Lot 553
  • 553

ANATOLE VÉLY | Le Puits qui Parle (The Talking Well)

10,000 - 15,000 USD
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  • Le Puits qui Parle (The Talking Well) 
  • signed Vély. and dated 1873 (lower left) 
  • oil on canvas 
  • 69 1/2 by 38 1/2 in.
  • 176.5 by 97.8 cm


Probably, Goupil & Cie, Paris 
Probably, Knoedler & Co., New York, no. 1940 (acquired from the above, August 1879) 
Probably, Harriet Walton Gilson Reed, Erie, Pennsylvania (acquired from the above, December 1879) 
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (by 1880 until at least 1897) 


Paris, Salon des Artistes Français, 1873 


Edward Strahan, ed., The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, [1879-1882], facsimile edition, 1977, vol. I, p. 14


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This canvas is lined. It is well stretched. The paint layer has a discolored varnish and numerous restorations throughout the darker elements of the composition. Both figures have some restoration in their faces. There are more recent retouches addressing a long thin diagonal scratch in the young girl's black apron. There are also a few small retouches along the upper left and top edges.
"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

It is possible that the legend of a man singing or talking from the bottom of a well on Paris’ rue de Puits-qui-parle was inspired by the echoing of one of the many Gallo-Roman wells on this particular stretch of the Left Bank, but it was Victor Hugo who brought the legend to life in The Hunchback of Notre Dame: "On the hill of St. Geneviève a kind of Job of the middle ages sang for thirty years the seven penitential psalms, upon a dung-hill, at the bottom of a dry cistern" (Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831, as quoted in Strahan, p. 14).

Formerly in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the present work is Anatole Vély's interpretation of Hugo's words. In The Art Treasures of America, Edward Strahan vividly describes the composition: "[the artist] imagines a leaf-shadowed cistern, in the old time; a maiden, lovely a trustful, who trips thither to fill her pitcher. As she draws the water, a soft voice addresses her. The well is talking!" (Strahan, p. 14).