La mort du poète
June 14, 12:21 PM GMT
100,000 - 150,000 CHF
1862 - 1936
La mort du poète
Oil on canvas
179 x 303.5 cm (unframed); 182 x 306 cm (framed)
Executed circa 1920-1930
Private collection, Switzerland (thence by descent from the artist's family)
Geneva, Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, 1931
Geneva, Galerie Diorama, Alexandre Perrier, Paysages de lacs et de montagnes, 1986
A masterpiece of the Symbolist period, this monumental painting is part of a trilogy including La vie du poète and Adolescence, which the Swiss artist worked on for almost a decade. Exhibited in 1931 in Geneva when Perrier was 69 years old, this iconic work is considered a culmination of his creative explorations and conceals a very refined composition of bathers at the water’s edge on its reverse. La mort du poète comes directly from the artist and has remained in the Geneva region for more than eighty years.
Alexandre Perrier has dedicated his career to the representation of landscapes that surrounded him. For more than forty years, he was inspired by the natural scenes around Lake Léman and the Praz-de-Lys in Haute-Savoie, which he would observe with great fascination during his long solitary walks.
This painting is no exception: one can certainly recognize the shores of Pregny-Chambésy with Lake Léman, the Môle, the Mont-Blanc chain and the hills of the Petit Salève in the background.
Signs of civilisation are rare, Perrier favouring the inclusion of elements that testify to the work of man living in close dialogue with nature, whether they be sailing boats, wooden houses or cultivated fields.
La mort du poète is however among the works in which the artist has integrated the presence of female figures. Wrapped in coloured veils, they mourn the death of the poet. The latter encircle the sarcophagus of the deceased, which is itself placed within a green meadow. Whether in their dress or in their poses, these fantastic creatures are reminiscent of antique compositions. Evoking the shapes of natural elements rather than real human presence, they do not counteract the ambient harmony.
The twilight atmosphere of La mort du poète recalls another crucial element in Perrier's oeuvre: the light. The painter had a predilection for moments of transition - dawn, sunrise or sunset - when land, water and sky merge into one. However, Perrier never painted directly in the middle of nature, in order to avoid disturbing the peace of his contemplative moments. As a wanderer, he was keen to restore the light of his inner world once in his studio. The light thus does not seem to be the effect of natural exposure, but rather radiates symbolically from the centre of the painting. This romantic depiction of the feelings experienced in front of landscapes closely resembles the works of artists like Caspar David Friedrich or John Constable.
From a stylistic perspective, Perrier’s oeuvre reveals a long technical evolution. The artist belongs to the generation of neo-impressionists, whose main representatives were Seurat and Signac on the European scene. On the Swiss art scene, Hodler was the ultimate reference at the turn of the century. Both the depiction of the Lake Léman and the overall structure of La mort du poète attest to the influence of the master.
In his early years, Perrier stretched the pointillist brushstroke. The former was dense and embraced the dynamics of the shapes represented. Over the years, however, the pointillist effect disappeared almost completely in favour of the superposition of coloured surfaces. The touch is more liquid and ample, the expressivity of colour animating the landscape more than the search for texture. In an article published in the Tribune de Genève in 1945, the Swiss art critic François Fosca declared: "By his indifference to pictorial matter, Perrier joins the Chinese painters, who used only washes; and he also joins them in his conception of landscape.”
Once confronted with the apocalyptic aura of La mort du poète, one indeed understands that Perrier did not consider the landscape as a simple arrangement of shapes and colours. The emotion felt in front of the painting is first of all authentic and straightforward, confirming the artistic mission that Perrier had set for himself: "If whoever leaves my exhibition brings along this vision of light and atmosphere that makes me happy when I am in the middle of nature, then I will be able to enjoy life to the full and go away in complete safety.”
A symbolist Arcadia on the shores of Lake Léman, this painting reminds us that no one escapes the fate of mortals, even in an ideal country. As he was born of nature, the poet returns to it as a luminous apparition.