Lot 421
  • 421

HUGUES MERLE | The Forgotten

70,000 - 100,000 USD
87,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Hugues Merle
  • The Forgotten 
  • signed HUGUES MERLE (lower left) 
  • oil on canvas 


Private Collection, New York 

Catalogue Note

Hugues Merle has long been associated with his friend and possible rival, William Bouguereau. Merle was just two years older than Bouguereau, and their thematic and artistic concerns and meticulous degree of finish resulted in comparison from critics and collectors alike. Merle began exhibiting at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1847 and went on to become to teacher of Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau, Bouguereau's wife and a talented painter in her own right (see lots 412 and 413). Merle became best known for his scenes of mothers and children.  Charged with emotion, The Forgotten depicts maternal affection and a mother's instinct to protect her children in the face of insurmountable hardship and unfortunate circumstances. Standing outside what appears to be an iron gate to a church yard, the young mother seems to be praying for relief, her eyes turned longingly upwards. The poor and outcast, who existed on the margins of society far removed from the rapid modernization and industrialization of cities, fascinated Realist painters in nineteenth century France. The rebuilding of Paris under Haussmann led to the uprooting and displacement of the working classes who could not afford skyrocketing rents. Poor women were hit the hardest by these urban changes, and by the 1850s, images of abandoned, single mothers and their children became prevalent on the art market. Artists ranging from Paul Delaroche to Léon-Jean-Basile Perrault to Alfred Stevens explored this subject. Bourgeois patrons were drawn to the emotions that were inspired by these compositions.

Merle returned to this subject on more than one occasion, as did Bouguereau, whose Indigent Family (1865, City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, fig. 1) was exhibited at the Salon in 1865. Both artists influenced each other and similarly drew upon the visual tropes of Madonna and child images painted during the Renaissance. While the technique in the present lot was certainly influenced by Merle's academic training, the psychological realism and drama of the mother's plight conveys his singular talents and sets him apart from his contemporaries.