An idealised incarnation of tormented and solitary genius, Beethoven rapidly became a legendary figure, the object of a real cult. It is in this climate that Lévy-Dhurmer's works paying homage to Beethoven must be viewed. Several are known, notably the oil painting on canvas sold for €47,500 at Sotheby's Paris on 15 June 2017, the painting offered in the current sale and two important pastel triptychs. The choice of such a format, recalling religious art, reflects the nature of the emotion that Lévy-Dhurmer must have felt when listening to the composer's music. The first triptych, now dismembered, shows the composer's face as a sort of effigy or funeral mask emerging from a bushy laurel tree with quivering leaves, flanked by two female figures representing on the one hand the Funeral March (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest) and on the other the Eroica (private collection). The second triptych, which is intact and preserved at the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, shows the inwardly focused composer in the centre, with his eyes closed; on either side two female busts represent respectively the Appassionata Sonata and the Ode to Joy.
The present pastel, which has an old inscription on the back – 'Marche funèbre/le Masque/ héroïque' – relates directly to the dismembered triptych and could be a preparatory sketch for the central panel. The composition is indeed very similar: in both works Beethoven's head emerges from the branches of a laurel tree. On the other hand, the face in the present pastel has affinities with the Petit Palais triptych. This pastel, so close to both triptychs, was very probably made at around the same time: according to a list handwritten by the artist in the Zagorowsky archives, the triptychs were executed around 1906.
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