Lot 180
  • 180

François-Auguste Biard

30,000 - 40,000 EUR
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  • François-Auguste Biard
  • Shipwreck victims on icefloe
  • Signed and dated lower right Biard 1876 - 1877
  • Oil on canvas
  • 124,5 x 196,5 cm ; 49 by 77 3/8 in.


Purchased by the current owner's father in the 1930s


Probably, Salon, Paris, 1877 titled Les Naufragés de la Lucie-Marguerite, Vue prise à Magdalena-Bay (Spitzberg), par le 80e degré de latitude Nord (Souvenir du voyage de l'auteur au Pôle Nord en 1839 à bord de la corvette La Recherche)


The paintings sits on its original canvas. Normal craquelures are visible on the surface, and some tighter craquelures are visible in some areas : by the figures in the middle of the composition by the fire, by the rocks on the lower middle part of the composition and finally by the figure on the right waving his hat. The matter is thin in some areas, especially in the background. The stretcher left a light mark on the canvas vertically. On the back, 7 restaurations are visible, two of which are simply "filled in". Under UV light, repaints are visible alongside the borders, due to the frame. On the icefloe, in the lower left, several repaints are visible, one of which measures 15cm (height) ; an important repaint in the sky (probably fixing a previous cross-shaped tear and a few chips missing), measures approx. 22cm high. This repaint seems too large considering the size of the damage. By the figures, a certain number of craquelures have been filled in ; a few repaints and covering "juices" seem to conceal wears or small damages. A large C-shaped tear (restored) approx. 24cm high, from the bearded man's foot to the dead man's hand. A smal tear (3 x 5,5cm), restored, appears by the bearded man's right hand. A Z-shaped tear (restored) appears on the right above the seals (approx. 4,5 x 7cm). Several retouches are scattered on the surface. A small and thin scratch is visible on the right in the sky (approx. 7cm high).
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

We are most certainly in presence of the painting exhibited at the 1877 Salon, Les Naufragés de la Lucie-Marguerite, Vue prise à Magdalena-Bay (Spitzberg). The landscape evokes Magdalena Bay with its chain of white mountains.

Biard's fascination for grand landscapes goes back to the journeys he went on in Switzerland and Scotland in the 1830s, and to his first painting with the Arctic as theme : Embarcation attaquée par des ours blancs, in 1839, before his trip to the High North. The painting is admired by Louis-Philippe at the 1839 Salon, who suggests the artist go with the scientific mission soon leaving for Spitzberg. Biard accepts happily as he has an appetite for risk and for long journeys, and decides to leave with his future wife, Léonie d'Aunet. After 14 days at sea on the corvette La Recherche, the mission finally arrives in Magdalena Bay. The mission settles there for 13 days, after which Biard and Léonie decide to pursue the voyage and discover Lapland. Biard is amazed by the variety and the splendour of the landscapes and skies, and impressed by the aurora borealis and the meteorological changes.

Upon his return in Paris, Biard paints a series of 18 studies showing Magdalena Bay and its aurora borealis. His vivid memories along with these studies will soon inspire him a dozen of paintings which he'll present at the Salon between 1841 and 1880. The first paintings, more romantic, accentuate human frailty before the immense ice desert. The most famous being Magdalena Bay, vue prise de la presqu'île des Tombeaux au nord du Spitzberg, presented in 1841 and now kept at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, represents a shipwreck lost in a large landscape surrounded by snow and mountains, under an exquisite aurora borealis.

Biard's passion for Arctic peaks with the décor he paints for the Galerie de minéralogie in the Museum of Natural History, Paris : a 360° panorama showing Magdalena Bay, open to the public in 1864.

Our painting, executed in 1876-77, shows the artist's lasting passion for Arctic, but also the public's lasting interest for these romantic and exceptional scenes, untouched by mankind. The left part of the composition shows a beautiful aurora borealis. The phenomenon captures the spectator's entire attention at first, before they discover the shipwreck on the right of the composition, where the men try to keep the fire burning, and gesticulate to be noticed by the boat in the background. Biard is certainly representing an event that took place in 1843, as indicated in the title at the Salon.

Biard is probably the French artist the most attached to render its beauty to the place. Other European and American painters have chosen to paint the High North as well : Friedrich for example. Their compositions are more symbolic, showing an immense solitary nature and inviting one to meditate on mankind's insignificance, and eternity.