One of the first works by Edgard Maxence to enter an American collection, Reverie
has been prominently displayed in the main lounge of the Pittsburgh Athletic Association for nearly a century. Purchased directly from the Carnegie Institute International exhibition in 1925, the painting was met with praise during its time at the Institute and at the other American museums such as the City Art Museum of Saint Louis, where it traveled the following year. A journalist in St. Louis observed, "Edgard Maxence has taken a type of Northern beauty from his homeland. Excellent craftsmanship marks the painting of the thoughtful, mystic face of the young girl in her curious, Old-World garments" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
Edgard Maxence is considered to be one of the great French symbolist painters. In 1891, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and shortly after joined the atelier of Elie Delaunay. However, it was his time as Gustave Moreau's student that was most formative, and he remained with his teacher until 1896. A native of Nantes, Maxence was always faithful to Brittany and throughout his career he found inspiration in Breton legends and customs. He was also drawn to the Catholic faith of his home region and closely studied liturgical costumes, church interiors, and the traditional dress of peasant churchgoers. Reverie
is an exceptional example of the symbolist religious paintings completed by Maxence just before and directly after World War I. The works in this cycle usually feature a single female figure in a church interior praying or reading a devotional book. Elements of the present composition can be found in other works of the period: the figure’s reflective, downward gaze; the medieval-style black headdress; the gold choir screen, based on the example in the Basilique Saint-Nicolas in Nantes; and finally the "missel," a liturgical book for the celebration of Mass, which is based on the one still in the Maxence family collection today. The present sitter resembles Maxence’s daughter Juliette (b. 1898) who, along with her younger sister Marie-Thérèse (b. 1905), was often the model for these religious paintings.
Though clearly rooted in nineteenth-century Brittany tradition, Reverie also possesses a timeless quality and approaches more universal themes of faith, piety, and the mystic qualities of prayer and reflection.