indecision.

Most apposite is the contrast between this demure, self-confident, young aristocrat in the present work and the "restless, troublesome" reprobate who posed two years later for Petit cireur de bottes à Londres, (Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, see lot 6) (Mrs HM Stanley, p. 56; Gabriel P. Weisberg, The Realist Tradition, 1980, catalogue essay by Kenneth McConkey, exh. Cat., Cleveland, 1980, pp. 195-7; Lobstein, p. 158). 

Although it is clear that the bootblack's environment, a busy street corner, was constantly changing, Bastien-Lepage wished to fix his features with the same formidable precision we see in Le Petit Lord. These two extremes in contemporary society — the lord and the pauper — merited equal attention in the eyes of a French republican. Both are individuals; both have commanding personalities. However, given the setting of the earlier portrait — a wealthy interior — the possibility for observing detail, in the writing desk, drapes and rich clothing was greater. An admirer of French and Flemish sixteenth century portraiture, Bastien-Lepage relished such surface complications. Yet they did not upstage his search for the distinctive character of the sitter. For him it was an issue of style. The fine features, rendered with clinical exactness looked through the surface and back to unseen forbears in the Tudor or French Renaissance courts. Le Petit Lord fully justifies Jules Breton's assertion at the time of the painter's death that in Bastien-Lepage, France had lost her Holbein.

Le Petit Lord was rediscovered two years after the publication of Marie-Madeleine Aubrun, Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1848-1884, catalogue raisonné, 1985 (Paris, privately printed).

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